Your Sins Are Forgiven
July 15, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to dinner. Scenes of Jesus having a meal with Pharisees are found many times [in the Bible] besides this one. Not just with sinners, but Jesus also had meals with the Pharisees.
2. As expected the Pharisees were critical with Jesus for having taken meals with sinners. Even Simon's critical attitude against Jesus was rearing its head here and there. I'm not sure why he had invited him to dine in the first place. It doesn't seem like he give him a warm welcome; [I] say that because when he comes into his house, he gives him no water to wash his feet. He may have wanted to critically observe the dangerous character named Jesus, or maybe he was trying to pin him down as a false prophet. Yet Jesus does not refuse mingling with such men as these Pharisees. Regardless of the unpleasant feelings they may have caused him, for some reason Jesus continued to have dealings with the Pharisees. Jesus loved tax collectors and sinners. And he loved the Pharisees. The Lords was a guest at the home of Simon, a Pharisee.
3. Then, out of nowhere, a woman came in weeping; she was known as a sinful woman in that town. And [she] approached Jesus' feet from behind him, then wetting his feet with her tears she wiped them with her own hair, kissed his feet and then began to anoint [him] with oil. That's the event of which today's passage of scripture speaks.
As A Sinner [She] Came To Jesus
4. We often tend to glorify the characters and the scenes that are found in the Bible just because they are written in the Bible. For example, a story like this is found in chapter fourteen of The Gospel According To Mark. In that text it says that a woman brings in a jar with the very expensive and pure perfumed oil of nard in it, she breaks it, and pours the oil on the head of Jesus, (Mark 14:3). If you just look at this in a normal way, it is a story of a strange person annoying Jesus and making his head all gooey during dinner. However, because of the fact that the perfumed oil was expensive and pure, we hear of her [in messages] as a model of a person of love, a person who turned to Jesus with such a pure and total love. The passage we read today even has that in it. Comparing her with Simon the Pharisee, we end up looking at her as an exemplary person who loved Jesus with [total] purity. This has at times been given [in sermons] as so beautiful a scene!
5. But, I think we ought to be a bit more moderate in glorifying her actions. If you just look at this in a normal way, what she did was extremely bizarre. Of course as a custom back then it was not unusual for someone from somewhere to come in and take a seat at a meal because they invite guests to meals. The fact itself that she came in on her own timing is not odd. Furthermore, the people eating the meal would not have been sitting in chairs like [we do] today. They would dine on their sides while leaning on their elbows. Therefore, even when she approached his feet from behind him, it itself was not an unnatural behavior. For, after all, nothing concealed itself under the table. But, even if we factor all of that out of the situation, this scene is still strange on all accounts.
6. What if the same thing actually happened in the church? It would be quite scary. To speak of a very very sinful woman, with all due respect [to her as a person though], she was a prostitute. She was known as a prostitute in that town. What would everyone think if the pastor was having a meal with everyone, and a woman who made her self like a prostitute came in all of a sudden weeping, and she spread oil on his feet and untying her hair she began to wipe [his feet]? Would you say, "Oh, what a beautiful sight to see!" I don't think so. Back then, if you were a typical rabbi in Judaism, you would never greet a woman even when you met on the street. The times were like that then. If such a thing were to happen in that Jewish society, then a bad rumor would be capable of starting faster than you can say "uh oooh." This was not only strange behavior, but even for Jesus as a person himself, by all rights, her actions were very annoying and to an extreme degree at that.
7. Yet, Jesus gladly accepted her actions. That very fact is important. Pointing to what she did, Jesus states that "This person is indeed forgiven of many sins. I know it by the size of the love she has shown me." It was not because what she had done was beautiful. Jesus is at the center focus of this scene, and it is because of the fact that Jesus has accepted [what she did] that what she did has meaning.
8. What I have said now has great meaning when along with this woman we find our own figures, the figure of a sinner coming to the savior, even our own figures in which we thus now assemble before the savior and worship.
9. Just before, I stated that "It is a strange sight to see" that has been described here in this text. On the other hand, how do we see [ourselves], our own figures assembled here in this place? We don't think of our own figures, the way we are, as being strange; because we're not women of the night known by the town, and nor are we intruders barging into a dinner. We get ourselves looking like we do, we sit orderly in the sanctuary, we sing hymns of praise to the accompaniment of an organ, we recite the confession of the faith with uniformed voices, the pastor preaches a sermon dressed in this gown, the congregation listens to it very seriously, and the Lord's Supper ordinance is performed methodically correct. Before we realize it we might think we're doing something so nice and fine.
10. But, reading today's passage of scripture, again I think, "Oh, what we do each week is like that." It is not the woman who is the focus of interest in this scene. It is Christ. The reason the woman of sin accomplished something in what she did in approaching Christ, kissing him and daubing him with perfumed oil was not because her actions would be nice and fine and not because the perfume was expensive. Nor was it even because her heart was pure. It is because Christ forgave her for it. It was because Christ accepted [her]. Jesus accepted the behavior of that woman. It was a bizarre enough situation to cause Simon the Pharisee to stumble over it. In his heart he thinks, "If this man were a prophet, he ought to know who this woman who touched him was, and what kind of person she was; that she is a sinful woman." It was a truly astonishing thing, even shocking at that. Have we all ever felt that the way we worship is probably quite shocking? Have you ever felt a bit of amazement or shock even, that the Lord forgives us for how we worship Him?
