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Apr 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 3, 2011

A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more? Luke 7:41-42 (read verses 36-50)

INTRO: Do you remember being told as a child, “Never play with matches”?

The danger of a fire getting out of control is even greater in the age of the Internet
– a pyromaniac can strike a match in Florida that sets fires all over Afghanistan
(See recent news of the preacher who burned the Quran. With all the tragedy going on in world right now, why did he think he needed to add this to it?)

It is one of the great mysteries of human nature that in the name of God, people can become calloused regarding the death of others
But the truth is, this is a spiritual virus that creeps into every religion and all religious people
– either we get too devoted to the wrong things or our devotion gets twisted–e.g., fanaticism

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis invents one side of a correspondence between an old devil (Screwtape) and his young nephew (Wormwood). Screwtape is mentoring Wormwood in the art of damning the soul of a young man. Unfortunately for Wormwood, his victim becomes a Christian. Nevertheless, his uncle tells him “we must make the best of the situation. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the enemy’s camp.” He goes on to advise Wormwood to:

  1. Lead him to a “cause”
  2. Let him see the cause as part of his religion
  3. Then let him come to regard it as the most important part of his religion
  4. Finally, cultivate this notion until his religion becomes merely part of the cause

This pattern is characteristic of the same spiritual virus
– the cause could be religious rules, politics, apologetics, even worship (when the act is separated from encounter)
– other symptoms include:

  • self-righteousness
  • intolerance for people of other faiths and their beliefs
  • an obsession for passing judgment on others
  • narrow and rigid thinking
  • uncreative and moralistic tendencies that devalue love and relationships

The virus had infected many of the Pharisees that Jesus encountered, so Luke uses them to illustrate this particular danger

The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners? (Lk. 5:30)

But some of the Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is unlawful on the Sabbath? (Lk. 6:2)

The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him  (Lk. 6:7)


Verses 36-39

This is perhaps my favorite story in all the gospels
– another meal, this time not with sinners, but in the home of a Pharisee (cf. 7:34)
– Jesus did not discriminate – he ate with “people”

The obvious tone of story is the vivid contrast between the Pharisee (male) and the sinner (female)
– Jesus will stress the tension in the contrast through his parable and its message

A less obvious, but equally important, feature of the story is that everyone is labeled
– at first it seems to be a story about a Pharisee, a sinner, and a teacher (labels)

The woman is the most striking character
– her actions are totally unexpected

Here is something that I would like you to think about:

If you heard of Jesus and what he was doing–e.g., giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, etc. (7:22-23)–and then you had the opportunity to meet with him, what would you expect? How would you expect him to treat you?

Most of us would expect him to be merciful, kind, and caring
– those are the things that drew this woman to Jesus

The Pharisee is the least striking character – his actions are totally predictable
– a devoted follower of the rules
– the rules fill his mind with expectations, “If this man were a prophet . . .”
– he had expectations about : prophets, sinners, and what happens if one comes into contact with the other
The Pharisee would not have allowed the woman to come near him
– she would not have tried to come near him
– she would not have wanted to; there would be no reason to because he had nothing for her other than contempt, scorn and condemnation

“Beware the leaven [or virus] of the Pharisees” (Lk. 12:1)
When someone criticizes your faith or relationship with God,
– ask, “According to whose rules? Whose expectations?”
(Note: you can also ask, “Does this person love me or even care about me?” If the answer is Yes, then accept the criticism. If the answer is No, then the criticism is kaka – don’t pick it up)

So far, a man and woman appear in the story under the labels of “Pharisee” and “sinner”
 Let’s think for a moment about what labels do:

  • they provide a convenient way to decide how we interact with other people (“whakos” are dangerous, “grandmas” are nice)
  • they provide an easy way to describe a person to someone else (e.g., “he’s a geek,” “she’s a saint”)
  • they provide categories that help us organize our thoughts about people
  • but they also depersonalize others and create distance
  • they distort or minimize our knowledge of others (e.g., Mt. 13:55-58)
  • they can imprison a person in a role or reputation

We also use labels to imprison people in their past (true, some folks do not change)
– but the last thing you or I want to do is empower the past
– we do that by looking back too often, developing a fixation on past events – “Remember Lot’s wife” (Lk. 17:32)
– we let the past enter and control the present by re-living it in our imagination – replaying stories
The movie, “Source Code,” feeds the illusion that if we revisit a past event enough times, we can change it

Love is never content to leave someone stuck in the past
– love is now and it is eternal
– love doesn’t see a person’s future as a repetition of the past, but as a possibility (Kierkegaard)
To free a person to that possibility, love forgives the past

The past is not irrelevant – we can learn from it, even the past of others
– it is a lesson in human nature
– and because we all share that nature, whatever is true of them, is true of us

Verses 40-47

What Jesus does here, is to give Simon a different interpretation of their situation

Jesus removes the labels
– he does not talk to a Pharisee about a sinner, but addresses Simon regarding this woman
– he is able to see them beyond their assigned roles in society
– because he can see them, he can rescue them (from their labels and their past)
“Turning toward her . . .” Luke observes this shift in Jesus’ posture several times to add emphasis (see Lk. 22:61)
“Do you see this woman?”
– no, he had not seen her, the woman, he had only seen a sinner

Why did Jesus tell this parable and then ask Simon about the behavior of the characters in it?
– to explain his actions or defend himself?
– I think the answer is found in the example of Nathan and David (2 Sam. 12:1-7)
– the purpose was to draw Simon into the story–involve him–and then open his eyes so he could see the most difficult thing it is for people to see: his own inner failure – his prejudice
– he was blinded by what he thought he knew regarding prophets, and sinners, and Jesus, and the woman
Jesus is showing him, “You lack the kind of gratitude that expresses itself in love”
– self-righteous people are incapable of loving God as much as sinners (although they easily convince themselves that they love him more)

There is a correlation between forgiveness and love
– physicists describe the physical property of an object as “a characteristic that can be observed or measured without changing the composition of the object”
– a property of grace is the love it promotes in the person who receives it
– as Jesus points out, this property can be observed and measured (“more”)

Knowing this, do you feel more willing or less willing to be shown your sin?
– do you want to hide from God or say, “Search Me, O God, and know my heart”?
– God never reveals to you your inner flaws in order to make you feel guilty, but to heal you

Verses 48-50

“Your sins have been forgiven” – Where else would she hear this?
– from where else in her society could this come?
She was known in her city as a sinner, so who else could do this for her?

She had not asked for forgiveness – had not asked for anything
– but he freely gave her forgiveness
– is it possible that people who love Jesus this intensely do not need to ask for forgiveness?

But now that Jesus has removed the label, she is faced with a new responsibility
– she must now begin to be someone else
– to be defined by something else
“Your faith has saved you” – brought you to wholeness – “go in peace”

CONC: I know in my heart, I would be more loving if I could always see others through the eyes of Jesus

But how can we learn to see others through his eyes?
– one way is to remove the labels we put on people and see them as persons
– not as the “clerk” at the counter or the “annoying neighbor,” but as this man and this woman

Another way to begin seeing through Jesus’ eyes is to absorb the truth and beauty of this story into our hearts and minds. How?
– there are specific exercises in contemplative prayer that help us live in scripture and other exercises to nurture agape in our hearts
– in the same way that the inner stories we constantly play in our minds can cause us to love little, changing those stories can cause us to love much
– it just requires bringing attention, awareness, and surrender into God’s presence through prayer
As Paul said, it’s all about agriculture:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal. 6:7-8)

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