Sermon preached on Luke 7:36-8:3 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/01/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Now Which of Them Will Love Him More?”
We continue today our sermon miniseries through key women of the Bible. Last week we looked at the infamous Herodias and her daughter. The week before that we had studied Mary and Elizabeth. These last two weeks had brought us to the beginning of the earthly ministry of Jesus. And so today’s passage is in the midst of Jesus’ earthly teaching ministry. We have a chance to see how Jesus ministered unto several women in this chapter. We have the memorable, but unnamed woman at the end of chapter 7, a great sinner forgiven greatly. And we have the several women mentioned in chapter 8 here whom Jesus had healed of evil spirits and infirmities. This included the women mentioned by the names of Joanna, Susanna, and especially noteworthy, Mary Magdalene. This material is all unique to Luke’s account, and is a very precious witness for the church of Jesus’ manifold ministry to various women, and their subsequent expressions of gratitude. And so then we have a very fitting passage to consider after we just celebrated the national holiday of Thanksgiving. This passage calls us to see Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness and healing, and to consider the appropriate way to express our gratitude for such ministry.
I’d like us to begin our sermon then today by studying first Jesus’ parable here that really teaches the overall point of today’s passage. What’s exciting is that it’s a truth that’s applicable for the passage at the end of chapter 7 with this sinful woman who is forgiven, but also applicable for the several women mentioned at the start of chapter 8. Clearly two different situations and context between those two chapters; they are really two separate passages; but this parable serves to teach us a truth that pertains to both of these separate passages. Look then at 7:40. Jesus is at the house of a Pharisee named Simon who had asked him over for dinner. Simon in his mind is not believing Jesus to be a prophet because of how he is responding to this sinful woman who came into the house. And so Jesus tells Simon this parable. The parable is simply about a moneylender who had two debtors. Two people owed someone some money. One owed a much larger debt than the other: five hundred denarii versus fifty denarii. This is like maybe the difference say between owing someone 5,000 versus 50,000 dollars. Both a decent bit of many, but still quite a big difference. And so Jesus asks in the parable, if the moneylender forgave both men their debt, who would love him more? Simon rightly answered correctly: the one whom he forgave more.
This is a rather simple principle, but I wanted us to start with it because it’s so foundational. When you owe a debt, you owe it. If someone forgives you of that debt, that is grace. It’s a gift. The moneylender is not obligated to forgive you that debt. And it would be helpful to note as an aside, God is under no obligation to forgive sinners or provide for a way in Christ for their salvation. Such forgiveness is unmerited. And so when someone shows you such grace, it’s a wonderful, undeserved, thing. All this being true, that’s still only part of the principle here. The other part is that when someone does such a wonderful thing for you, you should love them in return. This is what we call gratitude. We recognize that someone did something underserved for us, and we are thankful. We then express that thankfulness in varying ways. At the heart of that expression is love. Because we are so grateful, we love the person who showed such undeserved kindness and mercy to us. That’s the principle that Jesus teaches here. It was a principle that Simon was lacking as he interpreted Jesus’ interactions with this sinful women.
So then, with that principle in mind from this parable, let’s see how our passage for today so wonderfully and repeatedly illustrates this. Let’s start with the very immediate example of the sinful woman. This is of course why Jesus told the parable. Because this sinful woman came into this dinner that Simon was hosting and which Jesus was attending. This woman, Jesus shows, is an example of someone who loved much, because she had been forgiven much, per verse 47. And look at how this woman expressed her love per verses 37-38. She brought an alabaster flask of ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet with. Likely, this was a jar that you would have had to break to use, and then you’d have to use it all up. Surely, it would have been costly. Either way, it was a tangible, material, expression of her love and gratitude to Jesus. Her tears, and her kisses on her feet, and her wiping up the tears with her hair, would have further expressed her love and gratitude. It would have been a way to honor Jesus as well, and surely reflects her faith in Jesus, a faith which Jesus commends at the end of the chapter.
