Monday, 30 November 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 7v36-50 'Finding forgiveness'

The scene is set in (36) Jesus is eating in the home of Simon, a Pharisee. It’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t just eat with the Tax Collectors but with everyone because that is who the message of the good news of the kingdom of God is for.  When suddenly the conversation, which Luke tells us nothing of, stops and everyone turns to look at this infamous woman who has just walked into the room. There is some muttering and shuffling of feet as people move back out of her way as she walks with her head bowed low and carrying a jar in her hands right up to where Jesus is reclining.  Then the shock deepens as tears begin to drop onto his feet, she loosens her hair and begins wiping away her tears with it. Then she breaks the jar and pours the perfume on his feet.

Simon is horrified, not only at the woman but at Jesus. Do you see his logic (39) no prophet would let this sinful woman touch him, Jesus did therefore he cannot know what she is like therefore he cannot be a prophet.  But Simon has misunderstood Jesus and Jesus shows him exactly that. Luke shows us the contrast between who Simon thinks Jesus is and who the woman thinks Jesus is which is right. Do you notice that not only does Jesus know who the woman is (47) but he even knows what Simon is thinking (47), and he goes on to tell him a brilliant story (41-42).

What do you notice about the two men? They both owed money and neither of them could repay it. These are not insignificant sums of money a Denarii was about a days wage – so one man owes two months wages and another about a year and three quarters.  The shock in the story is in how the money lender reacts. Imagine phoning your credit card company up tomorrow and you have run up about £30,000 of debt. You tell them you can’t pay it and the voice on the other end of the line says ‘Ok then we’ll just forget it.’ I guess we wouldn’t believe it, we’d want to check it out, we’d want written proof, because things like that just don’t happen. It was the same in Jesus day, yet these two men are forgiven their un-payable debts.

Simon is operating on  amorality ladder here, comparing himself to this sinful woman. He would be up here and she would be down there. But do you see what the biggest shock is here? Wherever you put yourself Jesus says the debt is un-payable – “neither could pay him back.” Simons little sin leaves him just as lost as the woman’s big sin, just as incapable of rebalancing the scales.  Jesus words were shocking then and they still shock now, it tells us we owe a debt we cannot ever repay, that being right with God is not comparative with one another. So what is the answer?

Well the answer is sat round the table with Simon, it is the one who welcomes sinners, it is the one who can say to this woman “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Do you noticed how Luke emphasises the forgiveness that Jesus gives? (47-50) twice Jesus says she is forgiven, the guests question his forgiveness and he sends her away saved by faith in him. Jesus cancels the un-payable debt.  A great sinner needs a great saviour. It tells us that we can never be too bad for God, but it also warns us we can never be good enough either. That it is only by faith in Jesus that we will be saved.

How do we see ourselves? I guess we either see ourselves as great sinners or as Simon sees himself as a little sinner. But both need to have to debt paid and Jesus does it.   Do you see how serious sin is? But do you see how wonderful the Saviour is?

In (18-35) Jesus has called for John the Baptist to have faith in Jesus as the one. To believe in him and respond to him as wisdom’s children, rather than as the brats of (31-34). Here we see these two groups – Simon is like the children who will not recognise Jesus because he doesn’t conform to his expectations. But the woman accepts who Jesus is and is saved by her faith. It is important to notice the order here.  My hunch is that the woman has met or heard Jesus teach before. Why do I say that? Because she comes prepared to worship him, because the word “forgiven” that is used is in the past tense – Jesus is not forgiving her there and then it is a statement that she has been forgiven already, and it is her faith (50) which has prompted her actions.

She doesn’t come to do this so her debt is cancelled she comes because she wants to respond and worship Jesus for the forgiveness she has experienced. Her faith is seen in her actions, she responds as a great sinner forgiven by a great saviour. She shows humility and devotion, her kisses are a sign of welcome, and her anointing is a sign of lavish costly love and gratitude.

And Jesus contrasts that with Simon (44-47) who doesn’t kiss him in welcome, anoint him, or even provide a bowl so Jesus can wash his feet. Do you see the contrasts in action. They reveal how people feel about Jesus. (42) “Which of them loved him more?” The woman clearly loves Jesus, whereas there is no sign of Simon loving Jesus.

But this woman responds as someone who knows forgiveness, who knows she can never deserve or earn what Jesus does for her, but who loves him for what he has done. Do you see the right response to realising that we are great sinners and Jesus is a great saviour, that he has paid our un-payable debt? It is to love him. And yes we should be responding emotionally to his grace.

I’m not saying we should all weep and wail, it may be that we cry, it may be quite reflection, it may be pouring out our grateful thanks to God in prayer for our utterly undeserved forgiveness. That’s why it is helpful for us to sing God’s praises together, the songs help us to respond emotionally to God and to his grace. Songs must not manipulate our emotions, but they are there as we sing the words to facilitate us to respond to God as we praise him for his undeserved love for us.

Sometimes we struggle to respond to God and maybe that’s you this morning. There are two reasons why we struggle I think. One is that we fail to understand our sin – we think like Simon – I didn’t have to be forgiven much. That means we undervalue the cross and don’t love Jesus very much. The antidote is to look again at the pass mark and recognise that actually our debt is un-payable. That’s why we need to be reminded from the Bible and by each other of the horror of sin. That’s why when we meet together we need to spend some time confessing our sin.

The other reason we struggle to respond to God is that we think we are too bad and we allow guilt to mortgage the freedom and peace God gives us by his grace. We lose sight of the great saviour we have. Who says to us the same as he said to the woman “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” We need to be reminding each other than we are saved by faith, we need to sing it, to hear it week in week out.

The only right response to God’s grace which holds nothing back in order to save me is to hold nothing back from serving him. This woman’s actions cost her financially and socially, the women (8:1-3) who follow Jesus love him and put their faith in him and it is seen in their serving and financially supporting the work of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

How lavish is my love of God? Does it cost me socially – this woman’s love is very publicly displayed is ours? Does it cost me financially? Do I give to the gospel? Do I respond emotionally?  Who am I most like? Simon or the sinful but forgiven woman? Tell yourself: I am a great sinner, but I have a great Saviour, so now I am transformed into a grateful forgiven sinner.

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