A Sacred Scandal of Forgiveness, Faith, and Gratitude
October 06, 2022
Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee by Rubens, c. 1618.
Forgiveness can be controversial.
Jesus is at the home of Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7. a woman comes and, with weeping, pours a bottle of expensive perfume on his feet and proceeds to ritually wash his feet. This causes an uproar of disapproval which occasions a powerful lesson.
Who better the artistically capture the scandalous nature of this story than Peter Paul Rubens?
Look with me at three concepts in this passage, set in the context of an act of extravagance, murmurings of criticism, and a story of debts obliterated.
The first and most central is forgiveness. The story tells of a debtor who has been forgiven much and is profoundly grateful. In two cases, debtors owed what they could not pay and the lender initiated the act of forgiveness.
Specifically, he cancelled the debt.
The woman represents the man with the greater debt. She is grateful.
Jesus declares her forgiven.
"Your sins are forgiven."
That stirs the critics' fire. Who can forgive sin? Who is this rascal, the charlatan?
"Your faith has saved you," Jesus says, not to the critics, but to the woman who had extravagantly anointed him with perfume and with tears.
That is the second concept: faith.
Jesus actually answers his critics with this statement. She was not saved because she anointed Jesus, but because of why she anointed Jesus. Nor was she saved at the moment of his declaration. He implies that her saving faith was already present.
Something had convinced her that she had been forgiven. There was something about Jesus' presence that radiated love, mercy, grace, and acceptance;
We do not know what it was; we just know that it was.
The third concept is gratitude.
Her act was a demonstration of the faith that had already taken up residence in her heart. She already knew she was forgiven and her heart was filled with thankful joy. That is why she performed this irrational and spontaneous act of scandalous love.
She was thankful.
She never is recorded as having asked for forgiveness.
She prayed no special prayer that we know of.
She confessed no creed.
She was forgiven simply because God forgave her. In Jesus, she saw the forgiving and accepting God. By faith, she believed it and acted upon it. She acted like someone who was forgiven and that showed in her gratitude.
All Jesus had left to say was, "Go in Shalom."
Go in peace.
Is it any wonder that the church's observance of the feast of forgiveness, the Lord's Supper, is called Ευχαριστώ ?
It means, "Thanks."
Luke 7:36-50 GNB
A Pharisee invited Jesus to have dinner with him, and Jesus went to his house and sat down to eat. In that town was a woman who lived a sinful life. She heard that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee's house, so she brought an alabaster jar full of perfume and stood behind Jesus, by his feet, crying and wetting his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured the perfume on them. When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, "If this man really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is who is touching him; he would know what kind of sinful life she lives!"
Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Yes, Teacher," he said, "tell me."
"There were two men who owed money to a moneylender," Jesus began. "One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. Neither of them could pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Which one, then, will love him more?"
"I suppose," answered Simon, "that it would be the one who was forgiven more."
"You are right," said Jesus. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your home, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You did not welcome me with a kiss, but she has not stopped kissing my feet since I came. You provided no olive oil for my head, but she has covered my feet with perfume. I tell you, then, the great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven. But whoever has been forgiven little shows only a little love."
Then Jesus said to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven."
The others sitting at the table began to say to themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?"
But Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."