You Can Handle the Truth
In Spite of Your Debt
A sermon based on Luke 7:36-50
Sunday, June 12, 2016 – Pentecost 4C
A woman at the airport waiting to catch her flight bought herself a bag of cookies, settled into a chair in the airport lounge and began to read her book. Suddenly, she noticed that the man beside her kept helping himself to her cookies which sat between them. Not wanting to make a scene, she read on, ate her cookies, and watched the clock. But as the daring "cookie thief" kept on eating the cookies, she got more irritated and said to herself, "If I weren't so nice, I'd blacken this guy's eye!" She wanted to move the bag of cookies to the seat to the seat on her other side, but just couldn't bring herself to do it. With each cookie she took, he took one too. And when only one cookie was left, she wondered what he would do. Then with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered half to her and at the other half. She snatched it from him and thought to herself, "Man, this guy has some nerve! And he's so rude that he didn't even show the least bit of gratitude!" She sighed with relief when her flight was boarding. She gathered her book and her bag and headed for the gate refusing to look at the ungrateful "thief." She boarded the plane, sank into her seat, and reached into her bag to get back into her book in order to forget all about the ugly incident. And that's when she noticed… her unopened bag of cookies still in her bag and came to the realization that the cookies she ate in the lounge weren't' hers. She had been the cookie thief.
A similar story is told in our Gospel lesson for this morning. One man was pointing the accusing finger only to find out that he was really the guilty one. Like the woman in the cookie story, he believed he was such a wonderful person to be putting up with the problem sitting beside him. But in the end, Jesus showed each person where he belonged… The one thought he needed little forgiveness and he showed it. The other knew how much she'd been forgiven and she showed it.
As we read the account of the Pharisee and the Sinner recorded for us in Luke 7:36-50, ask yourself, "Which one am I?"
36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner."
40 Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me, teacher," he said.
41 "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
43 Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
48 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
50 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
I. Owe Much
Now, we don't know why Simon invited Jesus to his house, but it does seem pretty clear that this particular woman was not on the guest list. The Greek literally says, "Behold! A woman…" In other words, "Surprise!" This woman was a party crasher and not a very reputable one at that. She "had lived a sinful life in that town," obviously sinful enough to have earned a reputation. We don't know exactly what she did, but from Simon's reaction we can make some guesses.
And Simon, who was a fine upstanding citizen of that town, well liked and well respected, said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner."
Well, what do you make of his assessment? If you think about it, he was sort of right, but sort of wrong. He was right that "if" Jesus were a prophet, he would know all about this woman. But he was wrong in assuming that Jesus wasn't a prophet. He was right in his implication that this woman was a horrible sinner who didn't deserve Jesus' time or attention. But he was wrong in thinking that he somehow did.
Implied by what he said in this internal monologue was a false assessment of himself. "She's a horrible sinner with whom any respectable rabbi should never associate," he thought. "But I, on the other hand," he implied, "well… how fortunate Jesus is that I invited him here. What wonderful press he gets to be seen with me."
You see, Simon had been so focused on the huge debt that this woman owed to God that he failed to see his own debt—his huge mountain of sin before God. But, don't we do the same thing? I'll admit it. I love to do that. "Thank God that I'm not like that delinquent, or like that backslider, or that gossip. Thank God that I'm not like that arrogant jerk who's always right." (How ironic!) But we do that because we know that if we can find someone who's a "worse sinner" than we are, it makes our sin seem, well, not so bad. And then we don't really need to think about what rotten sinners we are.
But what a dangerous position that puts us in! Whenever we say (or imply), "I don't need Jesus as much as that other person does," we really say, "I don't need Jesus." So let's check our credit scores with God. Which person are you? Simon or the unnamed "sinful woman"? How much debt do you owe to God? Are you a pretty good person?
Well, maybe you don't commit gross, outwardly scandalous sins that earn you a reputation in the community, but those aren't the only sins that count before God. God's assessment of mankind in Genesis 6:5 is this: "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."
Just think about what this means for your life and for mine. Let's make each unkind thought, each careless word, and each self-centered action (those so-called "small" sins) worth just $1 before God. And even thought God says I'm committing those sins all the time, let's say I only commit one sin every minute (and that's probably being pretty generous). At $1 per sin, I would owe God $525,600 per year! Those sins add up, don't they? By the time I was ten years old, I would have already owed $5.25 million dollars. I'm in my fourth decade now. That's almost $20 million I would owe to God if I could pay for one sin with one dollar. If…
The truth is, I don't need Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax to show me that I am so in over my head in debt that even with an eternity in hell I could never begin to pay it off. There is nothing I can do to pay what I owe to God. Talk about negative equity! I'm ashamed of my credit score before God. How about you? What horrible debt we all have!
