When you visit someone’s home or office, it’s not uncommon to see certain symbols of success on display: plaques, certificates, diplomas, pictures, trophies, ribbons—it’s only natural for people to display these symbols of their greatest achievements. In my office hangs proudly my two first place bowling trophies. If you have an hour I can walk you through the frame by frame account of how we brought home the gold.
You definitely won’t find plaques of failures in my office, and there are many I could display. Like, the time I can I miss that 7-10 split and we lost the Pastor’s bowling championship game. Or during the championship Intramural Basketball final where I was supposedly called for a phantom foul that cost us the title. Seldom will you find reminders of their past our failures? Don’t get me started on sermons that bombed. Those are my favorite, you have this great idea and for whatever reason it just doesn’t connect with people. These failures are usually hidden away in the back of the top shelf of the closet or in a box in the attic.
In one of those places, there might be wedding pictures, painful reminders of a failed marriage; you might find some old stationery containing a love letter from a failed relationship and business cards from a venture that went sour; there might be photos and letters from a lost loved one. Those are not the kind of things we keep on public display. We do our best to keep those reminders out of sight, and that’s probably the way it should be.
In this blog, we’re talking about the forgiveness of God. Admitting we are in need of God’s forgiveness implies that we have in some way failed. We probably don’t display that failure either and try and pretend it never happened. Nevertheless, the failure remains, the pain is still real, the need for reconciliation all the more evident this is why we need God’s forgiveness because we’ve all sinned and failed God in one way or another.
Today we are going to look at a passage from Scripture where Jesus addresses this issue.
To understand the parable that Jesus would use to teach this important lesson, we understand the setting of Luke 7.
Jesus had been invited by a Pharisee named Simon over to his house for dinner. In biblical times, it was considered virtuous to invite a teacher over for dinner, especially if they were from out of town, or had just taught in the synagogue. The homes were built around central courtyards in which the formal meals were held. The guests would recline on their left elbows while sitting on low-lying couches. They would eat with their right hands. Their feet would extend away from the table in keeping with the belief that the feet were unclean and offensive by nature.
Religious individuals often opened their homes for the poor. In banquets where uninvited people could enter, they were to remain quiet and away from the couches. They were just permitted to observe the discussion of the host and the invited guests. After the meal was complete, the poor might receive some of the leftovers.
In the midst of the meal, something shocking happened. The phrase, “When a woman,” could be literally translated, “And look, a woman!” It wasn’t worded that way because there was a woman present, but rather because of the type of woman she was. The Bible describes her as having “lived a sinful life.” This would mean that either she was married to a great sinner or she was a prostitute.
At some point, this lady must have had a remarkable encounter with Jesus. The account makes it clear that she is broken lady, weeping because of the grace she had found from this rabbi from Nazareth. As she goes to pour perfume on his feet, her tears fall from her face and onto his dust-covered feet, streaking them. She was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have a towel. So she used what she had; she used her hair.this action, like many of her actions, was socially unacceptable because a woman was to loosen her hair only in the presence of her husband. The Talmud says that a woman could be divorced for letting down her hair in the presence of another man. So grave was the offense that the rabbis put a woman’s loosening her hair in the same category as uncovering her breasts. The guests and onlookers were in intense shock as they saw the events unfold before them.
Like so many of her action this was socially unacceptable because a woman was to loosen her hair only in the presence of her husband. The Talmud says that a woman could be divorced for letting down her hair in the presence of another man. So grave was the offense that the rabbis put a woman’s loosening her hair in the same category as uncovering her breasts. The guests and onlookers were in intense shock as they saw the events unfold before them.
The Pharisee was speechless. He doesn’t say anything, but he definitely thinks it. He gets caught thinking, “Does this ‘prophet’ not know who this woman is? Does he not realize that she’s a prostitute? Well, I’d never even talk to her, let alone let her grope me like that. I must be more righteous than he.”
Jesus calmly looks across the table at the Pharisee and says, “Simon, let me tell you something.” Then he begins to tell the Pharisee a short story with an important lesson about dealing with the mistakes of our past and moving on, about forgiving and forgetting.
The story is not long. In fact, it only takes two verses to tell the whole story. Yet in these two verses, an extremely important principle is proclaimed. Jesus said:
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debt of both. Now, which of them will love him more?”
The denarii were equivalent to a day’s wage. So one man owed 500 days worth of work and another 50 days. Since individuals did not work on the Sabbath it was going to take the one 20 months to work off the debt and the other 2 months. So both of these men were in a bad place financially. Both owed a large sum of money and neither was going to be able to repay it.
The banker had several options. He could force them into his service. He could have them thrown into the debtor’s prison. Or he could choose to forgive the debt. Now, I recognize that my banking aptitude is pretty low. But it would seem that forgiving the debt would be the worst decision financially for him. Others might hear about what he did and try and take advantage of him. Some of his fellow moneylenders might make fun of him. Yet, despite the risk it was, he forgave them.
The stinger to the parable was simple: We are indebted to God at a price that we cannot repay and He wants to forgive us. The parable did not deal with the amount of sin in the heart, but rather the acknowledgment of the fact that there was a sin.
Jesus recognized that we are each coming from different life experiences. Some of us have tried to live a good life for our whole life. We’ve always tried to conduct ourselves properly. Yet we still make mistakes. We fail to meet the mark all the time. Others of us have lived a hard life. We’ve made glaring mistakes. Everybody knows it. We can’t hide it from anybody.
The Bible tells us that everybody sins, that nobody’s perfect.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
However, we don’t have to end there. God wants to forgive us and if we come to Him and admit our failures, the Bible promises that He will not only forgive, but He’ll forget.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. (Psalms 103:8-13)
Some of you probably have found comfort in this spiritual truth long ago. You know that God loves you, has forgiven you and you live in the peace of that relationship with God. Others probably are only understanding this for the first time and you still struggle with why would God care so much. Wherever we stand in the process, God wants us to not only rejoice in that forgiven relationship with him but to take that a step further and share a similar relationship with those around us. To those who have hurt us, or who have made mistakes and failed us in life, it is time to give them the same gift God has given us, Forgiveness. I love the quote of E. H. Chapin, “Never does the human soul appear so strong and noble as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.”