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One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

 

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

(Luke 7:36–50)

As I read this account again recently I was struck by what an incredibly important passage this is for all those who call themselves followers of Christ. There is much to learn and be challenged by in this brief account.

If you are anything like me, the lesson of this passage has seemed simple and obviously straightforward: The woman was a gross sinner who had been forgiven much and so she showed her gratitude in obvious ways; and Simon, the Pharisee who had led a fairly moral life and had been forgiven little, appreciated his forgiveness so much less.

But is that what Jesus is teaching us? Let’s look again and weigh the evidence.

Simon invited Jesus to his house. This was a good thing. He was clearly impressed by Jesus and wanted to spend more time with him.

Unlike the centurion in 7:1–10, who sent a message to Jesus saying, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore say the word, and let my servant be healed,” it would seem that Simon had no such hesitation about his own worthiness to have Jesus come under his roof.

Fair enough. The centurion was a Gentile who was aware of Jewish ceremonial cleanliness laws, while Simon was a Jew. Nevertheless, the contrast is stark, given how the two accounts are positioned in such close proximity to one another in Luke’s account.

Secondly, we see the Pharisee questioning Jesus in his heart. He was sceptical of Jesus’ status as a prophet, never mind as the promised Messiah. In the same thought, he not only doubted Christ but also condemned the woman as a “sinner,” clearly drawing a distinction between her and himself. In his mind, she was a sinner, but he was not.

Jesus, amazingly, knew this doubtful thought of Simon’s and proved that he, in fact, was a prophet (and more) by answering it, though it was unspoken. Jesus issued a not-so-subtle rebuke to Simon and, I would argue, to all those who consider themselves to be his followers: those who call themselves God’s people, but whose lives do not bear fruit. 

Jesus said that forgiveness results in acts of love. Every time.

This account is not to show how those who are forgiven much love Jesus more than those who are forgiven little. I would submit to you that Simon had not been forgiven at all, and this is the fact which Jesus was pointing out to him.

This account is recorded by Luke to rebuke prideful, self-righteous hearts, and the presumption of those who consider themselves safe before God, but whose lives do not reflect tangible love for God.

You see, the woman recognised and understood her sin, and therefore expressed her love for Christ in washing and anointing Jesus’ feet. This is obvious.

But Simon, who also had much to be forgiven of, showed no love for Christ, because he had not experienced forgiveness at all.

In other words when Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little,” he was drawing attention to the fact that Simon was proving, by his actions, to be an unforgiven man.

Did you notice how Jesus drew attention to the fruit of forgiveness? “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.” What is the evidence of her standing before God? Her love for Christ.

Because the gospel calls for a response—namely, repentance and faith in Christ—it can be all too easy for prideful sinners to grab hold of their response as the thing that saves them. It is their confession, and their decision to accept the gospel, which saves them, they conclude.

Don’t misunderstand me: Repentance and faith are essential for salvation. But they are a fruit, not the cause, of forgiveness. It is Christ’s blood and righteousness alone which saves sinners. Faith is the gift of God to his people to believe that they have been represented by Jesus in his life of perfectly righteous life, his atoning death, and his glorious resurrection.

Far too many churchgoers put so much stock in a prayer that they prayed, or a decision that they made “for Jesus,” and not nearly enough stock in the fruit of a forgiven life. The fruit of love for Christ and his people. Matthew 25:40 clearly connects a love for Christ’s people with a love for Christ himself: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it for one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Those who are forgiven are changed people. Those who have been forgiven much—namely, every son or daughter of Adam who has come to Christ—love much. Their lives are characterised by actions that display their love for Christ and his body, the church. Their appetites are changed and they look different. As you evaluate your life, do you see a love for Christ, which spills over from the heart in actions?

Jesus drew attention to the fruit of a grateful life, saying, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.” May the Lord graciously grant forgiveness to every person who reads this article, and may that forgiveness blossom forth in the fruit of lavish love for Christ.

Anton Beetge - 4 October 2022

The Mark of Forgiveness

BBC Shorts

Those who are forgiven are changed people. Those who have been forgiven much—namely, every son or daughter of Adam who has come to Christ—love much. Their lives are characterised by actions that display their love for Christ and his body, the church. Their appetites are changed and they look different. As you evaluate your life, do you see a love for Christ, which spills over from the heart in actions?

From Series: "BBC Shorts"

Occasional pastoral thoughts from the elders of Brackenhurst Baptist Church.

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