5th Wednesday of Lent
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, people change. People can change for the worse. The other week I was again at the Beltrami Jail to do a Bible study with the inmates there. I had 9 of them come. As I looked at these individuals- I could tell many of them had wound up in the wrong crowd, I could tell drugs and alcohol had taken a toll on their bodies, and clearly each in some way had broken the law. I can’t help but think that each of these now grown men had once been children in school who laughed and played and had promising futures. But they changed. Perhaps you know someone who has changed for the worse. Some changes in people are painful to see and difficult to deal with.
But thank the Lord that change can also go the other way. Some people change for the better. I can picture a young man who didn’t care about school, cared less about a job, disrespected his parents, sat on the couch, and played video games, but comes back from Marine Corps boot camp, fit, clean cut, spilling over with Yes sirs and yes ma’ams. What a change! I can also picture someone wincing in pain as they walk on a totally worn out joint, but they go into surgery and come through it walking with a smile and pain-free. That’s a change! Some changes are wonderful and a joy to experience.
But here we see someone who doesn’t change: Jesus. We get the impression that Jesus never turned down a dinner invitation, be it from tax-collectors or sinners or from Pharisees. Here we see Jesus eating at the home of Simon the Pharisee. And we don’t know much about this Simon other than that he was a Pharisee, we don’t know what city he lived in, we don’t know when he invited Jesus, we don’t know what was on the menu. We can probably take a good guess as to his motives- probably more interested in finding fault with Jesus than feeding him.
We also know that someone who wasn’t on the guest list shows up. We’re told that a woman from that town who had lived a sinful life came bringing perfume, stood behind Jesus weeping, wetting his feet with her tears, wiping them with her feet, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Simon reacts just like we would expect a Pharisee to. Who does she think she is coming into my home – unasked, uninvited, and certainly unappreciated! And Jesus? If he were a true prophet he’d know that this walking moral disaster is kissing his feet!
Jesus reacts, however, in pure grace. He tells a little parable about two debts that were owed to a moneylender. One debt was ten times the size of the other debt. Unexpectedly and undeservedly, the moneylender had a change of heart. He canceled the debts of both! And Jesus asks, “Now which of them will love more.” And Simon answers: the one who had the bigger debt forgiven. Jesus’s point is: See, Simon, the forgiveness of sins changes a woman!
We’re told that this woman was a “sinner.” We’re told that she was a well-known sinner in that village. That’s a tactful way of saying that she was a prostitute. Can you imagine what a life she had? Do you think she ever cried? Do you think she ever wept over the humiliation of having to sell herself? Do you think she ever cried when she saw other women being taken care of by loving husbands while she was often mistreated and abused? Do you think she cried when she had to do what she did in order to make money so she could eat? Do you think she cried when she saw the way people looked at her, ignored her, and treated her with contempt because of her lifestyle?
But now who is she? The former prostitute is in Christ a forgiven woman. Tears of sorrow are transformed into tears of thanksgiving. Her lips which once used for sin are now kissing her Savior in adoration. Her body that she had offered to men for a price, she now offers her whole self to Jesus for salvation without cost. A sinful woman had come home to God the Father’s house as a dearly loved woman. Her huge debt of sin had been forgiven by the One who came to seek and to save the lost. The forgiveness she received from Jesus when she turned to him in faith literally changed everything about her!
And we compare her reaction to Simon. Simon the Pharisee hadn’t even done the social norm of accepting Jesus into his house, instead his heart was full of judgment and criticism. Simon loved Jesus little. The woman’s reception of Jesus was socially over-the top. Why? Because her love for Jesus was over the top. She loved much, for she had been forgiven much. Simon loved little, because he had been forgiven little.
What about us? Where do we fit into this parable? How do we receive Jesus? How often do we shed genuine tears over sins we’ve committed or the shame from which our Savior has rescued us? Do we stretch social norms in expressing our love for Jesus? Do we love him as openly and obviously in our lives as we do here in church? The woman let nothing get in her way of being with Jesus- not even the ridicule and scorn – do we have that dedication, refusing to let anything- job, hobbies, schedule – get in our way of being with Jesus? Or are we loving Jesus less because we think we don’t have much that needs to be forgiven? May God grant each of us a genuine and godly sorrow over our sin and shame.
But then notice what Jesus says to her and to you: Your sins are forgiven, go in peace. He can say that because those feet that this woman anointed with her tears would walk the path of suffering to Jerusalem, those feet would stand in mockery, insults and flogging, those feet would then carry a cross the rocky and stony way to the hill of Golgotha, and those feet would then be nailed to the cross of crucifixion- for this woman’s sins, for your sins, and for mine. With those feet Jesus continues to bring his good news, his peace, his forgiveness, his love to you through His Word again and again.
And that changes everything! Jesus’s love changes our lives. Sin becomes more and more appalling, God’s will becomes more and more appealing. People become less and less strangers, and more and more souls for whom Jesus died. Life becomes less and less grueling and more and more an opportunity to love and serve our Savior.
So, repent. In faith turn to Jesus; he changes everything about your life. Amen.