Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Pentecost (June 21, 2015)

LUKE 7:36-50 
In the name + of Jesus. 

     The woman had built a reputation for herself, that’s for sure.  She was most likely a prostitute.  Regardless of what her sin was, she was well known in the whole town as a sinner.  She came into the house where Jesus was reclining at the banquet table.  She was not invited, and she did not go unnoticed.  She placed herself at Jesus’ feet which were extended out from the table.  The host of the banquet, Simon the Pharisee, saw it and thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)  Simon thought that decent and noble people, especially anyone who claimed to be God’s prophet, would scrape this kind of woman off and shoo her away.  Simon was disgusted by the woman, and he was disgusted by Jesus for showing her any kind of approval at all.  After all, she was a sinner, and she had not even been discreet about it.
     I suppose most people would think that Simon was reasonable in his judgment.  This woman had made a mess of her own life.  She was not a victim of slander; she had built her own reputation.  It isn’t hard to find people like that.  They have messed up their lives, and their mess is of their own doing.  No one forced the alcoholic to start drinking.  No one made the young man tell lies.  No one made the young girl resort to prostitution or exotic dancing.  These are all choices—bad choices with bad consequences.  Sins often carry consequences.  The recovering alcoholic will always be tempted to have another drink.  The liar may never be considered trustworthy again.  The community may assign the scarlet letter to the pole dancer for the rest of her life.
     Simon the Pharisee assumed that Jesus was like him—that Jesus should never let this sinful woman live down who and what kind of woman she was.  She should always be branded.  She should always be shunned and shamed.  Simon, of course, assumed that he had nothing to be ashamed of.  Now, to be fair, it is probably a safe bet that Simon was an up-standing citizen.  He was likely a faithful worshiper at the synagogue and a regular pilgrim to the temple for the prescribed feasts.  Simon probably would have considered his life an open book.  Certainly no one could impugn his reputation.  This woman was well-known as a sinner.  Simon was not.  Her life was a mess; Simon was clean.
     Therefore, Jesus told a parable about a money lender who had made sizable loans to two people.  One debt was 500 denarii and the other fifty.  A denarius was a day’s wage, so to translate: One debt was a month and a half’s wages, the other was a year and a half’s wages.  Neither debtor could repay.  The moneylender did not work out payment plans for either person.  He simply canceled the debt of each.  A month and a half of wages and a year and a half of wages—gone!
     You and I shake our heads at a money lender who wipes out such tremendous debt.  He gets none of his investment restored.  He absorbs the loss as if it were his own.  We might even wonder, “What sane man would loan so much to these kinds of people?  The money lender sounds like a fool.”  Simon must have thought so.
     But Jesus did not ask Simon to assess the business sense of the money lender.  He asked Simon to consider the gratitude of the debtors.  Jesus asked, “Which of them will love him more?”  Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7:42-43)  Jesus did not disgrace the sinful woman.  No matter how great and how many her sins were, Jesus’ grace upon her was greater.  Jesus did not excuse the woman for her sordid and seedy life.  He did know what kind of woman she had been.  Rather, he took up her sins and endured the punishment on her behalf.  Jesus loved her, but his love was not based on who and what kind of person she was.  His love is based on who and what kind of person he is.  Jesus loves that which he has created.  Instead of destroying what is corrupt, Jesus seeks to restore it.  Even if people make a mess of their lives, Jesus provides cleansing for all their impurity and forgiveness for all their iniquity.  He does not excuse and he may not erase the consequences of your sins, but he does pardon the debt of sinners.  Jesus has paid the debt we owe, no matter how great it is.  He paid a debt that he did not owe because we have a debt that we cannot pay.
     Jesus truly loves much.  Consider this: If you committed only one sin a day—which is impossible—how many sins have you racked up in 20 years?  Or 40?  Or 60?  Or more?  This is your debt to God.  You owe him for your lack of compassion, patience, and love.  This is the debt Jesus paid for you by his sufferings and death.  He did not wait for you to prove your worth.  To Jesus, you are worthy.  To Jesus, all are worth it.  Though all are sinners, all are redeemed by the blood of Jesus—so great is his love for you.
     Jesus’ love is not without effect, either.  The woman who had come to Simon’s house demonstrated her love for Jesus.  She had been forgiven much; therefore, she loved much.  She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  She smothered Jesus’ feet with kisses.  Finally, she anointed his feet with ointment.  That should not be lost on you.  This woman had been a prostitute.  The ointment she had would have been used to doll herself up for her lovers.  But she would not need it any longer.  Her repentance was genuine.  Her love for Jesus was real and proven by her joyful obedience in God's word.  She forsook her immoral life.  No longer would she seek lovers or look for value in selling herself.  She would instead love and serve the one who redeemed her, who forgave her iniquity, and who showed her that she is invaluable to God.  He who is forgiven much loves much.
     Simon, on the other hand, offered no apologies and confessed no faults.  Therefore, he had little love for Jesus.  He did not even extend the normal courtesies you would usually show your invited guests.  He thought nothing of God’s mercies, because he did not believe he needed them.  For that reason, he had no mercy on anyone else, least of all on those whose sins have made a mess of their lives.
     He who has been forgiven much loves much, but he who has been forgiven little loves little.  Simon lived by the creed that people get what they deserve.  Simon foolishly believed that he deserved God's love and his place in God's kingdom.  We do not know what became of Simon after Jesus' rebuke.  But if he did not repent, sadly, Simon did get what he deserved because of who and what kind of person he was—a sinner.
     He who has been forgiven much loves much.  The sinful woman fell at Jesus’ feet to pay him honor and to show her love for him.  She did not care how it looked to others.  She did not care about Simon’s attitude toward her or his opinion of her.  She would confess Jesus as her Savior.  She would demonstrate her love for him no matter what anyone thought of her.  She would renounce her sinful way of life, even if it cost her all of her expensive perfume and income.
     Likewise, the Lord Jesus has forgiven all your sins.  Indeed, he continues to forgive much—no matter who or what kind of person you have been.  That is why you love Jesus and continue to come to God's house to hear of his love again and again.  He who has been forgiven much loves much.  Your love for Jesus cannot help but overflow in your dealings with other people.  You get to be merciful even to people who have made a mess of their lives.  You can argue that they do not deserve mercy, but mercy is never given because it is deserved.  It is given because it is needed.  The Lord has been merciful to us.  He has demonstrated great love for us.  He has forgiven us much.  Therefore, we love much.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.