Luke 7:36–50 (NKJV)
A Woman Anoints Jesus’ Feet
36 Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37 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, 38 and 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. 39 Now 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.”
The Parable of the Two Debtors
40 And 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. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” 44 Then 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. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 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.”
48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
A Creditor and Two Debtors
The Lord Jesus was the master story teller. He took from the experience of everyday life to teach powerful lessons of gospel truth. Here, in the house of Simon a Pharisee the Lord tells his host the simplest of stories to teach a powerful lesson.
The story is about two borrowers who have defaulted on their debts being unable to pay back what they owed to their creditor or money lender. However, by an act of grace the creditor releases them from their obligation and cancels or forgives their debt (vs 40-42).
The lesson the Lord teaches Simon, a self-righteous condescending Pharisee, has two ‘prongs’, so to speak or two aspects. In response to the Lord’s question, “which of them will love him more”? Simon, who had in his heart despised the Lord and this woman, answers correctly. The Lord then tells Simon that this nameless woman, a 500 denarii debtor, has “loved much” because “her sins, which are many, are forgiven” (v 47). This was the first ‘prong’ of the lesson. A denarii was a silver Roman coin equivalent to a day’s wage for a labourer. But notice, as the Lord speaks about the woman and her demonstration of love to Him, He does so by way of comparison. He compares Simon to her. This is the second ‘prong’ in His lesson. You see, Simon, by comparison did nothing for the Lord Jesus even though he was His host! “You gave me no water …. You gave Me no kiss … you did not anoint My head with oil …” (vs 44-46). According to the standard of those times, Simon by his lack of courtesy actually dishonoured his guest, but the implication from what Jesus said to him is that Simon did nothing because there wasn’t any gratitude in his heart toward Jesus nor appreciation of His person. The sad thing was that Simon didn’t even know that he was a debtor at all never mind a 50 denarii one. He showed no love, no not even a ‘little’ (v 47).
But, not only did Simon do nothing for the Lord Jesus, neither did He understand who Jesus is. His treatment of Him as a guest and his condescending thoughts toward Him: “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” (v 39) betrayed the attitude of his heart. Unlike the woman, Simon didn’t understand his need of forgiveness nor had he sought it from Jesus and therefore had never been forgiven, but the woman had. Jesus confirmed what she had already experienced in her heart: “Your sins are forgiven” (v 48).
The person who has truly been forgiven by Christ will respond in love to Him, whether a lot or a little, there will be love. The mark of a true Christian is their appreciation of what God has done for me in Christ. The folly of those who follow a religion based upon meritorious works is that they think God should appreciate what they do for Him. John Newton (1725-1807) was right when he penned the words:
What think ye of Christ? Is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of Him;
As Jesus appears in your view,
As He is beloved or not,
So God is disposed to you,
And mercy, or wrath are your lot.
The clear implication in this story is that sin is like debt. On another occasion the Lord used a word for debtors instead of the word for sinners. We read at Luke 13 vs 1-5:
'Now at the same time there were present some who told Him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with that of their sacrifices. And He answering said to them, "Think ye that these Galileans were sinners beyond all the Galileans because they suffered such things? No, I say to you, but if ye repent not, ye shall all perish in the same manner. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, think ye that they were debtors beyond all the men who dwell in Jerusalem? No, I say to you, but if ye repent not, ye shall all perish in like manner"' (Luke 13:1-5 Darby Translation).
This shows that He viewed a sinner like a debtor. A sinner before God is a debtor to God. Jesus also told another story concerning a servant who was held to account by his king for his debt and yet after pleading for mercy was forgiven. The Lord was illustrating how if we have received God’s forgiveness, we ought to forgive others (Matt 18:21-35).
But, if the debtors speak of sinners, just who does the creditor represent in this story? The Lord didn’t say. As was often the case in His stories, He told them to illustrate and teach a primary lesson and yet, the details of His stories are such that they are highly suggestive and can readily teach us about other ideas and things. This was no doubt intentional.
