“The Two Debtors in Simon’s House”

 (Luke 7:36-50 – Pentecost 4 – July 2, 2022)

Luke 7:36-50 – 36Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” 41“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” 44Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” 48Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:

In old times, if a person was unable to pay a debt, he could be sent to debtor’s prison. That was a place where he had to work until his debt was paid off, or someone paid the price for him. A man owed a debt he could never repay. Therefore he was to be imprisoned for life, separated from his love ones, locked away in endless labor. But then, in an unexpected act of love and mercy, the creditor to whom he owed the debt canceled it. When the debtor was free to go, he rushed to that generous man’s house with a heart of joy. He asked, “What can I do to show how grateful I am? Let me serve you in some way!”

Later, that same generous man forgave the debt of a servant who owed him a small amount. But that unthankful servant went away saying to himself, “Well I deserved that; what with all the service I’ve given him, he owed me anyway!”

One who has been forgiven much loves much, but one who has been forgiven little loves little. We see this principle in our text, in view of the sinful woman and the Pharisee. Here Jesus speaks of the forgiveness He came to win for all, but we see far different responses. The one who knew she had been forgiven a great debt of sin was extremely thankful to her loving Savior; so she loved Him back and wanted to show it by her service. But the one who felt he had little or no debt of sin was unthankful. Indeed, he felt he deserved credit from God for his good life of service; and he showed it by little love for the Savior. Let us consider “The Two Debtors in Simon’s House.”

1) The debt of sin which both owed

“Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat” (vs. 36). Later we hear that the man’s name was Simon. As a Pharisee, Simon was one of a special class of Jewish religious leaders, known for keeping God’s laws in every detail. Everyone in town knew him as a righteous man, by his outward religious piety.

But now, his high and holy society was disturbed by an unexpected intrusion: “And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping” (vs. 37-38). This woman had become known for her sinful life. Perhaps she had been a prostitute or committed adultery. In any case, she was considered unclean and a social outcast.

What a contrast: a Pharisee who enjoyed great dignity and respect in the eyes of man; and a sinful woman, who was despised and rejected in the eyes of men. When it came to popular religious ideas, if anyone deserved the favor of God and eternal life in heaven, Simon did. And if anyone deserved the judgment of God and to be cast out of heaven, the woman did.

But the truth is, both owed an unpayable debt of sin before God. For His holy Law demands of each person that we be perfect, even as He is perfect (Matthew 5:48). This means more than just maintaining an outward form of obedience and holiness, as the Pharisees pride himself in. It means inward perfection, loving God with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind; and loving one’s neighbor perfectly as oneself (Luke 10:27). This divine Law reaches even to the innermost thoughts and desires of the heart. Did Simon look down on such a sinful woman who had soiled her heart and soul by an immoral life? As Jesus pointed out, even secretly looking and lusting after another is to commit adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:28). And did one like Simon think he was loving God by all his acts of religious service? As Jesus pointed out, all the outwardly righteous works of the Pharisees were done only to serve their own reputation, not God (Matthew 23:5).

The life every person owes to God is one of constant devotion and perfect obedience, unadulterated by any sin. But who of us could boast before God: “I have always loved You more than anything; everything I do is to serve You alone”? Who of us has kept free of every immoral and unloving thought or desire, word and deed, so as to present to God a sinless life? We all have inherited the sinful nature which makes us unable to be perfect and holy as His Law requires. So Romans 3:22-23 says: There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is, all are indebted to Him before whom we must give an account (Hebrews 4:13). What if God, the divine Creditor, were to bring the full extent of the Law against us? We would all be cast into the debtor’s prison of hell, to spend eternity paying every last penny (Matthew 5:26).

2) How each one felt about this debt

How we recognize our sinfulness will affect how we feel about our debt to God and our need for Jesus, who came to save us sinners. Here, the sinful woman recognized her debt was great, one she could never repay, even by her best life. She came to Jesus with a penitent spirit, sorry for her sins, looking to Him for forgiveness. She “stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil” (vs. 38). From outward appearances, it was shameful and scandalous behavior; that is how Simon judged it. Yet as one who was ashamed of her sinful life, she was unashamed to humble herself at the feet of the Savior of sinners, shedding heartfelt tears. And the Lord, who looks into the heart, rejoiced in her spirit of repentance and saving faith.

