By: Anne Straub
A passage from our church’s recent series on the book of Luke continues to mess with me.
In chapter 7, Jesus is invited to dine at the home of Simon the Pharisee. A woman in the city who is apparently a well-known sinner hears He’s there and crashes the party to anoint Jesus’s feet with oil. The scene becomes what was likely an awkward spectacle as she washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair.
Simon speculates to himself that if Jesus really were a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this was. Knowing his thoughts, Jesus calls him on it. He tells him a parable about a money lender with two debtors. If one owed pocket change and the other a fortune and both debts were forgiven, which borrower would be more grateful?
“I suppose the one whom he forgave more,” Simon replies, and Jesus tells him he got it right. He then applies the story to the sinful woman, contrasting her care for Him with Simon’s lack of hospitality. And here’s the difficult part for me: Jesus adds, “her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who has been forgiven little, loves little.”
I’ve never liked that. (Is it OK to say that about Jesus’s words?) It feels like my decision to begin following Christ as a teenager somehow disqualifies me from loving Jesus like she did. I never engaged in the kind of sins she likely was guilty of -- if I’m ever invited to give my testimony at church, bring a pillow and enjoy a nice nap – but can’t I still love Jesus completely?
I’m reminded of an episode earlier in Luke, when Jesus again engages with Pharisees on the issue of his associating with tax-gatherers and other sinners. Levi, a reviled tax-gatherer, gave a party for Jesus, and the Pharisees began casting their usual aspersions. They complained to the disciples abut Jesus’s eating and drinking with sinners, and Jesus answered, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call righteous men but sinners to repentance.”
Was that a sarcastic slam that went right over their heads? Of course there’s no one righteous. We’re all sinners needing Christ’s sacrifice. There was no one well, no one who didn’t need a physician.
So I might be a little slow, but it finally hit me. I’m not the woman anointing Jesus in the story at Simon’s house. I’m the Pharisee. And that’s not a place you ever want to be.
But there’s a happy ending. Realizing that my sins aren’t less abundant or less offensive than someone else’s is exactly the start of that path to overwhelming gratitude. If we see ourselves rightly, then we know that none of us has been forgiven little.
No matter anyone’s history, we’ve all been forgiven much. And we all can love much.