Eleventh Day of Lent

Luke 7:40-50
40 Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.

41 ‘Two people owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43 Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’
‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.

44 Then he turned towards 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. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’

48 Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’
50 Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

The story told here just could not happen. Or if it ever did the moneylender who had forgiven the debt wouldn't remain in business too long. Consider the figures for a moment.  A denarius is worth about a day's wage. In the UK in 2018 the average wage was about £105 per day. So one man owed the moneylender £5,250 and the other owed more than £50,000. The reality is that for one of these people the debt forgiven is life transforming, so no wonder this man would be more deeply grateful to the moneylender.

Jesus exaggerates the scenario so much that we can’t help but think that poor Simon is being set up! And he falls right into the trap that Jesus has set for him (Luke 7:43).

To get why he was being set up we need to look at the verse immediately before the portion above. It talks about Simon thinking to himself in reaction to the actions of this woman towards Jesus. She was crying, soaking Jesus’ feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and then anointing him with perfume oil that she had brought with her in an alabaster jar.

Simon is appalled and thinks to himself that if Jesus really was a prophet he would know the reputation of the woman who was touching him. To Simon, the past behaviour of this woman coloured any future actions on her part. He decided she was tainted and in turn tainted all she touches (Luke 7:39).

So Jesus has something to tell him (Luke 7:40). 

Notice how Jesus talks to Simon. The text says he looks at the woman and speaks to Simon (Luke 7:44). Jesus honours this woman by looking at here but also highlights Simon’s disrespect. His question is therefore significant: “Do you SEE this woman?” (Luke 7:44). The reality is that Simon didn’t really see this woman….he saw a woman, defined by her past behaviour.

Jesus then gently, but directly, points out that Simon has broken all the basic traditions of hospitality. There was no water provided for Jesus to wash his feet, no welcoming kiss, no perfume to anoint his head. It is an extraordinary omission on Simon’s part. Yet this woman, who wasn’t even a guest had done it all, and at great personal cost.

How interesting that Jesus says her great love is evidence of the scale of the forgiveness she had experienced. Her loving actions have grown out of the experience of forgiveness and evidence the extent of that forgiveness. Simon’s lack of hospitality perhaps indicates the opposite. Jesus also seems to imply that a person who acts with little love is a person who has little understanding of the extent of the forgiveness they need (Luke 7:47). Simon must have been cut to the core.

This story challenges me about the extent to which I live out of gratitude and grace and how much I take for granted.

One final thing. Given that Jesus believes this woman is motivated by the knowledge of a great forgiveness, why then does Jesus say to her “Your sins are forgiven”? I wonder why he needed to say that? I wonder was it because she needed to hear it. It strikes me how easy it is to experience forgiveness and to act out of that forgiveness but from a place of guilt…or shame. Jesus tells her, in front of all of these judgmental men, “You are forgiven,” and “Go in peace,” (Luke 7:48, 50).

The great joy of the Gospel is that we have been forgiven a great deal, no matter who we are. And it’s best we don’t think of ourselves more highly than we merit. But the Gospel also tells us that we are then called to live out of the joy of forgiveness, and the grace of forgiveness, and the freedom of forgiveness. There is no shame, even for those who have been forgiven a huge amount.

Loving God

Whose inclination is always towards forgiveness
Incline my own heart in the direction of grace
That I may move in the freedom of your love
To the praise of your glorious grace


Tenth Day of Lent

Luke 6:27-38 
27 ‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’

The experts tell us that Luke was written round about AD 85. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in AD 70, which was hugely traumatic for the Jews. And the trauma was working its way out in a variety of forms. We shouldn’t forget that what we now know as Christianity began as a subset of Judaism but at the time this was being written Jews and Christians were starting to split apart and go their own way.

In many cases this meant that families were being split up, and whole communities were being divided. So when Luke reminds the Christians of the words of Jesus in this sermon, they came with a very real edge. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man,” (Luke 6:22).

Jesus understands what this level of aggression and anger is like, but he doesn’t try to go easy here. There is no let up for the disciple. So to the listeners Jesus says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27). Remember yesterday we noted that though Jesus was speaking to a big crowd he addressed his disciples directly. Here he zooms in yet again, and is addressing those who are listening. This is a challenging word.

It’s hard to offer any deflection in the exegesis here.

Love your enemies.

Jesus describes three ways of loving enemies: do good to them, bless them, pray for them (Luke 6:27-31). Someone once said that all of Jesus teaching can be found somewhere in the prophets, except for this one - love your enemies. This is utterly new, and unique. And when Jesus describes how to do it, he will not allow us to be passive about it. We are too ‘do’ things about it.

And so he roots it in their place and time. If someone, strikes you on the cheek offer him the other one too. A strike on the cheek is a dismissive act, often delivered with the back of the hand. Turning the other cheek offers another strike with the flat of the hand and is an act of resistance. “I will not strike you back, but nor will I allow you to dismiss me as if I don’t matter. I am somebody and you will notice.” If they take your cloak, give them your shirt also, and stand there naked before them. Reduce their abuse of power to an absurdity.

But also, live with a reckless generosity.

Treat others the way you want to be treated and risk the fact that, though some may abuse your kindness and generosity, sufficient numbers may be inspired to change the way the world works. For our relationship to others is not to be determined by their past actions towards us, but rather by the way the future is set to turn out as the reign of God works its way out in the world.

Let’s begin gently. If you have someone who you might consider an ‘enemy,’ or someone who has abused your generosity and thereby hurt you, pray for them now. Later on, you can think of ways to ‘do good’ for them.

Jesus who knew rejection
For those who have ignored me
And isolated me and made me lonely
Bless them

Jesus whose reputation was impugned
For those who speak ill of me
And tell lies about me
Bless them

Jesus who endured the cross
For those who have hurt me
Physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Bless them

Lord this is all I can do right now.

Strengthen me towards love
And forgiveness
So that I may more fully follow
As one of your disciples.