As we think of the gospel it’s reasonable to suggest that God is our creditor. He has given to us “life, breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). People don’t think much about it, but we owe our existence to God and our survival in this world to His goodness. If the sun didn’t shine and the rain didn’t fall and the crops didn’t grow where would be? What would we do? I know we think were self-sufficient, and autonomous. Modern life deludes us in to thinking like this. But we certainly don’t control the sun or the cycle of the rain or the balance of nature. Neither can we be sure or decide when our last breath will be. Humanity is much weaker and much more vulnerable than we care to admit.
God has given, loaned to us in His goodness, “life, breath and all things”, but what does He, as our Creator, have a right to expect in return? How should we pay Him back? Please remember, that the gospel always begins, where the Bible begins, with the understanding that God is the Creator. He rightly looks for our obedience, our love and our faith. As God, He deserves our worship. But, what have we done? We have taken all the good things he has freely bestowed and selfishly used them and abused them and given Him nothing back in return. We haven’t paid Him a ‘dime’ of what we owe Him! Rather we have rebelled against Him to the extent that many don’t or won’t even acknowledge His existence. Now whether we are aware of it or not, our attitude and actions have made us default debtors and thus sinners before God. Everything we’ve done or failed to do in our selfish disobedience and unbelief is sin which robs God and plunges us deeper into debt. Some of these days we will be ‘called to book’; our day of accountability is coming.
The problem is not only are we sinners, we are bankrupt sinners with no way of paying what we owe or clearing our debt. As we enter eternity, that leaves us in a hopeless position and heading straight for debtors prison which the Bible calls hell. It comes down to this, either God will judge us for our sins or He will forgive us. This will depend on us. The good news is, He wants and really desires to forgive us now in time if we would only repent and turn to Him. When I enter eternity at death or on the Day of Judgment, forgiveness won’t be available and, contrary to the foolish notion, we are not waiting until that Day to see if we have earned His forgiveness by ‘our good deeds outweighing our bad deeds’. You cannot earn God’s forgiveness. Whether you are a 50 or a 500 denarii debtor makes no difference, all need divine forgiveness and righteousness now in this life for ‘there is none righteous, no, not one’ and ‘there is none who does good, no, not one’ (Rom 3:10, 12). This is not denying that people do good things, but it is saying that because of sin anything we do has no merit with God with regards to salvation for we are fallen to start with and as Romans chapter 3 shows, we have more potential for evil than we have for good; we all need God’s forgiveness and righteousness.
The Lord Jesus in the story compares two debtors, one is a greater debtor and the other a lesser debtor, but, and this is the point He is making, they were both debtors with ‘nothing to pay’ (v 42). Lesser or greater doesn’t negate the fact. The Bible teaches because of sin we are all debtors. Some more, some less, but all guilty. Again to quote from Romans chapter 3: ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23). Now of course, people may reject such truth out of hand or argue against it, but if we’re honest we will at least acknowledge this is what the Bible teaches.
Says the Lord Jesus: “And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both” (v 42). This is the best part of the story. Like the creditor, God is gracious. As a God of love He shows us mercy and to us extends grace – ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)’ (Eph 2:4-5). It was out of love for sinful humanity that God sent His Son into the world to die upon the Cross for our sins and rise again from the dead so that we could be forgiven – ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, … He was buried, and … He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Cor 15:3-4).
Jesus is no less than God and that is why when here on earth, He pronounced people forgiven. He did so to the consternation of the religious leaders: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (v 49) and on another occasion when He made such a pronouncement they responded: “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). They were right of course, only God can and since Jesus is the Son of God so could He. Yet each time He did so and said such words to someone He was ‘signing His own death warrant’ for ultimately, not only did He give forgiveness, He was the only one who could pay for it and that is what He did on the Cross. Before the moment of entering into death Himself the Lord Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Or, to put it another way, He was saying, “It is paid in full”. He paid for our sins by the sacrifice of Himself and by bearing the judgment our sins deserve from a holy and just God. As the hymn says:
Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow.
