How Much Are You Forgiven? (Ash Wednesday)

How Much Are You Forgiven?


The lack of politeness is frustrating. There are times you expect people to be polite. And when they are not, it’s frustrating, if not even offensive. You pay good money to go to a movie. And there, right in front of you, is a group of people giving a loud, minute-by-minute commentary on the movie. Don’t they see how impolite that is? Or you go to a restaurant with your family. And in the booth right next to yours is a group of people who seem to be having a contest to see who can the most inappropriate joke. Don’t they know that that is not polite at all? It’s frustrating when people are not polite, isn’t it? In the words we look at this evening we see just how frustrating and even offensive the lack of politeness is. In Luke 7, we read: 36 Then one of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume 38 and stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the perfume.” (Luke 7:36–38 CSB17)


In these words we see how offensive the lack of politeness is. Jesus is invited to a Pharisee’s house. And in the middle of the dinner there is a woman who shows up. And as we work into these words we see that there is one layer and level of impoliteness after another. First, in Jesus’ day it was customary for the men to eat by themselves. So, it was very impolite for a woman to barge her way into a meal where men were gathered. Second, notice the type or kind of woman this was. Luke tells us that she was a “sinner.”1 That word is a very specific word here. It’s a word that describes a professional sinner. A professional sinner is one who makes a living to survive on by sinning. And, for women, that occupation was prostitution. Oh, how impolite it was for her to show up there at the dinner—especially considering what kind of woman she was. But it gets even more offensive. She stands behind Jesus, at his feet. And she begins to cry. And her tears keep falling all over Jesus’ feet. Then what does she do? She lets down her hair. That too would have been very impolite and offensive. But then what does she do with her hair? By this time the tears have mixed with the sand and the sweat on Jesus’ feet. And it stinks. She wipes away the sand and some of the sweat. And what does she do next? She begins to kiss his feet. And notice when she does this. She does not kiss his feet after she pours out the perfume on his feet. No, instead she first kisses his sweaty, stinky feet again and again. Then she pours the perfume on his feet. Then what happens? In verse 39, we read: “When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she’s a sinner!”” (Luke 7:39 CSB17)


The Pharisee is offended at her extreme impoliteness. But then he’s offended that Jesus isn’t offended. And he concludes to himself that Jesus must not be a prophet. Because if he were, he would get rid of this woman who has shattered politeness in every way. So Jesus responds to the man’s secret, inner thoughts: 40 Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He said, “Say it, teacher.” 41 “A creditor had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” he told him.” (Luke 7:40–43 CSB17)


As Jesus so often did, here he tells a story. It’s the story of two men who both owed a debt. One owed vastly much more of a debt than the other. Both were forgiven. And the question Jesus asks this Pharisee, Simon, is this: Which one will be more loving toward the one who forgave the debt. And in cold, heartless way, the Pharisee, Simon, says, “I suppose, the one he forgave more.” Then, for the first time that night, he acknowledges the presence of the woman. He looks at her. But he speaks to him: 44 Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears, has washed my feet and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You didn’t anoint my head with olive oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume. 47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48” (Luke 7:44–47 CSB17)


Notice how Jesus piles up the contrasts here. He says, “You provided no water for my feet, but this woman provides tears and wiped them with her hair.” This would been a shocking statement for the Pharisee to hear. For what was expected of a host in Jesus’ day, was that if you had a guest, you’d have the youngest child or lowest slave wash the feet of the guests. At the very least you’d provide a bowl with water so the guest could wash his own feet. And so he says, “you provided, no water, this woman provided tears.”


Then he says, “You gave no kiss, but this woman has not stopped kissing.” In Jesus’ day, when you saw a friend, you would kiss the friend on the cheek. The Pharisee didn’t treat Jesus even like a temporary friend. But the woman humbly kept kissing his feet.


Jesus says to Simon the Pharisee, “You gave me no oil for my head, bu this woman poured out oil on my feet.” If you had a friend over for dinner you kissed their cheek. If you had a rare honored guest, you’d provide perfumed oil for his hair. That thought of providing oil for Jesus probably didn’t even enter the Pharisee’s mind.


In all of this, notice the point that Jesus is making: There is a far, far worse sin than having no politeness. Having no repentance is far, far worse than having no politeness. Simon saw how much and how many her sins were. But he refused to see how much and how many his own sins were. And when, out of love for him, Jesus sets aside time to tell this Pharisee the truth and correct him, the Pharisee is more concerned about propriety and politeness instead of repentance.


And my dear friends, that is the same trap and temptation we can all fall into. The first temptation is to conclude that, yes, we sin, but our sins are not as bad as the other people. The drug dealers, the prostitutes, the embezzlers, the bribers—all those professional sinners—they are so much worse than me. How horribly wrong we are. For the same question that Jesus asked the Pharisee, he asks us tonight: how much are you forgiven? How many sins have you committed? And how bad are they? If you are concluding in such a cold and calloused way that you’re a little sinner with little sins that need a little help, then you’ve completely missed the point Jesus’ words here. Oh, but it gets worse. The first sin is concluding that our sins really aren’t that bad. But the second sin is concluding, just like this Pharisee, that no one gets to accuse you of sin or correct you unless they, in the most proper and polite way, speak to you about your sin. If they are urgent and sincere, we are offended that there wasn’t enough small talk before they corrected us. But what Jesus says here is so very vital: a lack of repentance is so much worse than a lack of politeness.


So my dear friends, how much? How much are you forgiven? The sincerity of Jesus’ words here move us to confess both the weight and the number of our sins. For the lack of repentance is so much worse than the lack of politeness. And then what does our sincere Savior do? He forgives us. And notice how beautifully Jesus does this. We read: 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”” (Luke 7:48–50 CSB17)


Finally, at the end of all these events, Jesus looks right at her. And with such sincerity he tells her, “Your sins are and remain forgiven.”2 And this evening he says the same to us. We did not come here this evening with little sins for a little Savior to take hold of and forgive. No, our sins are many and they are much. And Jesus looks at each and every single one of us and says, “Your sins are and remain forgiven.” So tonight, rejoice in that forgiveness. And as Jesus said to the woman, so I say to you: “Go in peace. The faith that Jesus has given to you has saved you.”



1 “ⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲟⲥ” (Luke 7:37 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲁⲫⲉⲱⲛⲧⲁⲓ” (Luke 7:48 GNT-ALEX)

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