11. Do not be mistaken. The reason our worship service even can be is not because we made fine preparations and put things in order. It is not because our praise [to God] is so beautiful and comes from pure hearts. It is not because we are [such] nice and fine worshippers. Even the highest acts of worship as seen from the human perspective are in the sight of God only like the acts of an intruder beginning to wipe perfumed oil on the tear stained feet [of the Lord]. The reason this worship [of ours] has significance is that the Lord has mercifully accepted it. It is because Jesus considers this act as an expression of love for him. Thus, the fact that we can be like that in this place, that we can be allowed to offer worship and not be rejected by the Lord, is an astonishing gift of [his] grace.
Loving The Moneylender Who Cancelled The Debt
12. Well, Jesus began to give one of the parables to Simon who was having a hard time understanding Jesus' acceptance of her behavior.
13. "Two men borrowed money from a certain moneylender. For one, it was five hundred denarii, and for the other it was fifty denarii. Since neither of the two had money to pay it back, the moneylender cancelled both of their debts. Which of the two men would love the moneylender a lot?," (verses forty-one and forty-two). The intent of this parable is made clear by its unfolding afterwards. Jesus was trying to speak about love for him with this example of "the love which the men who had their debts cancelled had for the moneylender."
14. But now, why of all stories, did he give one here about the shirking of the payment of a loan? Should [we] mix loving a moneylender who cancelled a debt with loving Christ? In the first place, does the feeling or whatever it is for the moneylender who had cancelled the loan deserve the name "love?" Should [we] compare "loving Christ" with a low-level uncouth story? Don't we typically think of living our lives by believing and loving Christ as a bit more of an elevated act [than that] at the least?
15. But, when we read this passage, we can see into something the second time around. That, loving Jesus is kind of like that. That, becoming a Christian, being a Christian is kind of like that. As our faith life passes time, we end up forgetting, without realizing it, that we used to know that we are no more than ragamuffins unable to pay our sin debt, but had to have [Christ] cancel them off for us and that we believe in Christ the Savior. The love we have for Christ is really nothing much more than like the love that a down-n-out nobody has for a moneylender who has wiped his debts clean. And that's pretty good; because the Lord compared himself to that in a parable.
16. The Lord said to Simon, "Therefore, I say to you. This person is indeed forgiven of many sins. I know it by the size of the love she has shown to me. A person with not much to be forgiven will love hardly much." The love for the moneylender was certainly influenced by the size of the canceled amount. But strictly speaking, it was neither a huge nor a small sum of money. The love for the moneylender is determined by how the individual himself or herself feels in his or her heart how great the forgiven amount was.
17. This is not the only time Jesus spoke on debt in a parable. There is another speech on a debt of a very high amount of money. Here it is five hundred denarii and fifty denarii, but in chapter eighteen of The Gospel According To Matthew a man is found who went into debt for ten thousand talents (sixty million denarii), (Matthew 18:24). A king did the lending and a servant did the borrowing. It is quite an extreme story, but this servant also had his loan written off. However, the story goes on like this. "However, this servant went out and when he met an associate who had run up a debt of one hundred denarii owed to him, he seized him, strangled his neck, and said 'Pay back the loan.' The man equal to him bowed before him, and pleaded with him, 'Please wait. Because I will pay it back.' But, not consenting to it, he dragged him, and put him into prison until he paid back the loan," (Matthew 18:28-30).
18. Thus, the problem is not with the amount of the loan. The problem is the depth of the personal realization of how great of a loan was forgiven for the person. Looked at objectively, a person who has sinned a lot does not necessarily have a personal realization of himself or herself as very sinful. Instead, many people seem to become calloused in their hearts upon committing many sins. I say it again, since love for Jesus has been likened to a love for a moneylender, it is determined then by how great one realizes the amount forgiven.
19. By saying, "Don't you see her?," the Lord causes Simon to turn his attention onto that woman. Simon must have given a hard look at the way she was in the way she was aware of the magnitude of the indebtedness of her sins. He must have seen what had happened to her. And [Simon] probably wanted that the same thing some time might happen to him as well.
20. Before Simon and the others, Jesus announced to her, "Your sins are forgiven." I think she had probably heard the words the Lord [had given] to those people so far, and she had seen the figure of Jesus, called "a friend to tax collectors and sinners," (verse thirty-four), and she had seen the figure of the savior from sins at that point. But, now, she was not hearing words given to other sinners, she heard the words from Jesus for her herself, "Your sins are forgiven." And then the Lord added, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
21. I would like for all of us to leave this place just like her, that as a person forgiven of an unpayable debt we come unto Christ, love Christ, and we hear the same words spoken to us that she had heard spoken to her, "Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."