LUKE AND THE DEBTORS

No, it's not my mail.

No, it’s not my mail.

Luke 7:41-43

This short parable was told by Jesus in the house of a Pharisee named Simon (not to be confused with Simon Peter).  Simon had asked Jesus to come into his home to eat with him, and Jesus never refused an invitation to eat.  He dined with sinners and He dined Pharisees always for a purpose:  to convert them.

Just before telling him the story of the two debtors, Simon had some thoughts about Jesus swirling around in his head:

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she isthat she is a sinner.  (Luke 7:39 NIV84)

What prompted Simon the Pharisee to think this?  It was this curious incident:

When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume,  and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  (Luke 7:37-38 NIV84)

Typical of a Pharisee, Simon was greatly offended by what this “sinful” woman had done.  To make matters even worse, his sense of propriety was hurt further by Jesus’ response:  one of tolerance.  As far as Simon was concerned there was no way Jesus could have been a prophet or any other kind of  “messenger from God.”  Had Jesus known this woman’s past, Simon reasoned, there was no way He would have let her anywhere near Him.

What Simon the Pharisee couldn’t wrap his mind around was how Jesus worked:  our Lord associated with sinners – including men like Simon –  for one purpose:  to save them.  But when Simon witnessed this incident, he put himself in judgment of Jesus.  His hard, cold heart was a stranger not only to Jesus’ ways, but to Jesus Himself.

Like some Christians today, Simon’s religion was all outside with nothing inside.  Jesus had come to dine with a Pharisee but the woman’s love and devotion to The Lord was more important than any dinner.   It was a heart Jesus was after this day, not a meal.  There are a lot “Simons” in church today who have a wonderful outward show of faith, but have no heart for people or understanding of Jesus’ mission to seek and save those who are lost.

To help explain what happened between this woman and Himself, and to help Simon understand himself, Jesus told the Pharisee this parable.

1.  A certain creditor

Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.”  (Luke 7:41a NIV84)

The creditor in this parable represented God, the great Creditor.  That’s hard for some people these to understand.  How could Jesus compare God to a money lender?  When we stop and consider what a creditor does, this is really an apt illustration of God.

(A)  A creditor is well-known in his community.  Many people know who he is and what he does:  he lends his money to others.

(B)   A creditor has enough resources to help others in need.  Nobody likes a creditor, but when you need something and don’t have your own resources, he’s the first person you call.   Any need we have as human beings can be met in the infinite resources of Jesus Christ.  The needs of the sinner are deep and many, but God has what they need!

(C)   A creditor is one who doesn’t just give his resources away; he expects a return, which is why he charges interest.  He gives a loan, he doesn’t give it away.  God gave His best for us – in exchange for us – and He expects something from us in return.  God invested in us and He wants something in return for that investment.   Sadly, far too many Christians in whom God has poured His good resources, return little or nothing , or ever worse, they return evil for His good.  Hatred is an awful thing return for love, but that’s what a lot of Christians have done.  It’s human nature to resent those who help us most.

2.  Two different debtors

One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.”  (Luke 7:41b NIV84)

Jesus knew something most of us don’t:  we see ourselves better when we are looking at someone else.  Obviously, one of the debtors in the parable is  meant to represent Simon, and in a few moments, he would find out which one and he would learn a lot about himself.

The “500 and the 50” also represent two kinds of sinners, the great and the not-so-great, the murderer and liar, the rapist and the cheater, and all sinners in between.  The 50 denarii debtor is the religious church member, the member of the PTA, the moralist who thinks himself in good shape, yet he lacks “the one thing.”  The 500 denarii debtor is the profligate sinner who knows he’s in sorry shape and lacks everything.

But what about all the other debtors in between those two not mentioned in the parable?  What about the 100 denarii debtor who isn’t as bad as those who owe more, but is a little indifferent to the goodness of God?  How about the 200 denarii debtor who thinks he’s safe and is indifferent to the grace of God?  Or the 300 denarii debtor who denies God and is always fighting against His mercy?  The fact is, whether a debtor owes a little or a lot, he is in debt to the Creditor.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  (Romans 3:23 (NIV84)

Whether you are vilest of sinners or a “good person” according to the world’s standards, if you have not settled your account with the great Creditor in Heaven, you will enter the hereafter with the sin debt and no way to pay it off.  But God has made a way for you to clear the books in the here-and-now!

He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay.

3.  The helpless bankrupts

Neither of them had the money to pay him back…  (Luke 7:42a NIV84)

The little and the great debtors, even though  they owed staggeringly different amounts, were really in the exact same state before the creditor:  insolvent.  When you’re broke, it doesn’t matter whether you owe $100 or $1,000 dollars!  There was no difference between these two debtors as they stood in front of the creditor.  And so it is with every sinner in God’s sight.  Of course God is not ignorant of the sins we commit, but just how many of them will keep you out of heaven?  The answer is just ONE.   Sinners may owe God different sin-debts, but they are all bankrupt – hopeless – in His sight.  They are all the same.

The 50 denarii debtor and the 500 denarii debtor were both bankrupt; they were broke; they had nothing to give the creditor.  Only God can create something out of nothing.  Man can make nothing out of nothing.  This is the perilous state ever sinner finds himself in.

Nothing in my hand  I bring,
Simply to the Cross I cling,
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace,
Foul, I to the Mountain fly,
Wash me Savior, or I die.

None of us is able to pay Heaven’s Creditor.  There is no other creditor we may  borrow from.  When a sinner stands before the great Creditor on that great day, one of two things must happen:  a pardon or a prison sentence.

