Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2010
“Forgiven Much, Love Much” (Luke 7:36-50)
Why is it that there seems to be so little love for God these days? I mean, why aren’t these pews packed full of worshipers? Where are all the people who ought to be here but are not here? So little love for God!
Well, I can tell you the answer very simply: Lots of people don’t think they need what God is giving here, which is the forgiveness of sins. You see, if you don’t think you have many sins, if you don’t think you need much forgiveness, then you’re not going to go where God is meeting that need, and you’re not going to love God very much. It all goes together.
And it works the same way on the positive side, too. When you do realize that you are a sinner and that your greatest need is forgiveness, and when you find out how much God does forgive sins and how and where he is doing that, then you will run to be where you can receive his forgiveness and you will overflow with gratitude and love for God as a result. It’s a cause-and-effect thing, both ways: Forgiven little, love little. “Forgiven Much, Love Much.”
We see this truth illustrated both ways in our text for today, the account of Simon the Pharisee, on the one hand, and the sinful woman, on the other. Simon the Pharisee thinks he has little need for God’s forgiveness, and so he shows little or no love. The sinful woman, though, is keenly aware of her sins and her need. She knows that in Jesus she finds the great forgiveness that covers all her sins. And so, as a result, she shows great love toward God in the person of Christ. Let’s follow the story.
Jesus is visiting a certain town, he’s been ministering in the area, and so one of the local religious leaders hosts a dinner for him at his house. Kind of a customary courtesy when a visiting rabbi comes to town. Simon the Pharisee is the host, and he wants to check out this new teacher Jesus he’s heard about. Simon invites some of the prominent citizens to the dinner–you know, the good people you’d like to have at a dinner for the visiting teacher.
But then somebody else shows up, an uninvited guest. It’s a woman, and she too has heard of this Jesus–in fact, it seems she must have even heard him in person as he had been preaching and teaching in town. And now she crashes the party. She’s really eager to be where this Jesus is and to show him her extreme gratitude. She does some extraordinary things: She gets down by Jesus’ feet, and, weeping, she wets his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair! She even kisses his feet and anoints them with some perfumed oil! This woman is really going overboard with her love and appreciation for Jesus!
But now here is the real shocker: The woman who is doing this–not only is she an uninvited guest, the reason she was uninvited is because she was not one of the prominent citizens of the town. No way! This was a known sinful woman! She had a bad reputation, and deservedly so. So who is she to crash this party and get near our honored guest and make such a scene? She shouldn’t be here, mixing with all the good religious folk! Disgraceful! Embarrassing!
That’s what Simon the Pharisee is thinking. And he’s also thinking something about Jesus. How come Jesus is letting this sinful woman come near him and do these things? If he were really a prophet sent from God, he would know about this woman, and he wouldn’t let her near him. Simon the Pharisee has been evaluating the visiting teacher, and he comes to a conclusion about him. He rejects Jesus, because he lets a sinner get next to him and welcomes her display of love.
Jesus knows what Simon is thinking, and so he explains what’s going on by way of a story. Two people owe money. One has a certain size debt, the other has a bigger debt, but they both are in debt. And they both are unable to pay. But the one to whom they owe their debts–the moneylender decides to cancel the debts of both. It doesn’t matter how big the debt, what matters is that it is forgiven, purely by the generosity of the lender. But, Simon, guess which debtor is going to have a greater sense of gratitude, the one who owed a lot or the one who owed a little? “Why, the one who owed a lot,” Simon rightly concludes.
You see, that’s how it is with us and God. Humanly speaking, it may look like some of us are bigger sinners than others. Some people go off into some really bad behavior, like drunkenness and sexual immorality and corruption and debauchery of various sorts. Other people lead relatively moral lives, at least outwardly pretty respectable. But that’s not the point here. The point is, even the respectable people, even the religious people–we are still sinners before God, we are still in need of God’s forgiveness, just as much as the blatant sinner. We all are debtors before God, good and bad alike, and we are all alike unable to pay.
Our goodness, our supposed goodness, our relative goodness compared to the really bad people–that is not enough to pay off our debts. If we go that route–and that is where Simon the Pharisee was going–then we would have to meet a much higher standard, and none of us can rise that high. You would have to keep God’s law perfectly: no sins, no sinful thoughts, words, or deeds, ever. If you can’t do that, then you are under the curse of death and damnation, and you will be lost eternally.
