Summary: God invites us to recognize who we are--sinners in need of a savior, and to be released to a new life through the power of forgiveness.
Luke 7:36-8:3 “The Power of Forgiveness”
One of the blessings of a high school or college English course is that you read books you would never read at any other time. Few people would waste their time pouring over the pages of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” rather they’d wait for the movie. The same is true for Alcott, Melville, Austen, Orwell, Rand, Dickens, or Hawthorne.
While mulling over the message of this gospel text this past week, a character from a book by the nineteenth century author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, came to mind. The book is The Scarlet Letter and the character is Hester Prynne. Do you remember Hester? She was a woman who lived everyday of her life with a scarlet “A” embroidered on her bodice. The letter proclaimed that she was a sinner to everyone she encountered. Thus identified others were then able to judge her, shun her, gossip about her, and ridicule her.
Hester reminded me of the woman in the gospel story—a woman judged by herself and her entire community as a sinner.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SINNERS
Today’s gospel story portrays different ways that people deal with their sinfulness, and how God works with people. The characters of Simon the Pharisee and the nameless woman demonstrate two ways that humankind deals with sin.
The woman is known as a sinner. We don’t know what her sin is. Many have speculated that she was a prostitute, but we do not have any evidence of that from this story. That has been, however, the favorite sin for the church to put on any female. She was probably a woman of substance, because she is listed along with several women who supported Jesus. The woman was also a prominent member of her community. Everyone knew that she had sinned.
Simon the Pharisee sees himself in a different light. He is a Pharisee, a keeper of the law, a religious person, a good person, and probably a respected person. He might have seen himself as being able to keep the law perfectly and therefore not a sinner or in need of forgiveness. He certainly didn’t define himself as a sinner, and he didn’t allow anyone else to view him as a sinner, either.
Modern day attempts to deal with sin are more similar to Simon the Pharisee than they are to the nameless woman.
• Society as moved from viewing children as hellions (sinners) in need of discipline in order to be good, to basically angels (sinless) who only need help to develop their true potential.
• The comedian, Flip Wilson, popularized another reason for sin, “The devil made me do it.” We don’t need to admit to the dark side of our lives, but only to outside evil forces and a lapse in fortitude.
• The third way we deal with sin is to blame it on someone else. A classic example of blame is the woman who purchased a cup of McDonalds’ coffee, put it in her lap and promptly spilled it. In her perspective on life she was not stupid for putting hot coffee in her lap, but rather McDonalds was negligent for brewing hot coffee.
SIN IN THE BIBLE
The gospel story clearly proclaims that we are all sinners. Whether or not we owe fifty denarii or five hundred, we still are in debt because of our sin. Both Simon and the woman were sinners. Both needed the forgiveness of their sins. One understood this and one did not.
Martin Luther highlighted the Biblical truth that we are at the same time sinners and saints. Because Jesus Christ died for us and paid the price of our sin, we are seen by God as forgiven and righteous people. At the same time, we know that we battle with sin in our lives—not only the various sins we commit, but also our natural drive toward self-centeredness, rebellion and a desire to be our own God.
This Biblical view of sin and our identification as sinners not only enable us to deal with our sin in a constructive and positive manner, but it also enables us to experience the depth, excitement and abundance of life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
LIFE OF CELEBRATION AND GRATITUDE
Jesus makes a good point in this gospel story. If you don’t think you are in need of much forgiveness you probably will not respond with much love. Simon is a case in point. He might have been a very religious person, but his religion wasn’t very exciting or important for his wellbeing. In modern day terms, his religion was luke warm.
On the other hand, the woman’s relationship with God was sizzling. She was overflowing with love because of God’s overwhelming and steadfast love and forgiveness. She willingly made sacrifices because her faith and relationship with God excited her. She willingly debased herself and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair because of what Jesus had done for her. She would live for Jesus—whatever it took.