With Jesus having fully paid the price of sin, God can forgive us and clear our debt of sin. Whoever you are, you can be forgiven and know peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus. If we accept that when He died on the Cross, He died for a debtor like me we are assured of God’s forgiveness – ‘In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace’ (Eph 1:7).
God in His patience is still extending grace to the world. There is still time to get right with God. The matter is urgent for each of us for we don’t know what tomorrow may bring and by then it may be too late. The Bible says: ‘Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth’ (Prov 27:1). Forgiveness can only be found now on earth and in time. Death draws the line on the opportunity.
Of course a lot of folk get all bent out of shape over these gospel truths. What kind of God would punish His Son? What right has God over me? I’m good enough, how dare God say I’m a sinner? And on the objections go. I understand, I hear what people say. Everyone has their own life experience and many have not had it easy. But, one thing is clear, the gospel is not full of ideas foreign to human experience. It corresponds to reality. We know what law and justice are; we know what forgiveness and reconciliation are. Who wants to live in a society without law and justice? Who of us doesn’t need forgiveness from and reconciliation with those we’ve wronged or hurt? If these things are true and necessary in human experience and they are, then how much more when we think of ourselves in relation to God. His law and justice show us that we need His forgiveness and reconciliation.
How did the unnamed woman in this story receive forgiveness? The Lord gives the answer: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (v 50). She believed in Jesus. She believed in Him though she was a 500 denarii debtor. She knew she didn’t deserve forgiveness, but she knew she needed it and she had learnt that Jesus forgives sinners. She came to Him in the house to express her faith and demonstrate her gratitude to Him.
It is more than likely she was a prostitute. Such an identity conveys all we need to know. A sad an ancient trade which degrades the women who offer it and absolutely shames the men who avail of it. How dreadful that debased lustful men would treat a feminine image bearer of God as nothing more than an object for their gratification. If this woman was of such a class, I’m sure that while her gratitude was first and foremost for her forgiveness, she also would have been so, so thankful to have escaped the wretchedness of such a life into which she had fallen more likely than not, because of economic reasons.
In that culture Jesus with other guests would have been reclining perhaps on a couch around a low U-shaped table, leaning on the left elbow facing the table with their feet extended outward and sandals removed. This woman came into Simon’s house uninvited and unwanted, but though she was intruding she took the opportunity without concern for what others would think and from an overflowing heart of love washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed and anointed them with the perfume she had brought! (vs 37-38).
Even back then in Jewish culture for a woman to act this way was ‘outrageous’ and ‘inappropriate’ and all the more in the case of a woman like this. But, it was no such thing to the ‘friend of sinners’ who knew the hearts and minds of all. Simon condescendingly despised the woman and the Lord for allowing her to do this (v 39). He knew that. But, He also knew the life and heart of this woman. In fact, while I cannot say for sure, He had in all probability met her before this. If she hadn’t met Him personally, she probably had heard Him preach. Whatever way it was she had responded to the truth He spoke and His message of grace. Whatever the other guests may have thought, all was pure and holy. It could not be otherwise with the Lord Jesus. He knew that this was the response of a woman overwhelmed by her forgiveness. Why shouldn’t she be? How sad are the ignorant 50 denarii sinners who have never understood their need of Christ’s forgiveness. And, sadder still, the sinners who despise the very idea of needing it.
Mark this, unlike Simon, a forgiven person not only knows they have been forgiven, they show it. Yes the 500 denarii debtor will show it more, but as the Lord Jesus said: “to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (v 47). They may demonstrate love to a lesser degree, but they still love! As I said earlier, the true child of God, the true Christian, the true believer will be marked by two things: gratitude for salvation and love for the Lord Jesus. If these are missing then something really is missing in a professing Christian’s experience.
May you know His forgiveness today.