4.  The happy deliverance

…he canceled the debts of both.  (Luke 7:42b  NIV84)

This creditor was no Simon Legree!  He actually canceled both debts.  What a marvelous sentence.  It reveals the heart of God more than a shelf-full of theology books ever could.

(A)  What he did.  He “canceled” or “forgave.”  There was no repayment plan concocted.  There was no bargaining and no compromise.  There was no lecture.  What a relief it must have been for both of these debtors!  God’s ways are always a relief to man.  Forgiveness is God’s way of dealing with the sins of all who respond in faith to God’s gracious call.  It was Martin Luther who famously wrote:  I believe in the forgiveness, not the payment, of sins.

(B)  Whom he forgave.  “Both” debtors were forgiven.  Both needed forgiveness.  Both the great, profligate debtor and the not-so-great debtor both  needed forgiveness.

(C)  How he forgave.  There were no strings attached!  The creditor simply forgave them.   That’s how God deals with all those who come to Him.  No deals, no hoops to jump through,  no conditions save one:  FAITH.

(D) When he forgave.  The creditor forgave the debtors when they had nothing to give him; when they had no resources.  How  many of us found God when we reached the end of our rope?  How many of us found grace when we lost everything else?

5.  The evidence

Now which of them will love him more.  (Luke 7:42c  NIV84)

In Jesus’ day, when somebody couldn’t afford to repay a debt, one of two things happened:  the debtor was forgiven his debt or forced into a life of slavery in order to clear the debt.  Forgiveness, as we might imagine, was rare and we imagine how grateful the debtor would have been.

The implication is that each debtor “loved” the creditor for his act of kindness.  Simon reckoned the one with the greater debt loved him the  most because he owed the most.

Simon replied, I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”“You have judged correctly, Jesus said.  (Luke 7:43 NIV84)

It is correct, reasoned Jesus, to expect the ones forgiven to manifest in some way their love for Him who forgives.  The poor, sinful woman of a few verses back had been forgiven much, and she therefore loved much, and she showed it.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.”   (Luke 7:44 NIV84)

Love weeps.

Now Jesus wants Simon to see what he missed, both in the woman and in himself.  She wept.  Why did she cry so much?  Maybe she wept for her present, sinful state; perhaps they were tears of regret for a life wasted, and maybe they were tears of deepest gratitude toward God.  Paul cried tears for the lost:

For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  (Philippians 3:18 NIV84)

Love washes.

The sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet.  What an act of simple humility!  The Pharisee neglected to observe this social custom.  What the Pharisee didn’t do, this woman did do.  This woman made up for Simon’s thoughtlessness by washing Jesus’ dusty feet with her tears.  She used all she had.  She had no water, so she used her tears, the “water of the heart,” observed Augustine.

Love stoops.

She had to bend low to wipe Jesus’ feet.  This is the position of humility.  This is the position no self-respecting Pharisee would dare take.  This woman, though, put her glory (her hair) at the feet of the Master.  Like John the Baptist observed, if Jesus was to increase, then she must decrease.  If Jesus would be glorified in our lives, we have to stoop, so as to get out of His way.

Love kisses

This most remarkable woman did what Simon should have done but did not.  He should have shown common courtesy offered Him the common “kiss of peace.”

Love follows

This is implied.  Where did this woman come from?  She obviously was not in the house when Jesus arrived.  She, therefore, must have watched Jesus enter the house, and she followed Him in.  What courage it must have taken for this sinful woman to walk into a Pharisee’s home, uninvited!

Love Gives

When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume…  (Luke 7:37 NIV84)

She gave all she had to Jesus.  She gave her treasured possession – valuable perfume – and she gave herself.

What was implied in the parable, Jesus now pronounces for all to hear:

Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven.  (Luke 7:48 NIV84)

And he that believes these words has what they say and express, even forgiveness of sins.

So wrote Martin Luther.  That very moment, Jesus spoke the words of forgiveness, she believed them, and they were effectual.  She entered the house a sinner seeking salvation, she left a redeemed saint.  The forgiveness of sin takes place in Heaven, at God’s behest.  It is, therefore timeless.  The forgiveness from Heaven reaches back in our lives and forward and every sin we ever committed or will commit is simultaneously forgiven and forgotten by God.  Such is the power of God’s amazing grace!

What of Simon the Pharisee?

…he who has been forgiven little loves little.  (Luke 7:47b NIV84)

Ouch!  That must have galled the proud, religious Simon.

The three characters in our little drama couldn’t have been more different.  The proud-hearted Pharisee, the  broken-hearted sinner, and loving-hearted Savior.

As the woman left the house, the guests were amazed and stunned and wondered about Jesus, the Man who could forgive sins.  But then Jesus says something that seems redundant:

Jesus said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.  (Luke 7:50 NIV84)

Why did Jesus say that?  He already told her that she was forgiven.  He said it to her, but it was important for the assembled guests to understand that forgiveness of sins and  salvation involves a unique work of God and a manifestation of faith.  Several times in the Gospels Jesus credits a redeemed, forgiven, or healed person with faith.  But it is never merely faith that accomplishes anything of eternal value in the heart of a man.  It must always be faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said the woman’s faith saved her, but He is the Savior. Faith is able to save because faith finds its object:  Jesus Christ, the One who does the saving. Faith is like a cup, filled with Christ and thus with his salvation. Modern preaching does great damage to faith by giving it some kind of mystical power it does not have.  Faith saves because it is the confident acceptance of Jesus, our Savior, and the salvation He alone provides.

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