Luke 7.36-50 – The Parable of the Two Debtors

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him. So far the Pharisees have been poo-pooing him all along. They’re not hostile, but they sure ain’t friendly. There’s only room for one sheriff in this town, and it ain’t gonna be Jesus, y’know what I mean, Par’ner? It’s tough to guess the Pharisee’s motive. Either curiosity (he had heard some intriguing thoughts and teaching), or snideness (to make fun of Jesus, or take him down a notch or two in front of his friends). I find it interesting, though, that neither one is afraid to associate with the other. He invites Jesus into his home, along with his Pharisee friends, and Jesus goes, because there was some spiritual gain to be achieved here. (We’ve learned at least that much about Jesus so far.) Jesus shows his openness to all who were open to Him.
Now, out from the cold of the night this WOMAN (said with a sneer) of ill-repute shows up. The text doesn’t reveal to us her sin, but it must have been public enough for the town to know about it and for her to have a bad reputation.
At this point I find it interesting, literarily, to contrast her reputation with Jesus’. Hers is one of known depravity (despicable wench!), and Jesus must have had a reputation of a hope-giver, non-judgmental, and merciful, or SHE WOULD NEVER HAVE SHOWN UP.
She stood behind him. At table, the Jews laid on their sides, propped up on one elbow, fitted in herringbone style down the side of the table. He would have been barefooted, having removed his sandals when he came into the house, and his feet are already washed. So his feet are positioned outward, just as everyone else’s at the table. Readily we can see that hers are the actions of someone who is so broken, hopeless, guilty, depressed, and so desperate for some sign of life and meaning. Why did she come to Him? She must have heard about Him, and saw him as a point of hope in her hopeless life. She approaches from behind, and starts to cry. She kneels and lets her tears fall on his feet. And then she took her hair (only an undignified woman would let her hair down in public) and shamelessly begin to wipe his feet with her hair, crying all the while. And she kissed his feet as if he were some kind of god, anointing them with the perfume (usually a family’s treasured heirloom). Her heart is broken, and her social graces are thrown to the wind to kiss the feet of a man whose reputation was one of hope and love.
The host is indignant. Well, who wouldn’t be? Throw this wretched excuse for humanity out of my house! I have an important visitor here, and she’s embarrassing and humiliating us all. And if Jesus were a REAL prophet (oh, here comes the snideness), he wouldn’t allow this travesty of social etiquette and spiritual indignity. It’s a real-life illustration of what Jesus was saying about John the Baptist at the beginning of the chapter: we manage to regard people as too elite or too common—people have to meet my expectations. This Pharisee can look down his nose at anyone, finding fault no matter who they are and no matter how they work. He judges the religious and the sinner, the popular and the outcast.
Jesus, in his own kind but piercing way, seizes the teachable moment. This is what he has come for. He didn’t force the teaching, but when he saw the moment, he spoke. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.” OK, so everyone’s indebted to the master. They’re of different values, but everybody’s on the books.
“Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” The premise: We have no means to save ourselves. And the master is a master of mercy. But then Jesus loads the situation with “love,” not just who will be more grateful or show more appreciation, but who will LOVE the master more. Oooh, what a juicy set-up. In two sentences—TWO SENTENCES!—Jesus delivers a master stroke. (You know, people say this is all made up. Who in the WORLD would have the genius to put ALL of this together so flawlessly, brilliantly, and enticingly? Ha!)
So Simon replies, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.” Interesting. Forgiveness doesn’t usually elicit love, so Jesus uses money as an illustration because a money debt would have that effect. It’s also true that repeated forgiveness brings out love, but only as long as you don’t start to take the forgiveness for granted.
Now Jesus moves from his illustration of money to the situation at hand. (This Man is brilliant. Who could come up with this stuff?) It turns out this case is not about money at all, but a broken woman whose emptiness has drawn her to fall at the feet of Jesus, who knows that she has come to him in search of hope.
Then Jesus talks of love: she kissed my feet, she poured perfume on my feet. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Now Jesus combines the two scenarios of the money-lender and the woman. Love, indeed, has a debt aspect, for the one who loves sacrifices and gives for the sake of the other, and the recipient feels indebted, or owing a debt of gratitude, to the lover. Therefore the one whose sins have been forgiven feels exactly like the one who has been forgiven a large sum of money: an inestimable debt of gratitude toward the master.
If you save me some money, I’m happy. Whoopee. If you save me from injury, I’m grateful. That’s a big deal. But if you save my life, I’m indebted to you.
“Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.” It’s not an issue of being religious, but of love. What is this love? Seeing the inadequacy of yourself, drowning in your own brokenness, approaching God in sincere humility, bowing at his feet, and giving a sacrifice to him. She acknowledges Jesus as her hope, and he responds to her with love, care, and forgiveness.
Who would NOT follow this Man????

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