Sometimes people can be confused a little here when they read verse 47 and think that it says she is being forgiven because of this love that she is showing Jesus. However, that is not the correct interpretation of this verse. It’s not correct based on either the grammar or the context. And it’s important to understand this, because it’s at the heart of why this woman is doing what she is doing. Verse 47 says in our pew Bible, ” Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” That translation understandably can mislead. But the verb tense for forgiven is a perfect tense, and the verb tense for love is a simple aorist tense. What that suggests, is that the forgiving happened prior to the loving. You could translate it like this, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, so that, she showed this love.” In other words, the grammar puts the forgiveness of sins as coming first, then the love. Her love is the expression of her forgiveness, not the basis for it. Rather, we know the basis of her forgiveness from verse 50. Jesus tells her there, “Your faith has saved you.” It’s the woman’s faith, not her acts of love, that is the instrument for finding forgiveness. Even then, the basis of her forgiveness is not simply her faith, but the object of that faith. Faith that looks to the one who has the ability to forgive such sins.
The context also affirms this. The whole point of Jesus’ parable is that someone shows this kind of love in light of being forgiven, not the other way around. Jesus’ parable would be meaningless otherwise. How then did this woman already know such forgiveness, in order to express such love and gratitude here? Well, likely it was something done from afar but from faith. What I mean is that we are reminded in 8:1 of Jesus’ preaching ministry. Jesus had a preaching ministry, with which surely this woman came into contact. Jesus was preaching about the good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ preaching included a call for repentance from sin. He taught about the need to have sins forgiven. Surely this woman at some point had heard Jesus’ preaching on this and by faith had come to trust in Jesus. Her actions here, per Jesus’ interpretation, clearly express someone who believed they had been forgiven of much sin, and that because of Jesus. In case there is any doubt then with the woman, Jesus boldly assures her in verse 48, “Your sins are forgiven.” So, what a wonderful way we see it all come back around full circle. She’s forgiven by faith in Jesus. She shows Jesus’ such love. And Jesus then loves her back by affirming to her publically of her forgiveness.
So then, this is all to affirm that this woman’s love shown to Jesus expressed her gratitude to Jesus for forgiving her of her sins. This is a perfect illustration of the principle from Jesus’ parable here. Well, as we head into chapter 8, we see more illustration of this principle. Mary Magdalene, and some other women, had been healed by Jesus of some sicknesses and/or evil spirits. In turn, we see these healed women showing Jesus love and gratitude by helping to provide for Jesus and his ministry. You see, verse 1 emphasizes how Jesus and his twelve disciples were going around preaching. But how can you go about in such a preaching ministry unless you have some means to support yourself. At least part of that means came from these several women Jesus had healed. It says in verse 3 that they ministered unto Jesus from their substance. In other words, this was a material support of Jesus, likely financial thought it may have included various ways they showed Jesus generosity and hospitality and helped provide for his physical needs. The implication is clear here. These women were healed by Jesus. In turn they showed love and gratitude through generosity and giving. Now to be fair, here Jesus’ principle from the parable is applied slightly more generally. Here they are not said to be forgiven of sins, but to be healed. But the same idea is here. He, or she, who is forgiven much, loves much. Likewise, he or she who is healed much, loves much. The same general notion of gratitude in light of Jesus’ love and grace applies.
We can take this further with Mary Magdalene here. Again, the one who is healed a little, would love little. The one who is healed much, would love much. Mary Magdalene is one who is healed much — seven demons removed from her, not just one. And so this passage is just the beginning of how Mary would show her love and gratitude to Jesus. As we read on in the Gospels, we continue to see Mary’s love for Jesus coming out. At the cross, when Jesus’ disciples had largely abandoned him, there we see faithful Mary Magdalene. When Jesus’ dead body is laid in the tomb, she is one of two women mentioned as being there to witness this. On that first resurrection Sunday, all four gospels mentions Mary Magdalene as part of the group of women who woke up early to go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him with spices. All of these express Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus. Again, the one who is forgiven much or healed much, loves much. Mary loved her Lord. And what a wonderful way it comes back full circle again, when Jesus chose to show himself to her first, after his resurrection. Mark 16:9 and John 20:15-18. She is the first to see the risen Jesus and goes and tells the apostles. In the words of Saint Augustine, she was the “Apostle to the Apostles!” So, Mary was healed of much by Jesus. She in turned showed much love to Jesus. Jesus then further loves her back!
