Saturday, June 4, 2016

Two debtors

The gospel lesson for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 7:36-8:3, gives us a "mouse-in-the-corner" view of Jesus dealing with two people - one, Simon, a Pharisee, and the other, an unnamed woman "who was a sinner".  We overhear the conversation between Simon and Jesus, and we see the actions of the silent, unnamed woman.  In Simon's words, and in the reports of his thoughts which are also included, we see a man who is quite certain he is a debtor to no one, God or human.  In his view, his accounts are fully paid.  Through the woman's actions of extravagant love towards Jesus we see a woman who is certain she is a debtor, especially to God.  She cannot do enough to express her gratitude to the one who will forgive her sins.  But Simon shows no such inclination.  Jesus summarizes it accurately;  "The one to whom little is forgiven loves little. [But the one to whom much is forgiven loves much.]

(The following questions come from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word, Jesus, proclaims both law and gospel in this text.  To the unnamed woman, Jesus is pure gospel.  He allows her to express her love for him, as she washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, anoints them with oil, and kisses them. Finally, he announces to her that her sins are forgiven, and she may go in peace.  All is gospel to this "sinner".  To Simon, on the other hand, Jesus is pointing out through a parable, Simon's great need for forgiveness,  He calls Simon a debtor, and calls into question Simon's lack of love for him.  Through Luke's eyes, we see Simon's smug self-righteousness, and his unacknowledged need for forgiveness. This is the Word functioning as law.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  The two recipients of Jesus' attention are both candidates for our identification.  If we identify with the woman, then we are acknowledging our sinfulness and coming to Jesus for forgiveness, thanking him for his mercy and love.  If we identify with Simon - and it seems to me that this is where we likely belong - then we are ones whose self-righteousness and hardheartedness are brought to light, so that they may be rooted out of our life.  We become the ones who, until Jesus brings it to light, will not acknowledge our need of grace.  This is often where we stand.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The main part of this text does not contain any specific calls to follow Jesus, but the end of this reading, which goes into chapter 8, includes several examples of people following Jesus and proclaiming the good news, as well as providing for others who do.  The call to proclaim, and to provide for those who proclaim the good news are both calls to obedience.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Perhaps obvious are several couplets:  debtor/debt-free; guilty/forgiven; entering in despair/going in peace.  Less obvious, but helpful is this couplet: blind to self-righteousness/enlightened and forgiven.

5.  Exegetical work:  It is telling that the conditional phrase in verse 39 is a simple contrary-to-fact type of conditional.  In other words, when Simon thinks to himself, "If this man were a prophet..." the construction reveals that he is thinking, "This man is no prophet."  This is striking because just prior to this we have heard the people of Nain proclaim "A great prophet has risen among us!" (7:16)  What this little phrase reveals to us is the depth of Simon's spiritual blindness.  We also see how Jesus so easily shows Simon his sin.  Jesus tells him a parable and at the end of it asks Simon which debtor will love him more.  Simon, thinking the answer obvious says, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus says, "You have judged rightly. [You are the one who loves little.]  John Calvin, in writing about this story has this to say:  "Here again we observe that out of  their ignorance of Christ's office, people immediately produce new stumbling blocks.  The root of evil is that no one examines his own miseries, which undoubtedly would awaken everyone to seek a remedy.  It is not at all surprising that real hypocrites, who grow careless with their own faults, should murmur about Christ forgiving sins, as if at a new and unfamiliar thing." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, p. 167).

Blessings on your proclamation!

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