Summary: The Pharisee’s were so furious over the forgiving of this woman’s great debt of sin, that they neglected the fact that they too had a debt which they were unable to pay.
Introduction: Two men took a line of credit from an individual financier. Both used the line of credit for various purposes. One was careful to only dip into it for small amounts, a little extra to cover the mortgage on a tight month, or a few hundred extra to cover financing on a good used vehicle. A little discretionary money for a business trip, a little extra for a nice gift on Valentine’s day.
The second man was less prudent. He purchased a deck for his home with a built-in hot-tub. He upgraded his new leased vehicle from the standard to the leather package with the High-output engine. He flew executive class when coach would have got him to the same destination. On Valentine’s Day he took his wife on a week long cruise, all paid for on his line of credit.
Then disaster struck. The company where both men worked announced that the market had collapsed, and all employees were now redundant, no severance, no pension, no pay-check. Immediately the loans were called due. The first man owed $5,000 and had no means to pay, that seemed slight compared to the second, who owed ten times that amount. The creditor to whom the debt was owed considered the situation and then told both men, that he would forgive their debt completely.
Which of these men would be most grateful?
I. The Pharisee (Simon)
This was the story that Jesus told that made Simon the Pharisee grimace. With a simple story Jesus had cut to the quick of Simon’s secret prejudice and had made his point.
Had Simon been a better judge of character, he would have realized that Jesus was more than he ever imagined he might be. But Simon was not an astute judge of character.
As far as his fellow Pharisees were concerned Simon’s ability to judge character was a little lacking in the simple fact that he had invited Jesus to join him for dinner. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Jesus was sitting at the table of a tax-collector. It didn’t take much to see that Jesus really wasn’t the sort of character that ran the Pharisee ‘Supper Circuit’ very often. But the supper promised to be interesting, if nothing more, so the Pharisees came to eat with Jesus at Simon’s table.
I imagine that Simon was probably a tolerated Pharisee, not because of his high moral standard, but rather because he was a morally upright man of some means. He couldn’t recite the Torah verbatim, but he could throw a nice dinner party, and that was enough to cover a few other weaknesses.
Occasionally Simon would do something a little embarrassing, like posing the question of whether Jesus might not be some sort of prophet as the common people were saying, that perhaps he does have some sort of mandate from God.
The question of what Simon thought of Jesus is an interesting one. Three things can be deduced from this brief passage.
First of all, it is apparent that despite his apparent penchant for spending time with unsavoury people like Publicans and Lepers, the Pharisees still accepted him as a good and moral man. Nothing could be more anathema to a Pharisee than the thought of coming into contact with a person that might render them ceremonially unclean. How humiliating to imagine what it would be like to be seen offering sacrifice to be made clean once more, the Pharisee’s prided themselves on their immaculate behaviour.
Simon would have been relieved if Jesus arrived at the same time as some of the other Pharisee’s, then it would seem like a natural oversight if he didn’t embrace him and greet him with a kiss on the hand or cheek as was the custom of the day. Fortunately Jesus had simply made his way to the table and found a place to recline without the need for human contact. While Jesus seemed to be a righteous man, there was no way of knowing whether he might have come into contact with an unclean person and rendered himself unclean on the way to Simon’s home.
Second, we see from Simon’s reference to him as ‘Teacher’, that some of the Pharisees were willing to accept the popular designation of Jesus as a Rabbi, a spiritual teacher of the people. With this in mind Simon would have ensured that he checked and double checked the Mishnah for proper dinner etiquette. Surely he had scoured the house for leaven, which he knew he wouldn’t find because he never allowed any in in the first place. The proper bowl for ceremonial hand washing was set out and the table was spread with only foods that had been clearly certified in the Law and Prophets as being clean and acceptable. Hanging on the wall was Simon’s own pedigree, a genealogy of his decent from Abraham which assured that he was a member of God’s holy people. Perhaps a copy of the Shema was neatly displayed in the entry way. Everything a good Rabbi would be looking to find was in Simon’s home.