+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 7:50
Theme: The Peace of Forgiveness
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
When was the last time you held an invitation only dinner? Pharisees were careful about who they invited to dinner. Their prudence was a result of their religious piety and their social consciousness. This Pharisee named Simon evidently held Jesus in high esteem. His invitation to dinner would have customarily allowed the opportunity for Jesus to teach. Perhaps- in Simon’s mind- this preacher from Nazareth was the expected Messiah? But the fame of Jesus brought an unwanted guest. A woman with a reputation for immorality came seeking Him. The stage is set for a memorable collision of cultural convictions. Simon will be left condemned. The woman will be sent on her way forgiven.
Closer inspection shows this was no incidental encounter. The Holy Spirit never works coincidentally. The woman had heard about Jesus before. The crux of Jesus’ redeeming work takes centre stage here. Forgiveness is the currency of divine favour. There is no other medium of reception. No one truly knows Christ apart from the gift of absolution. Therefore, the dinner host and the unwanted guest stand in sharp opposition. The Saviour ministers to both according to their needs.
Jesus didn’t pull punches when a firm impact was necessary. He boldly compares the hospitality of the woman with that of the Pharisee. Her devotion oozes warmth and sincerity. His reception is distant and measured. Christ breaks social custom by rebuking him candidly. Yet it was necessary to illustrate the critical point: Christ came for sinners. “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”1
Jesus is actually saying the Pharisees do not love Him at all? But why? This Pharisee has invited Jesus to dinner at his house. Yet, they do not truly love Him because they imagine that they have no sins that need to be forgiven. The sinful woman, meanwhile, candidly shows her repentance- looking to Jesus for absolution. The unrepentant sinner cannot love Christ. The self-righteous person thinks he or she needs no Saviour. The subtlety of self-righteousness is the devil’s tool. The spiritually autonomous render God redundant, obsolete, or at best, the source of interference.
Sin causes us to curve in upon ourselves- to be egocentric in the purest spiritual sense. The curvature caused by sin is like the curvature of the earth; you can’t see it until you stand above it. But we never have such a vantage point. We think we’re standing on the level. Therefore, we take the Bible at its word. No one, not pope nor peasant, prince or pauper, pastor or parishioner; not the criminal serving a life sentence, or the person honoured as citizen of the year can credibly claim to be blameless in the sight of God. Christ came for sinners. Consider what He said elsewhere to the Pharisees, “‘I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with Him heard Him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’”2
Dear friends, the highest worship of Christ is to seek forgiveness from Him. In seeking forgiveness, we acknowledge two essential things: Our most critical need is to be freed from the condemnation of sin; and, Jesus is the one who has the power and capacity to grant what we need. If we do not believe in the Christ who forgives our sins, then we don’t really believe in the true God at all. There is no other God than the One who sacrificed Himself to atone for the sins of humanity. The God who created is the same God who redeems. The God who sustains by His power is the same God who rescues in love. The God of providence is the God of compassion.
We can never, ever, ever pay back the debt we owe for sin. We can’t make a contribution of any size that will make the slightest difference at all. The value of a soul can only be measured by the divine sacrifice. The conscience comforted by the thought that God is pleased with our own contribution to sanctity is a deceived conscience in the greatest peril. Of course, we can’t assess it through sensory or cognitive perception. The Holy Spirit must convict us.
The ‘sinful’ woman came seeking forgiveness from Him. The devotion of this woman is evidence of her faith. Faith always makes itself evident in love. The one cannot exist without the other. A shadow is only cast when the sun is shining. We do not cast the shadow of God’s love onto others when our hearts are hidden away in the darkness. Perhaps this woman became a faithful and powerful witness for the Lord. The truth is most of us are a tangled mess of complexity shaped by successes and failures, fears and hopes, selfishness and generosity, arrogance and humility. We often can’t sort out our motives because they are an amalgam of sincerity and selfishness. But God uses us, in all our frailty, with all our warts, to be agents of His love. God’s promises transcend all of our confusion.
So, as His baptized, we press on. Baptismal living is not a victory march through the cemeteries of the conquered. It is a humble but confident persistence in traveling the way of the cross. The Holy Spirit doesn’t breed arrogance; He teaches true wisdom. Satan still prowls, sin still lurks, temptation presses in on us from every facet of the secular world. Yet we are reminded the outcome is not in our hands but God’s. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame…”3 He was crucified and He has risen again to bring us life. We know where forgiveness is found. We have the words of eternal life. We have the true body and blood of the Son of God Himself. We have the peace which passes all understanding. We have a dinner invitation to the heavenly banquet!
Today the issue of Jesus’ identity was at stake. How dare He presume to forgive sins! That was the jurisdiction of God alone! But this Man IS God. He has proven it with His victory over death. He assumed human flesh to restore us to the Father. Jesus’ words to this woman are His words to us, “Your sins are forgiven…go in peace.”4 Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
12 June, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 8:47
2 John 9:39-41
3 Hebrews 12:1-2
4 Luke 7:48-50