Friday, April 11, 2014

Which of Them Will Love Him Most?

  Life of Christ 63
de Gastmahl im Hause Simon by Pierre Subleyras, 1737
          One of the things that every ethnicity in the Middle East does well is hospitality. It is almost always quickly and genuinely and warmly extended, not just to friends, but also to foes. In accordance with this, a Pharisee names Simon invited Jesus to his home for a meal, and Jesus consented to come (Luke 7.36-50).
          In the Jewish culture of Jesus' day they often ate formal meals reclining around a low table, lying on their left elbow, with their feet stretched out behind them. As Jesus was eating, a woman crept up unobtrusively behind Him until she was standing above His feet. Suddenly, much to her embarrassment, she began to cry, and the tears began to roll down her face and onto Jesus' feet below her. At this she knelt, and gently wiped away her tears from His feet, and then on impulse, kissed His feet, and anointed them with oil.
          As you can imagine, such a scene brought the dinner table conversation to a screeching halt. The problem, though, was actually worse than just a strange interruption. This woman was known around town as 'a sinner' (Luke 7.37), a polite turn of phrase for an exceedingly impolite woman. In plain language, she was a prostitute, and everybody knew it.
          How had she gotten in? Wherever Jesus went a crowd gathered or followed, and this occasion would have been no different. Lining the open portico of the dining area would have been all of Simon's servants, as well as some of the townspeople, probably. She mingled, unnoticed, in that crush of people until her actions shrieked to be addressed.
          Why had she come? She doesn't say. In fact, she doesn't say a solitary word of any kind in our story, but her actions speak volumes to me. Somehow she had heard of Jesus, and to hear of Jesus was to hear of His compassion. Perhaps she had even heard the message I addressed in yesterday's blog post, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11.28). Her heart, weighed down with the accumulated burden of hundreds of illicit sexual encounters, and the corresponding complete emptiness and brokenness that comes with such a lifestyle, cried out for that rest. She thirsted in the barren land of sin and shame, and nothing satisfying there she found, and in the depths to which she had fallen she cried out, without words, for forgiveness and healing literally at the feet of Jesus. She wept her pain and repentance and plea for mercy silently onto the feet of Jesus, and then loved Him so tenderly when that rest stole into her aching soul.
          Simon's response to this highly unusual event, not verbalized, but clearly evident to Jesus, was criticism. After all, if He was such a great spiritual giant, how could He let this woman, this sinner, this foul creature, touch Him? Either He didn't care that a woman of the streets was making a fool of herself and of Him, or He didn't know, and in either case He wasn't very impressive.
          Jesus, as He often did, used the opportunity presented to Him to give a tremendous lesson. He began it by telling a story. Briefly, there are two debtors involved, one that had been forgiven a very small debt, and the other a very large one. Jesus then asked Simon a question, 'which of them will love him most?' (Luke 7.42). Simon correctly answers that the one who had the greatest debt erased, and thus the greatest burden lived from his shoulders, surely loved the creditor most.
          With his own mouth Simon the Pharisee damned himself. His problem with Jesus wasn't an intellectual misunderstanding of the claims of Jesus Christ, or even a healthy skepticism towards a man who wanted to be Israel's messiah. Simon's problem was pride. That pride was illustrated by Simon's actions as a host contrasted with the woman's actions as a heartbroken sinner. Simon didn't offer Jesus the common courtesy of water for His feet, but the woman did. Simon didn't greet Jesus with a kiss, but the woman did. Simon didn't offer His guest any perfumed ointment, but the woman did.
          Why hadn't Simon done these things? Very simply, because He didn't love Jesus. Why didn't Simon love Jesus? Because He didn't think Jesus had forgiven him of anything. Why wasn't Simon forgiven of anything? Because he didn't think he needed to be forgiven. In Simon's mind, what was there to be forgiven for, after all, he was a Pharisee, not a prostitute. But the woman, living with the knowledge, to the bitter dregs, of her own deep sinfulness, loved Jesus so much more precisely because she understood that in Him was rest for her soul.
          The reason people don't love Jesus is because they love themselves. Simon had the classic pharisaically inflated sense of his own goodness, when the actual scriptural truth was that there was nothing in the least lovely about him in the eyes of God. I know that because the same is true of me. My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17.9). All my righteousness are as filthy rags, let alone my sins (Isaiah 64.6). Yet, O how He loves me (John 3.16)! When I view these undeniable truths in the full light of day how can my heart not help but swell with love for Him? 'We love him, because he first loved us' (I John 4.19).
          On the one hand we have Simon the Pharisee, an esteemed man, especially in his own mind. On the other hand we have a nameless, voiceless woman, a prostitute by trade. Which of them loved Jesus the most? The one who knew she had been forgiven.

If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 34, 'Which of Them Will Love Him Most?'

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