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LSB Proper 6C Sermon – Luke 7:36-8:3

June 16, 2016

June 12, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Debt is an ugly word. The word itself has some elegance with that sort-of hidden “b” in it, though even that trips up the beginning level spelling bee contestants. Debt is most hideous. We don’t like hearing about it at all. There is nothing better than being debt-free, knowing that all you possess is yours to keep, owned outright, owed to no one at all. This brings peace of mind. It is a time of celebration, whether you have paid off the last student loan installment, the last car payment, or the final cost of your mortgage.

Jesus speaks about debt when teaching about forgiveness. In fact, that is the term He uses when He teaches His disciples to pray, as some of our English translations convey in their rendering of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus tells several parables involving debtors to drive home His teaching. Perhaps the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is more well known, but in today’s Gospel Reading you heard Jesus tell the Parable of the Moneylender and Two Debtors.

Before we consider Jesus’ short parable, it’s good to recall what led Him to tell it. Jesus had been invited to dine at a Pharisee’s house. But that dinner party turned very strange, very quickly: “Behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that He was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed His feet and anointed them with the ointment.” This is not the usual behavior for such events! But it happens because of what this woman knew and believed concerning Jesus.

But as you heard in the Gospel Reading, the woman’s behavior causes consternation: “Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this Man were a prophet, He would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’” You can almost feel the Pharisee’s disgust at this woman’s action and Jesus’ reception of it. That reaction of Simon the Pharisee causes Jesus to tell the parable. He wants to explain what has happened and why it should be applauded, not condemned.

So Jesus says: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both.” Though short, it’s an interesting story. Jesus speaks of the generosity shown by the moneylender. Instead of demanding repayment, he wipes the books clean. All could rightly praise that graciousness. But Jesus asks a question about the debtors: “Now which of them will love [the moneylender] more?” That question is meant to probe Simon’s thoughts about forgiveness. And Simon answers correctly: “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”

When Simon answers this way, Jesus then can explain what has happened at that house. The woman who had come and performed those audacious acts is the debtor who had the larger debt cancelled. That is what has caused all her exuberance, even if displayed in very dramatic ways. She had come to rightly know who Jesus is and what He is all about: bringing back all those who had wandered from the LORD’s way, even those who had gone way off the track. This woman had received the same restoration that the LORD had given to David, the adulterous, murderous, covetous king, for whom it was said: “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” So it is for this “woman of the city, who was a sinner.” Those nights of putting on the red light, of having many and various sharers of her bed, had been forgiven. And as the LORD had acted so graciously with her, she responds in kind, as Jesus notes: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many are forgiven—for she loved much…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

But Jesus hasn’t just forgiven those great sins, He was also dealing with the smaller debts. That’s what Simon needed to know. For Jesus wasn’t just explaining the woman’s actions, He was also teaching about His work for all. The moneylender in Jesus’ parable forgave both. In comparison to the woman, Simon’s debt was lesser. As a Pharisee, Simon was dedicated to keeping the LORD’s way, committed to preserving His Covenant. That drove his life. Simon lived much differently than the woman who crashed his dinner party. But Simon was still a debtor, even if he only owed fifty denarii. That fact had to be made clear to him by Jesus. Forasmuch as the woman displayed great joy and reverence at Jesus’ acts for her, Simon had shown none: “I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet…you gave Me no kiss…you did not anoint My head with oil….” Simon’s acts had not confessed any belief in Jesus as the LORD’s Sent One who had come to redeem the world by taking away its sin. Until that happened, he didn’t actually receive the benefit of having Jesus in His presence.

Hearing about this event in Jesus’ life brings that same teaching to our ears. All of us are debtors. Not one has fulfilled the Law. So we would be just as Paul described to the Galatians: “For all who rely on works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” That’s the seriousness of the debt, no matter if it is incurred by disobeying the Law one time, fifty times, five hundred times, or five thousand times. That includes you who have are dedicated to the way of life of striving after the LORD’s righteousness. And it includes those who have been dedicated to an opposite way of life. Pharisee or prostitute, it does not matter. All fall into the category of debtor.

But Jesus has the role of the forgiving moneylender in the parable that He tells. He is present to bring redemption: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” That is what you have come to know. Your debt has been cancelled by this great act. This is what you hear repeatedly, both in the proclamation of Jesus and His work in a general way and in the specific statement of the Absolution: “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins.”

Those statements about Jesus and His work make clear the truth that your debts have been cancelled. Your debt of sin has been removed from you. That message needs to be received, particularly by all who may think that they aren’t debtors. The confrontation of the LORD’s Law needs to happen, just as David needed the LORD to send Nathan to him with that pointed statement: “You are the man!” The clear, stark question is asked about every act of disobedience: “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in His sight?” That is the LORD’s response to all each and every violation of His Law: from the smallest peccadillo to the gravest mortal sin. Each violation of the Ten Commandments—idolatry, misuse of the LORD’s name, mistreatment of His sacred things, disobedience of parents, murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, coveting—can be done in different degrees. Yet, they all incur debt.

So when Jesus brings His work to sinners, that debt is removed. That makes all the redeemed beneficiaries of divine work. No one is made right with the LORD through their own effort, even if they might not owe quite as much as another person. Both the fifty denarius debt and the five hundred denarius debt cannot be repaid. That can be hard to fathom for those who might be the minor debtors, who then act like Simon in the Gospel Reading, looking askance at those who are reacting with great joy and reverence because their great debts have been removed. Jesus’ parable is given as a corrective to those who would act as the Pharisee.

But this event isn’t just about the corrective. It is also to present the example of “the woman of the city” who fully comprehended the work that Jesus had done for her. It is true that none of you need to pour ointment on Jesus’ feet and wipe them with your hair. Such an act of devotion is not an option for you, since you do not have Jesus sitting here in front of you. Yet, you are given opportunity to express your gratitude and worship for what has been done. You testify about what Jesus has done for you. That is done formally, as you do in singing the hymns or confessing the creed. But it is also done informally, in your conversations with friends and acquaintances or in what you pass down with your children.

You have also been presented with other examples of the response of faith and love: “The Twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” These people were acting just like the woman who crashed the party. Their receiving Jesus’ work that relieved them of their illnesses and infirmities—both physical and spiritual—led to their actions. They give of their means. They honor Jesus in what they offer to Him and for His service. It is again an expression of love, because their sins, which are many, are forgiven.

You are no different. Giving of your means for Jesus’ work is just as much an expression of gratitude and love for the benefits that you have received from Him. Over and over again, the message of Jesus’ work is spoken to you: your sins are forgiven; your debt has been cancelled. That is the great declaration made each time you hear the proclamation of Jesus’ words and works. It is done, so that you don’t forget your status as a debtor who had your ledger wiped clean. It is done, so that your faith is formed and reformed. That’s what gives peace of mind and soul. But knowing that you are right with the LORD and in His kingdom also motivates your response, including the giving that you make in the various offerings you bring.

So this incident in Jesus’ life presents multiple truths to you. First, you learn that you had a debt. Second, you learn that your debt has been cancelled. Third, you learn that the different degrees of debt give no reason for pride or contempt. Fourth, you learn that worship in physical acts, including giving of goods and money, is the response of faith and love. Thus Jesus says of you: “Your sins, which are many, are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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From → Sunday Sermon

One Comment
  1. Edith Pallmann permalink

    What a great feeling to know our debt has been paid and how humbling that is. Hope your week went well.

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