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 show these symbols of their greatest achievements. In my office hangs 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 won’t find plaques of failures in my office, and there are many I could display. Like, the time I missed 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 people’s past 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 a box in the attic.
In one of those places, there might be wedding pictures, painful reminders of a failed marriage; you might find old stationery containing a love letter from a failed relationship or 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 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 failed. We don’t display that failure either or try and pretend it never happened. The failure remains, the pain is still real, the need for reconciliation all the more evident. We need God’s forgiveness because we’ve all sinned and failed God.
Today we will look at a passage from Scripture where Jesus addresses this issue.
To understand the parable that Jesus would use to teach this valuable lesson, we need to know the context of Luke 7.
Jesus had been invited by a Pharisee named Simon over to his house for dinner. In biblical times, it was virtuous to ask a teacher over for dinner, 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 unwanted 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 guests. After the meal was complete, the poor might receive some of the leftovers.
In the midst of the meal, something shocking happened. The Bible uses the phrase, “When a woman,” the literal translation is, “And look, a woman!” It wasn’t worded that way because there was a lady present, but rather because of the type of woman she was. The Bible describes her as having “lived a sinful life.” A sinful life would mean that either she was married to a known 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 a broken woman, 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. The offense is severe, so much so that the rabbis put a woman undoing her hair in the same category as taking off her blouse and baring all. 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 thinks it. The Pharisee’s thoughts betray him. Jesus picks up on what is running through his mind. “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 a valuable 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 thing. In these two verses, a fundamental 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 two months. 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 small. 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. 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 entire lives. We’ve always sought to conduct ourselves properly. 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 errors. 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 fell 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. Psalm 103:8-13
Jesus has a message for you today. Go to that closet where you are hiding those boxes of failures, guilt, unforgiven sins, and regret. There are probably dusty. Blow the dust off of them and open the boxes. Look deep inside. The trophies of your broken past pains are gone. Reach inside. Take out the object that is inside. It is a cross and attached to that cross is a note.
Read it. “You are looking for the symbols of your hurtful past. The things you are holding on to that are holding you back from receiving the love God has to offer unconditionally. Jesus took your trophies of regret, your tokens of guilt and replaced them with this cross. It is a reminder that you are forgiven. Your debt paid. Signed Jesus.” Know that God loves you. God has forgiven 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.”