Summary: Grace enables us to forgive others and ourselves.
The Freedom of Forgiveness, Luke 7:36-50
It is told of a famous smith of medieval times that, having been taken prisoner and immured in a dungeon, he began to examine the chain that bound him with a view to discovering some flaw that might make it easier to break it. His hope was in vain, for he found from some marks upon it that it was his own workmanship. It had been his boast that none could break a chain that he had forged. Thus it is with us. Our own hands have forged the chain that binds us, a chain that no human hand can break. The glorious news is that God has offered us a way out of the chains of judgment and condemnation which have held us captive for so long.
The forgiveness of God comes to us not by way of forced receipt, but of a divine invitation toward freedom. In other words, God does not compel us to receive the gift of His grace and mercy; He merely invites us to participate in the free gift of His forgiveness. He invites us to loose our chains of bondage in favor of participating in the freedom of forgiveness. Participation in forgiveness means that we are not only able, by faith, to receive forgiveness for our sins, but also to find the freedom to forgive others and to find the freedom which comes in learning to forgive ourselves.
Forgiveness is not a one time experience through the recitation of a formula prayer. In many circles of Christianity, believers are encouraged to say the “sinner’s prayer” upon conversion to Christ. While the sinner’s prayer may have merit in encouraging a point of commitment in one’s life, forgiveness has little to do with such prayers and much more to do with a constant lifestyle of ongoing covenant relationship with God. A sinner’s prayer constitutes a lifestyle of grace no more than the saying of marriage vows constitutes a lifestyle of committed marriage. Commitment comes not only on the day the vow is made. Commitment comes in the day in day out living out of ones vows!
Just as we have been talking about grace as an experiential reality in one’s life, so too, forgiveness is a cyclic relationship of receiving and sharing in the forgiveness of God. Forgiveness is a journey of experiencing and sharing grace because grace is the foundation for all forgiveness. As we experience the grace-filled life we are enabled to forgive others just as we have been forgiven and as we live in the freedom which forgiveness brings, we are enabled even to do that which is most difficult for many of us; forgive ourselves.
The Heart of Judgment
The prevailing theme in Luke 7:36-50 is undoubtedly forgiveness of sins. Jesus had been invited to eat at the home of one of the Pharisees. While inside the house a woman who was known to be a sinful woman came inside weeping. Much to the dismay of the pious and judgmental Pharisees, she began to anoint the feet of Jesus with very costly scented oil from an alabaster box and also with her tears. This woman was known to have lived a sinful life. The so-called “keepers of the law,” the Pharisees, were appalled not only by the actions of this sinful woman, but also by Jesus evident approval of what she was doing. True to form, rather than showing compassion to this woman, the Pharisees began to judge Jesus!
It was not simply enough for the Pharisees to pass judgment on the woman, they were inclined to judge Jesus for His lack of judgment on the woman. The Pharisees were so filled with self righteousness and a judgmental spirit that they even judged others for their lack of judgment. Devoid of compassion and any real understanding of Jesus ministry, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to his home 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.” (Luke 7:39)
A heart that is filled with judgment cannot understand the grace and compassion of Christ. In their zeal for the law, the Pharisees had abandoned its chief aim; to bring people into covenant relationship with God. Sin alone created a separation between God and man. The law was never intended to be a wall of separation but a teacher guiding humanity into a loving and eternal relationship with its creator. How many of us have been like the woman with alabaster box of fragrant oil longing for forgiveness and acceptance? How many of us have been like the Pharisees with a heart full of judgment? If we are to ever learn to live the grace-filled life; if we are ever to experience the freedom that forgiveness brings in our lives; we must learn to let go of our Pharisaic need judge others and our compulsion to judge ourselves.