Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Speak of Forgiveness”
Luke 7: 36-50, June 12th, 2016
In the Bible there are many stories of God’s forgiveness, especially in the New Testament. Jesus is often seen as the benevolent giver of forgiveness. Earlier this week I told several people that my sermon today would be about a parable, in which Jesus spoke about a slave whom asked his master for forgiveness of his debt, and was granted his request. Conversely, when the slaves’ slave made the same request of him he threw him in prison. But, the master heard of the hard heartedness of the first slave which he had forgiven. This allegory is found in Matthew chapter 18, verses 21 thru 35; not the passage we are reviewing today. However, that would have made for great discussion; in the first verses we hear Jesus answers a question as to how many times we are to forgive another. ‘Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ /Matthew 18:22/ It is at this point that Jesus tells the story of the ‘hard hearted’ slave who having received forgiveness, yet did not pass it on to his own slave. “Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord [placed him in prison] until he [payed] his entire debt. /Matthew 18: 32-33/ In summation and in response to those that were listening to Jesus: “your debts shall be forgiven – as you forgive others.” /Matthew 18:35/
Our lesson for this morning is not this one! Yet, it builds upon it. Just as learning the fundamentals of math build as we first learn to add and subtract then to multiply and divide. To understand today’s lesson it would be good if we also understood these few verses from the 18th chapter of Matthew. For here we have been plainly told that we are to forgive one another often and without fail, just as our God forgives us often and without fail; we are forgiven as frequently as we ask to be forgiven with a sincere heart! And, just as it is summed up in the Lord’s Prayer, which we recite ever Sunday without fail, we ask our Heavenly Father to forgive us our debts, as we forgive others their debts! This parable from the gospel according to Matthew sets the backdrop of lessons that Jesus has taught about forgiveness as we now look to a new level of this discussion.
The setting is an unusual one, for Jesus has accepted an invitation to be the guest at the home of a Pharisee. In the middle of this gathering a women, a sinner we are told, comes in. Now, let’s be sure we all get the picture here! Jesus, a man that has been drawing crowds away from the Pharisees is dining, eating with a man that represents the hardened hearts of the religious leadership during this time period. Then, uninvited, a women of the street, most assume she was a prostitute, comes in, weeping, and begins washing Jesus’ feet with oil and her tears, and drying them with her hair. Quite a spectacle to be sure! I want to try to contrast this to modern times but am finding that a bit of a stretch. Yet, clearly, I think you are getting the general idea here. With the scene set, Jesus tells one of his allegories to put across his lesson, strongly clarifying he understood the heart of the woman and his host.
The story is simple, a creditor has two debtors one owes a lot and the other very little, yet neither could pay, thus he forgives the debt of both. “When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them.” Then Jesus, swiftly moves away from the story and asks a question: “Now which of them will love him more?” /Luke 7:42/ Meaning which debtor will be more grateful that their creditor had canceled their debt. The answer is the one with the greater debt, just as any honest observer would conclude. Now the heart of the message is put forth, thereby placing our appreciation of forgiveness, at yet another level of understanding! Quite logically, if your sinfulness is great, your gratitude for being forgiven shall, or ought to be great also!
At one point Jesus turns to his host, speaking of the sincerity of the woman’s actions. On the other hand, Jesus criticizes his host, pointing out how he had not even been offered ‘commonly recognized courtesy’ as the invited guest. Yet the woman, a sinner, had washed his feet with oil and her tears! Clearly putting forth how the woman’s actions were far more generous and heartfelt. Going on, Jesus makes a strong statement: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” The last sentence of this verse is the ultimate turning point when Jesus says to the Pharisee: “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” /Luke 7:47/ I think the point is clear. Jesus is saying to his host: Although your sins are less in contrast to the woman, your openness of heart is less, thus your love of God is less, and even in forgiveness your response would be far less; less sincere and less genuine!
The theologian David Ewart sums this up for us rather smartly. “Just as the host is thinking to himself, ‘doesn’t Jesus know what sort of person this woman is?’ Jesus tells a story to make plain that he does indeed know what sort of woman she is, and more than that, knows what sort of person his host is as well. Ouch.” If in fact the host understands what Jesus has said to him as plainly as we have come to understand this passage, one can only suspect he was a bit perplexed and possibly outraged by the remarks of Jesus.
If you had been the host that day how would you have felt? How would you have responded? Is it easier to identify yourself with the outraged host? Or rather the woman of the street who needed forgiveness and acknowledged it?
As we all begin to consider the impact of this allegory let us ponder some simple points. As Christians living in the modern era, The Twenty-First-Century, we clearly see things differently. At the very least, we see through a different set of glasses, as we view this scene through the ancient writings which make up our gospel lesson. We, as a community, are not so rigid in our thinking and the majority of us, are well education and fairly well versed on the stories of the Bible, and how they came to be written in the English translations in our pews this morning. What we may be lacking is the ability to truly see ourselves for who we are. I suspect that the majority of folks that hear this passage, identify with the sinful woman rather than the arrogant host. Isn’t this correct? We are taught to be humble so we identify with the sinner… if not for any other reason than believing it is the right thing to say or to do. Again, isn’t this the case?
I know, we all know, that everyone practices their faith in different ways and there are many ways to approach this scripture lesson. But, at least for the sake of learning, let’s stay with this approach. The contemporary theologian I am going to now quote would have us confessing the obvious, as-well-as the not so obvious. “We all practice our faith from a variety of mixed motives. While we tend to identify with the “sinners” in the Gospel stories, if we’re honest with ourselves we have to admit that we all have some of the “Pharisee” in us as well.” /Alan Brehm/ What Alan Brehm has just said to us can be a bitter pill to swallow, and a hard point to discard, as least without some reflection, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves. At some level he seems to have hit a sore spot for many of us Christians. It is easier to be a confessing sinner, asking for forgiveness, than to be scorned as a pious hypocrite; a trait which we prefer to see in others. Was this the purpose of this conversation about forgiveness? Are we now meant to take a second look at ourselves to see where we stand in this simple story?
The last line of this passage ends our lesson – just as most forgiveness stories narrated by Jesus end: And Jesus (he) said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” /Luke 7:50/ On this point there seems to be no question about Jesus’ teachings: In order to be forgiven, at any level, the burden begins within us. We have got to become humble enough to accept that God, through Christ, is what we base our faith on. In simple terms, we have to believe in the Son of God, before God can work with us. It’s like the patient that goes to see a doctor for their condition. They need to trust the doctor can help them, otherwise, they will not earnestly listen and heed the doctor’s advice. Needless to say, if we do not openly trust and work with our doctors they will have little success in helping us. Likewise, if we want forgiveness, we must trust in God.
When we speak of forgiveness – we must look to the breadth and depth of all elements of the teachings of Jesus. It seems clear that Jesus wants us to be forgiven. The only catch is, we must then become willing to be more forgiving, while at the same time becoming more and more sincere in our compassion for others. We need to do this while trusting more and more in the grace and love of God. In our Vacation Bible School we stressed to the children how “God knows us and loves us.” When we, as adults, embrace these teachings, then we shall know the fullness of forgiveness, just as Jesus taught and expressed.
“Hear now these ancient words as written in the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 7, verses 36-50.”
Luke 7:36 – 50
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 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 bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
“Allow these words, spoken by Jesus so long ago, to open your heart and your mind to new faith and new teachings.”