How different was the spirit in the heart of Simon, the Pharisee: “He spoke to himself, saying, ‘This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner'” (vs. 39). In his self-righteous pride, Simon felt he was unlike such a sinner. As a Pharisee, he held that common spiritual attitude that wants to boast: “I’m basically good by nature. If I have any sin or shortcoming, it is not so serious as to leave me spiritually impoverished before God. I can simply repay any debt I owe by my good life. Surely God will count to my credit all the sacrifices I make for Him, and count me worthy of heaven.”

Therefore Simon did not feel the huge debt of his sin before God, the unpayable debt that was weighing his soul down to hell. So he could not understand this woman’s display of humble penitence as she wept at the feet of the Savior of sinners. And Simon could not understand how, if Jesus truly were from God, He would have anything to do with such a miserable sinner. Wouldn’t that make Him unclean to come in contact with a sinner?

3) The forgiveness offered to both

Therefore what he did not understand, the loving Savior patiently explained by a parable: “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered the only reasonable way: “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And Jesus said: “You have rightly judged” (vs. 41-43).

At that time, a denarii was the average daily wage for a laborer. So one debtor owed almost 1 ½ years’ wages, while the other owed less than 2 months’ wages. Regardless of the amount, neither could pay what he owed, and the creditor could have brought the law to bear on them. Yet the creditor simply forgave the debts of both.

It is a picture of the spiritual poverty of each and every sinner before God. No matter how great or small a person’s shortcomings appear in the eyes of man, no one is able to repay God, even by his or her best efforts. By every right, He could bring the full weight of the Law to bear on us; making us pay the wages of sin in hell’s prison.

But instead, God in His grace and mercy found a way to settle the debt in our favor. It is not by requiring us to pay it off by our own good works and sacrifices in this life; nor is it by punishments in the afterlife in a place called purgatory. But it is simply by forgiving our sins. How can a just and holy God, whose Law demands perfect and sinless obedience from us, and threatens death and damnation to the sinner, simply forgive our sin and cancel our whole debt? Because He has paid the debt for us. God sent His own Son into our flesh to pay that debt. In Jesus, the holy God came into contact with us unclean sinners to take all our sin upon Himself. On the cross, He had no sin was made to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). As such, He was punished for us; He paid the debt we owed by His suffering and death. When Jesus cried: “It is finished!” (John 19:30), it meant our debt was paid in full. In the eyes of God, justice was fully satisfied. Therefore in Christ, no matter how badly we have sinned in life, we are fully forgiven, completely set free from our debt of sin, and from all guilt and condemnation.

In exchange, as the divine Creditor, God turns around and credits to our account the holy life of His Son. He counts to us Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Law in every thought and desire, word and deed. Through baptism and faith, God has washed away our sins and clothed us in the perfection of His Son. So God sees us as His righteous children in Christ, and heirs of heaven.

4) How each acted toward this offer

By the parable, Jesus was picturing to Simon the forgiveness He had come to win for both him and the woman. But while forgiveness was offered to both debtors, they acted differently.

Jesus pointed out the difference to Simon: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (vs. 44-47).

Though outwardly Simon had seemed generous by inviting Jesus to his home, he had not even shown common courtesy which the custom of the day required a host to show his guest. He had not even so much as washed Jesus’ feet. He would have been ashamed to act as the woman did, treating Jesus this way in front of his friends and perhaps losing his honorable reputation. This is because in his heart, his self-righteous pride prohibited him from truly welcoming his Savior. He did not feel a need for forgiveness, or believe that Jesus could forgive Him at all. Therefore, he had little love for the Savior; there was no faith in his heart to act in love.

But the woman, who had only been ashamed of her sins, now overflowed with thankfulness to her Savior. She loved Him much, because He had forgiven her much. By her unashamed actions, the faith in her heart showed she loved Him who had first loved her; and she wanted only to serve Him. By that faith, and not by her works, she had been saved. And now Jesus assured her of this, as He declared: “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (vs. 48, 50).

Fellow recipients of the amazing grace of God: we join this woman at the feet of our Savior. With heartfelt sorrow of repentance, we come confessing our unpayable debt of sin; and with heartfelt joy of faith, we hear the same word of absolution as Jesus says: “Your sins are forgiven… Go in peace.” We have been set free from debtor’s prison. The Son has set us free as children of God, to inherit the eternal riches in His Kingdom. We who have been forgiven much are empowered to love much, to serve in thankfulness to Him who first loved us and gave Himself for us!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.