So far, we’ve observed how this principle from the parable is illustrated in these Scriptures. Let us look at one more example. This is now an example in the opposite direction. I’m talking about Simon, the Pharisee. In 7:44-46, Jesus compares his lacking love to the forgiven women’s abundant love. Yes, Simon had invited him over to him home for a meal. But that’s where his love stopped. The things Jesus points out as lacking in Simon’s reception of Jesus were things that should have been customary hospitality to show a guest at that time. If you showed hospitality to someone, it would be customary to do things such as provide for their feet washing, to receive them with a kiss, or even supply them with anointing oil. Jesus shows Simon how the woman went beyond these things, but that Simon had not done any of these things in the least. Showing proper hospitality was and is a big thing in the middle east, understood as an expression of righteousness. Yet, Simon had failed to show such love to Jesus, in contrast to this woman. Why? Well, the parable helps to tell us why. The one forgiven of much, loves much. The one who is forgiven of little, loves little.
Though I think we should be careful here when I say that. I don’t mean to suggest that Simon was a generally less sinful person and therefore was forgiven of less and thus loved less. That would be to say more than this passage says. If we try to find Simon as referenced in this parable, we might come to this interpretation. But if anything, this passage puts him beyond this parable; in other words, not even referenced in the parable; as someone who has not yet known forgiveness at all. Remember, why was this woman ultimately forgiven? It was her faith, not her love. Her love showed forth her forgiveness. Simon’s love is shown as lacking; that suggests he has not had a faith that found forgiveness. This passage would indeed confirm a lacking faith in him. Just look at 7:39. Simon looks at Jesus’ reaction to this woman, and falsely concludes Jesus is not a prophet. Simon reasons in his mind that if Jesus was a prophet, then he would know what kind of a woman this was. And Simon then reasons that if Jesus knew what kind of a woman this way, he would not let her touch him. So, since Jesus is letting this woman touch him, Simon concludes that Jesus must not be a prophet. In other words, Simon does not have faith in Jesus. Simon therefore, won’t accept Jesus’ teachings. Even when Simon acknowledges the point of Jesus’ parable, he seems reluctant, saying in verse 43, “I suppose”. And so this passage does not show Simon having faith in Jesus. Furthermore, Simon himself doesn’t seem like he thinks he even needs forgiveness. He clearly considers this woman a sinner, and himself not. And so this passage would suggest to us that Simon has not known forgiveness. This is why then he does not show love and gratitude to Jesus. For Simon, it seems it is no faith, and thus no forgiveness, and thus no love.
All of this again points us back to what Christianity is all about. It’s about faith, and putting that faith in the right place. You see, we all have needs. The Bible talks a lot about our needs. Often it puts them in terms of salvation. We need to be saved. And as Jesus told the woman here, her faith brought her that salvation. But we see again in this passage, that faith in the wrong place does not save. That was the problem with Simon. He did have a faith of sorts. It was faith in himself. He was self-righteous. Self-righteousness is essentially faith in yourself; you justify yourself before God. The problem is that this faith does not save, as we need God to justify us before God, not ourselves. As we read about Simon here and such faulty faith, we should examine our own faith. Is there a way in which your faith shares something in common with him? Maybe you don’t fall into full blown self-righteousness, but do you tend to exercise your religion in a comparative way? You see, that’s what Simon did. He compared himself to this sinful woman, and said, he was essentially saying that he was glad he was not like this sinful woman. But he should have said, “Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Yet, this is too easy even for professing believers to fall into. We say things like, “I can understand how Jesus can forgive me, but that person? A serial killer? A rapist? A homosexual? Surely God wouldn’t forgive those kind of people.” But as soon as we fall into that comparative trap, we run the risk of the same faulty faith as Simon. As soon as we do that, we are saying that you have devalued your sin. You have begun to put your faith in yourself, that your sins really aren’t that bad. That there is something worthy in you that deserves, even demands, God to forgive you. But that is faulty faith. That is a lie of Satan. And that kind of faith won’t leave you loving God in gratitude. It will leave you foolishly self-righteous.
