June 17th , 2007
Third Sunday after Pentecost
“Forgiven a Little, Forgiven a Lot”
How would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10? How good looking are you, with 10 being a supermodel, and 1 being a face only a mother could love? Where do you fall? How smart are you? If 10 is Einstein – are you a 5? A 7? How wealthy? How healthy? How stylish are you? Feel like you are reading a magazine in a grocery store check out line yet? How about this one….
How sinful are you? How big of a sinner are you? If a 1 is perfect – like Jesus, and a 10 is an absolute scoundrel, what’s your number? How would you even come to such a number? Maybe you would start out thinking about the 10 commandments, and how well you’ve kept them. Maybe you would compare yourself to other people you know, or know of. Maybe you would just think about all the good and bad things you’ve done in life and try to weigh them out. So what is your number? 5? 8? 3?
I wonder what Simon the Pharisee thought – the one who had Jesus over for dinner. If he had to rate himself on that scale – his number would be pretty low. He thought himself pretty good. Maybe a 2 or 3. Of course, like all Pharisees, he observed the law, well, religiously.
And though he was gracious enough to invite Jesus to a meal at his home, his reasons for it are not clear. Was he genuinely interested in learning from Jesus? Was he seeking information on a rival? Or was he simply curious as to what all the fuss was about the man from Galilee?
In any case he was less than the ideal host. He didn’t do all the customary things for welcoming an honored guest – providing a foot washing, a kiss of greeting, or anointing with oil.
Then there was this sinful woman, who showed great humility toward Jesus, kissing and anointing his feet, wiping them with her hair. How do you think she would have rated her own sins? Probably a 10. Everyone knew her sin, whatever it was, but no one knew it, felt it, as much as she did. But Jesus had forgiven that sin, and so this woman’s eyes flowed with rivers of grateful tears.
Jesus’ little story for Simon illustrates the point well. If two men owe debts that are forgiven, which will love more? The answer is obvious. The one with the larger debt. So this woman’s “larger debt” which has been forgiven results in her outshining even a Pharisee in welcoming the one who forgives the debt of sin.
Which brings the question back to us. What kind of sinners are we? Where do we fall on that scale? St. Paul, perhaps the greatest Christian missionary of all time, considered himself “Chief of Sinners”. And so should we.
In a sense my little exercise on a scale of 1 to 10 is a false one, though I think we all do it. We want to compare our sinfulness to the next guy. But when we think of our sin, we should use a different standard – the same standard God does.
God’s standard is perfection. Perfect obedience to his law. There is no graded scale with God when it comes to our sins. It’s all or nothing. Sheep or goats. Holy or wicked. Sinners or saints. That’s because God isn’t comparing you with the next guy like you want to do.
As I was saying to someone last week, that if you don’t think you are a sinner, you won’t see much use for a place like this church. You won’t see much use in confessing your sins, if you don’t have that many to confess. And you won’t see much use for Jesus if you don’t need much of his forgiveness.
And if the tiny little Jesus forgives your tiny little sin then your love too will be miniscule. But if the great big Savior forgives your heaping mound of sins, then your love, too, will overflow.
There’s quite a bit of Simon is us all, though. If you pressed him he would probably admit he wasn’t perfect. But how quick was he to admit and confess his sin? Rather, he, like most of us, plodded through life with a false sense that everything is ok, that I’m ok, and you’re ok, (but I’m more ok than you are…). Sin, for many of us, is an idea in the abstract, not something we struggle with from day to day, or even minute to minute.
How great is your sin? I hope by now your answer is 10! I hope you confess with Paul, “I am the chief of sinners!”. I hope you see spiritual the elephant in the room of your heart that God’s law will no longer allow you to ignore. For as great as this woman’s many sins were, so are yours and mine. And as great as God’s forgiveness was for her in Christ, so it is for us too.
But in Jesus Christ, your answer should not be 10, but 0. Zero sins are held against you by God. Because Jesus took them all to the cross. He who was perfect became a curse for us, became sin for us, and put that sin to death in his body. We are not perfect in ourselves, but in Christ we are – righteous, holy, redeemed, justified, forgiven. And so the paradox of our faith continues.
And today, we come to Christ’s house, where he is the host of the meal. We come to fall at his feet in gratitude, but also to kneel at his altar in humility. We have already confessed our sins. But even the act of coming forward to commune is a confession of sins – we’re saying that we need what is given here.
Likewise, it is also a confession of faith in Jesus’ promise. That this bread and wine really is his body and blood – and that it really is for the forgiveness of your sins. The more we know our sins, the more we cherish this forgiveness.
And that forgiveness moves us to love. In our everyday lives, we will continue to fall at Christ’s feet in gratitude as we serve our neighbor in many and various ways.
Our theme verse at Grace for the year fits well here too, “Christ died for you, live for Him”. Indeed. The more you know why he died, and the more you know for how much sin he died, the more you will live for him.
So know your sin well, Christians. Know his forgiveness even better. And live for him all the more each day. In Jesus Christ. Amen.