But it's good to see that debt so we're not like Simon. Because you can only appreciate the cross as much as you appreciate your own sin. If you think you're only mildly offensive to him, then Jesus becomes a Band-Aid to cover up a tiny scratch, or some Febreeze to cover over a faint odor. If you only owe a few dollars to the credit card company, you'd be mildly appreciative if someone paid it off for you. But when you know you owe millions, when you see how utterly disgusting your sin before God, how horrible the stench, well… how exciting to have all of that debt erased! How refreshing to have every hint of the stench removed!
When we realize what spiritual wrecks we are: by nature, dead in sin, spiritually blind, hostile to God, and eternally lost to hell if left to our ourselves, then we really appreciate what Jesus has done for us…
II. Forgiven Much
You know, Simon's assessment of the situation was wrong not just in what he thought he owed to God. He was wrong in something else too. He didn't just misunderstand himself, he also misunderstood Jesus. You see, he assumed that if Jesus knew what kind of a woman this was sitting next to him, well, there was no way that he would associate with her. He wouldn't tolerate her. He would kick her out of Simon's house and declare, "Good riddance!" At the very least, he certainly wouldn't let her fall all over him, touching him, and blubbing on all over him. But Simon couldn't have been more wrong.
You see, it was precisely for women like this one that Jesus came to earth! It was precisely for sinners like you and me—horrible sinners, who recognize their wretchedness, their massive debt owed to God, and the fact that their only hope must come from outside of themselves. For sinners like us Jesus came to earth… to suffer… to die… to win forgiveness for us.
And what do we have to get such forgiveness? Weep on Jesus' feet? Dry his feet with our hair? (That's easier said than done for some of us.) J Or maybe we have to give up some expensive treasures and sacrifice them to him. Maybe we have to dedicate our lives in service to him or promise to never sin again. No. You know we don't have to do any of that. We don't have to do a thing! Jesus told the sinful woman, "Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
By his death on the cross, Jesus has paid the debt that every sin ever has or ever will incur. That's why he shouted "Tetelestai!" from the cross. "It is finished!" A Greek word that literally means, "Paid in full!" And by his resurrection, he's given us the receipt. The massive debt that we once owed is gone. We're not just helped by Jesus a little bit, but are completely, totally, fully, wholly, perfectly forgiven! We are restored, debt free, and made perfect before God.
III. Love Much
So why did the woman weep and wash and waste her perfume if she didn't need to do anything? Why offer such an expensive gift?! After all, an alabaster jar usually carried a very expensive perfume, not a knockoff like the CK2 that I wore in high school (not to be confused with CK1 by Calvin Klein—and I'm pretty sure no one did). J No, this was the good stuff. In Mark's account we're told that an alabaster jar of perfume cost more than a year's wages! (cf. Mark 14) Now I don't know what you all make, but can you imagine taking two months' wages (let alone a whole year's worth!) in cash and throwing it on the barbecue, dousing in lighter fluid, and throwing a lit match on top of it all?!
Why such waste?! Why did she do it? Out of an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving. She wept tears of joy and thanks to Jesus. She knew she had been forgiven much and, in response, she loved Jesus much. Jesus said to Simon, "She loves me so much because she appreciates how much I've forgiven her!" And he added this warning: "But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
When we look at the mirror of the law and see how much we owe to God, then look at Jesus and what he accomplished by the cross and see how much we've been forgiven, we can't help but act just like this woman—with extravagant, wasteful, shameless acts of love, with huge gifts given to him who saved us! We are debt free! God cancelled the debt that we owed to him. And at great cost to him! It cost him his own Son! So now we've been forgiven of so much that we can't help but love much!
So offer your time to serve at church, at a soccer camp, at your neighbor's, or at the kitchen sink or at the changing table—not because you have to or the work won't get done, but because you want to to offer your very best to your Savior in thanks to him for cancelling your debt! Offer your generous gifts to God, in the offering plate, in responsible spending, in caring for those that you love and for those that you'll never meet—not because someone has to pay the bills, but because you want to be that someone who uses dollars to show your thanks and love to God for the huge debt he's erased! Offer your very lives, your selves, your all, to the one who says to you, "Your sins are forgiven… go in peace." In his name, dear friends, amen.