Saturday 23rd March – Luke 7:36-50 ‘Forgiven much’

Luke 7:36-50

I don’t know if any of you have ever had the experience of having your debts cancelled.  I must confess that I haven’t, but I know friends who have, and they have shared the exhilarating feeling of a heavy load being taken off their shoulders, a sense of being free, of being able to look forward with hope to the future and not always back with dread to the past.

To have any debt cancelled is wonderful – to have a huge debt forgiven must be almost indescribable.  Such a feeling lies at the heart of today’s famous story.  Jesus is welcomed to a posh dinner party by one of the religious elite.  I say ‘welcomed’ – it’s clear from the complex social rituals of Jesus’ day that he was not one of the honoured guests.  The things that Simon didn’t do for Jesus were designed to put him in his place, near the bottom of the pecking order – no water, no kiss, no oil (vv44-47).  Jesus would have been on one of the tables at the back, not at the ‘top table’ with Simon.

This makes Jesus’ encounter all the more divinely-inspired.  At the other end of the room, Jesus could not have heard (humanly speaking) the Pharisee muttering away to himself about the actions, either of the woman, who anointed Jesus’ feet, or of Jesus, who received this act with grace and humility.  But Jesus knew what was going on, all right – and so he challenges Simon with the simple example of a debt forgiven.  The one whose debt is large inevitably feels more gratitude than the one whose debt is small.

Therefore, the woman – no doubt an outcast in society, despised by respectable people – expressed her love for Jesus in a much greater way than the mealy-mouthed, polite-but-cold ‘welcome’ given to Jesus by Simon.  As always with Jesus, he doesn’t just make the point in a beautifully concise yet powerful way, he does two more things: first, he gives the woman his blessing, perhaps enough to restore her to some sort of place in the community as well.

Second, he leaves an implied sting in the tail: we know from plenty of passages elsewhere that the Pharisees’ spiritual debt was, in fact, no smaller than most of the ‘undesirables’ they avoided.  Their hearts were just as corrupt, even if their outward appearances were impeccable.  Simon’s ‘debt’ before God was likely as large as the woman’s: he just didn’t realise or acknowledge it.

As we conclude our Lent reflections in the marvellous Gospel of Luke, give thanks that Jesus receives all who come to him with gratitude and faith – people like you and me.  And let’s resolve to guard our hearts from pointing the finger at others, when we know our own debts which God has wonderfully cancelled.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.  Amen!