The Love of Forgiveness
Luke 7: 36-50
The one who thinks he is learned gets taught a lesson and the one is not supposed to know anything good “learns” Jesus. That’s the reality of this dinner party moment to remember, as Luke tells it.
One of the fellows listening to Jesus on a particular day in the local village takes the punt and invites him home for dinner. Now, this man belonged to a group of men who had very strong opinions on just about everything and saw themselves as being the teachers and guardians of God’s people. They were professional teachers of the bible. But this man who sees himself as a teacher is going to be taught a lesson about life and faith by a person he least expects to be able to teach him anything.
It’s not clear from Luke why this teacher invited Jesus, “The Teacher”, home for dinner. Was he wanting to really listen to Jesus without the condemnation of his friends? He could do that at home. Luke suggests that this man who was a member of the very powerful Pharisee party had heard that Jesus was supposed to be a great prophet. That news had been circulating ever since Jesus raised up the young son of a single mum who lived in the town of Nain (Luke 7:17).
Was the Pharisee wanting to get Jesus to let down his guard so that he could tell Jesus a thing or two and quieten him down a bit because Jesus was causing a few headaches for him and his friends? Was he genuinely wanting to hear the word of the prophet? Who knows…?
Now have you ever been invited to dinner where someone does something that is really embarrassing? Someone does something really bold and unashamed and sort of spoils the whole night?! You know; someone has gas or burps out loud…. Really embarrassing! Or more intense – someone mentions THAT thing that happened that we are all meant to forget, or, they raise THAT issue which everyone knows will go down like a lead balloon.
Well this little dinner party is not going to be one of light conversation, a few wines and jolly good fun!
As Jesus the teacher and this teacher of Israel lean on their elbows at a low table sharing a meal, this woman comes in and she is visibly upset. The Pharisee and all other local people would know that it is THAT woman. They roll their eyes, no doubt…
Luke says she has “learnt” that the Teacher is in town. She does this very bold, upsetting, risky thing – not just the risky thing of actually entering the house of a Pharisee, but then, sitting next to Jesus as she cries, and then with her tears she washes Jesus’ feet with her own hair. And then to make the moment cuttingly complete, she then kisses his feet and bathes his tired feet in expensive ointment. Oh, the shock of it and the shamelessness of this woman.
We get an inside thought of this Pharisee, “If this guy were really a prophet of God he would know that this woman is a shameless sinner who is notorious in these parts. If he were a teacher from God he would know that he is being defiled by the touch of this lower-class, untouchable sinner”.
We can tell that this man concludes that there is nothing for him, the learned one, to learn from this so-called prophet. He is the one who is the teacher after all. He is safe in his own importance.
But then a word from the one we know to be the real teacher in life. Jesus now addresses this Pharisee by his name – Simon. “Simon, I know what you’re thinking about this woman and about me, but let me teach you now…”. “I have something to say to you”, says Jesus.
Jesus the teacher says to Simon the teacher in the presence of the woman who has done all the learning, “Teacher, tell me what you think about this”.
There are two men who owe a lot of money to their bank manager. One owes $1M and the other $1/2M. Both of them are broke and can’t pay their debt to the banker. The banker does the unexpected and writes off their debt. They are both now are square with their banker. Which one of these fellows will love the forgiving banker more?
“Well, I suppose the guy who had the biggest debt cancelled by the banker”, says Simon.
“Yep, you are spot on, Simon”, says Jesus.
And now Jesus is going to teach this teacher something most important for him and all of us.
He says to Simon while looking at this woman still bathing his feet, “The one who has been forgiven little loves little”. Or, “If you are forgiven little, you will love little”. Or put the other way, “As you are forgiven much you will love much”.
That’s the life lesson that this teacher is helped to learn. I reckon the “unlearned” woman already had learned this. Love has to do with being forgiven – not keeping rules or appearances or knowledge about things – even God.
The love that this woman showed in her hospitality, her welcome, her touch, her affection and her serving has its source in the forgiveness that only Jesus could give.
In other words, as we are forgiven we are set free to respond honesty and freely to God and others in love. Love comes from forgiveness. Forgiveness produces love. The more we are forgiven the more there is love in our lives.
So where is it? Where is love in your life? Where is forgiveness? Where is lack of these at the moment? The Spirit is wanting to touch those points of unforgiveness, guilt, shame and anger against another now.
True self-giving self-less love come from forgiveness. But where does forgiveness come from?
Well, notice that Jesus didn’t say – the more WE forgive the more we love. If that were so, love in our marriages, our families and among our friends would all depend on our ability to forgive, and as we know, forgiveness can be the hardest thing of all to give.
No, Jesus says, the more we are forgiven (by God) the more we will be his love for others. So even our ability and willingness to forgive so that we can love again comes from love – from the One who is Love.
By faith in Jesus, that One is present now and I have no doubt he wants to free us from our lack of love, our pain, our sorrow and our lack of forgiveness so that we can love again and be loved again.
Friends, this teacher had to learn a lesson about that most longed for thing – love. He who was so concerned about keeping rules and doing the right thing had to learn of God’s love that is so much bigger than rules. We need to learn love to.
Like that woman, who taught the teacher so much, Jesus has welcomed us, embraced us, wept for us, and bathed us in his forgiveness by his cross. He has become that sinful woman for us and we have become his righteousness. He now offers a moment to receive his unabashed forgiveness and love to set us free now.
Will we welcome his forgiveness today – especially in those long-held places of unforgiveness we may carry? Will we give up those pet dislikes, those things of hatred or dread and let the Lord surround them with his forgiveness and so, remove them from us?
Or, is it true that “we want just enough forgiveness so that we don’t feel so bad, but not enough to make us change our lives? Or can we urge each other in Jesus to become so devoted to him that we act in ways contrary to society’s expectations” (Brian Stoffregen).
Will we hand over the bag of bad words and deeds that have weighed us down and receive the light and fulfilling load of forgiveness from Christ this day? This is what he offers and as we are forgiven much, we will love much – that is his promise.