No, this passage tells us that the kind of faith that saves us, is the kind of faith that acknowledges our sins. That weeps over the wickedness of our sins. That believes not in yourself but in Jesus to save you. That puts faith in him and the gospel. A faith that trusts in Jesus. I think of how Simon doubted because he thought Jesus didn’t know something. Simon assumed Jesus didn’t know about the woman, so thus Jesus must not be a prophet. But Jesus did know. Jesus knew she was a great sinner, verse 47. And Jesus also knew what kind of man Simon was. And Jesus also knew the needs of all the women mentioned in chapter 8. He knew their sickness and affliction. He knew their brokenness. He knew about Mary Magdalene’s seven demons. Jesus knew. He always knows. And Jesus knows about you. He knows all your sins. He knows all your brokenness, even some which you’ve self-imposed by your sins. Jesus knows. But that is why he went to the cross. That he could tell you who come to him in faith, that your sins have been forgiven. And so he could bring you healing and help and grace.
And so Jesus knows. The question is, do you know? Do you know that you are a sinner that needs forgiveness? Do you know that in different ways you are broken and need healing? Do you know the demons that afflict you? Jesus knows. But do you? Today’s passage calls us to look to do some real reflection. By the grace of God, let us not justify ourselves before God. Let us acknowledge our sins and our struggles and our sorrows. Let us put our faith in Jesus who holds out to us forgiveness and healing. Well, whether you either renew your faith again today in Christ, or place your faith in him for the first time, know that you have a savior that loves you so. That does tell you, your sins have been forgiven. Who does come into your heart by his Spirit and begin to heal your soul. Who will be with you every day until he returns, no matter what trial of life you encounter.
So then, having been forgiven of so much, and having tasted of his healing grace so much, brothers and sisters, let us love in return. Let us love Jesus so much, for all that he has done for us. This is another point of application for us to reflect on today. It is far too easy to truly believe you’ve found the same forgiveness as this woman here in chapter 7, but look more like Simon in terms of our response of gratitude. In other words, we may truly have tasted of the forgiveness of Christ, and we may truly have great gratitude toward Jesus because of it. But do we show it? You see, that’s what this passage shows us we should be doing. In light of what he’s graciously done for us, we should have love and gratitude in response. But such love and gratitude should be expressed. It’s like if someone gives you a gift, you shouldn’t just be thankful in your hearts. You should go and tell them that you are thankful for the gift. You might write a thank you letter, or do something nice for them in return.
Let us be reminded then today that we should look for ways to express our love and gratitude toward Jesus. This woman in chapter 7 did it with some ointment, and tears, and kisses. The women in chapter 8 did it with their generous giving. There are lots of ways to do it. But let’s indeed do them! For example, we can show our love and gratitude toward Christ by our devotion to studying and meditating on his Word, and to prayer. We can show our love and gratitude by generous giving of our tithes and offerings to the work of his church. We can show our love and gratitude to him by the ways we serve in his church. We can show our love and gratitude to him by the ways we tell outsiders about what Christ has done in our lives. We can show our love and gratitude by the ways we look to love our neighbors as ourselves, because we know this pleases him. These are all but a few examples of how we can look to express our love and gratitude to Jesus.
Pray too, brothers and sisters, that this would be genuine love, from the heart. As much as this passage calls for us to express our love and gratitude in tangible ways, it is supposed to be an expression of genuine love. It’s easy to fake the expressions for the sake of appearances. But pray that as you know the grace of God more, that you would also learn to love him more; truly; from the heart; because you really know how much you’ve been forgiven.
So then, brothers and sisters, may your great gratitude for your salvation not remain theoretical. But by the grace of God endeavor to express it richly, and from the heart, to your Lord and Savior. And as you see yourself doing this, thank him even for that — how he’s healing you more and more into a thankful person — praise be to God!
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.