So don’t trust in your own goodness–that’s not going to be good enough. The only thing that will work is God’s forgiveness, and that is freely given to big debtors and little debtors alike. Only don’t pretend that you’re not a debtor! Don’t think that you don’t need forgiveness, that you don’t need a Savior. And don’t look down your nose at those really bad sinners that God chooses to forgive. You’re no better, really.
Forgiven little, love little. Simon the Pharisee didn’t think he needed much forgiveness–he was wrong, but that was what he thought–and so he showed no love for Jesus. On the other hand: Forgiven much, love much. The sinful woman knew God’s great forgiveness for her many sins, coming for her there in the person of Christ, and so her response was that she loved much.
Forgiven little, love little. Forgiven much, love much. That’s still true today. When people think that they don’t have much sin to forgive, when they refuse to admit that they are sinners, then they’re not going to have much interest in the Savior of sinners. And that then explains their lack of love for God and their non-attendance at church. The reason people don’t come to church is because they don’t think they need Jesus. It’s not all the other smokescreen excuses people make–you know, “I can’t get up that early on Sunday morning,” or “The church is full of hypocrites,” or “I don’t need organized religion,” or all that other rigmarole. No, the real reason people aren’t here in church on Sunday morning is because don’t think they need much of a Savior. Otherwise, they would move heaven and earth to be here, to be where Jesus is, to receive God’s forgiveness, and to worship him in love. They’d be knocking the doors down, wanting to get in, if they really knew how big their need is and how big their Savior is.
So how can we get people to love God more? Or, to put it more directly: How can you–yes, you–come to love God more in your own life? Let me suggest two things: Look in the mirror. And look at your Savior.
First, look in the mirror. Look at your own life in the mirror of God’s law. Have you kept it? Have you kept God’s law well enough, which is to say, perfectly? Do you love God with every fiber of your being? Do you use your knowledge of God always to his glory? Do you delight to hear his word? How much do you love your neighbor? As much as you love yourself? Do you respect those placed in God-given positions of authority over you? Do you ever have hateful thoughts or words toward another person? Do you ever lust after persons other than your spouse? Do you cheat and deceive in order to have more money? Do you tear down the reputation of others through damaging gossip? Do you crave what belongs to others, out of envy and discontent, always wanting more? These are the sorts of things you will see if you look honestly in the mirror. That’s who you are. That’s who I am. A sinful man. A sinful woman.
But now, next, take a look–a good long look–at your beautiful Savior, Jesus Christ. He came preaching and teaching the kingdom of God. He welcomed sinners to his side. This is Jesus, your friend–more than that, he is the only Savior sent from heaven. He is the very Son of God, who shows God’s love for us so much that he lays down his life for sinners. Take a look–a good long look–at Jesus dying on the cross. There he sheds his blood for you–the sinless one in the sinners’ stead–to pay off the debt we could never pay. His death wipes the slate clean. You are debt-free because of Christ! And the curse of death is lifted as a result. Resurrection of the body and life everlasting are the result–and your sure hope, as sure as Christ’s own resurrection from the dead.
And now listen to what your risen Savior says to you today: “Your sins are forgiven.” Yes, just as he forgave that sinful woman, so he forgives you. “Your sins are forgiven,” he says–and does. “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” It is Jesus Christ, who has the authority to forgive sins, because he has purchased that forgiveness for you with his blood.
Forgiven little, love little. But you know better than that. You know that you are a sinner, a big sinner, that you have sinned more times than you could ever count. You know your need, you’re keenly aware of it. But you also know the only thing that will save you, and that is, God’s great and gracious forgiveness in Christ. You may be a big sinner, but you have an even bigger Savior. That is why you’re here today, to be where Jesus is, and to receive his forgiveness and all the gifts that come with it–joy and peace and everlasting salvation.
And that, finally, is why we love our Savior so much. It’s because of his great love for us. Yes, it’s a cause-and-effect thing: His forgiveness is the cause; our love is the effect. Or, in other words: “Forgiven Much, Love Much.”