Parables were an important part of Jesus’ teaching ministry. Thus far in our study of the parables, we have considered 9 individual stories that we’ve divided into 2 categories. We began the series with 6 distinct parables that each dealt in some way with the Kingdom of God. Next, we covered 3 additional parables that all had to do with redemption. This morning we will move on to a third topic or category of parables.
Jesus told 3 parables that primarily focused on the theme of love and forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling and amazing actions found in Scripture. Though we have all sinned against Him, God graciously chose to send His only son Jesus to die on the cross in our place, to bear the punishment that we deserve, and to make forgiveness of our sin possible. In Christ, we are washed white as snow and all of the sinful stains that once covered and defined us are completely and eternally forgiven!
Today we will contemplate the first of these 3 “love & forgiveness” parables. It is a brief story that has become known as “The Parable of the Two Debtors”. In order to fully appreciate this parable, we will need to examine the circumstances that led up to it and those that followed thereafter. Having this fuller context will shed greater light upon what Jesus was trying to teach.
I. A SINFUL WOMAN - Luke 7:36-39
Based up the narrative of events immediately preceding this passage, it is likely that Jesus was somewhere in Galilee when this episode took place. Though His exact location remains uncertain, it is clear in these verses that a Pharisee named Simon approached the Lord and asked him to come over for dinner. Jesus accepted the invitation and showed up that evening at Simon’s house. After arriving, He went inside and reclined at the table.
We tend to think of dinner at the table in terms of our own modern practice, but in Jesus’ time people did not usually set in chairs and eat from a highly elevated table. Instead, in most cases they laid on their sides leaning on one elbow and eating with the other hand. The table, if any, was only a few inches tall. Because they were lying down with their legs extended behind them, someone could easily wash their feet without having to get under or even near the table.
So, while Jesus was reclining at the table, a woman slipped into the Pharisee’s house. She had heard that Jesus was there and had come bringing with her an alabaster vial of perfume. Approaching Jesus, she knelt quietly beside the Lord’s feet. She was overcome with emotion and wept bitterly. Her tears fell upon and caused Jesus’ feet to become wet, whereupon she washed them with her hair. As she did so, the woman also kept kissing the Lord’s feet and anointing them with her perfume.
Seeing this, Simon the Pharisee was indignant. Apparently, he knew who this woman was or at least knew of her shameful reputation. Some Biblical scholars have suggested that she was a prostitute, and others have gone so far as to identify her as Mary Magdalene. Whoever she was, Simon thought to himself that if Jesus were truly a prophet He would know the sinful character of this woman and would presumably put a stop to what was going on.
II. A FITTING STORY - Luke 7:40-43
Knowing all things, Jesus perceived what Simon was thinking. Seizing the moment, He proceeded to tell a short parable to his host hoping to convey an important message. Unlike many of the others, this parable is directed toward a single individual, although others present certainly heard it as well. This parable is only recorded in the gospel of Luke and is known as “The Parable of the Two Debtors”.
Jesus told of a moneylender who had 2 debtors. One of them owed 500 denarii and the other owed 50 denarii. In the Bible a denarius was equal to a single day’s wages for the typical laborer. In other words, one man owed almost a year and a half’s worth of income while the other owed about 2 months of income. In both cases, the person was unable to repay the debt. Fortunately for them, the moneylender forgave both of their debts.
After concluding this brief story, Jesus posed a question to the Pharisee. He asked Simon which of the 2 debtors would love their lender more? This was not a difficult question. Simon quickly answered that the man who’d been forgiven the greater debt would likely love the lender more. Upon hearing this response, Jesus stated that Simon was correct and then proceeded to offer an explanation of the parable.
III. A CRUCIAL LESSON - Luke 7:44-50
Jesus called Simon’s attention to the woman who was sitting at his feet. As they looked at her, the Lord reviewed the evening’s events. He began by stating that Simon had not offered Him any water to wash His feet as He entered the house, a courtesy that hosts typically provided to their guests. Furthermore, Simon had neglected to greet Jesus with a kiss as was commonplace in that day, yet this sinful woman continually kissed His feet. On top of that, Simon did not anoint Jesus’ head with oil, but she had anointed His feet repeatedly with
perfume. Jesus contrasted His host’s poor manners with the sinful woman’s obvious affection.
Then Jesus made the application of His parable. The forgiving lender represented God, the greater debtor was the woman, and the lessor debtor was Simon. Just as the greater debtor would show more love to the forgiving money lender, so also the greater sinner would show more love to the forgiving Savior. For this reason, the sinful woman - who perceived her sins to be extremely numerous and vile - expressed a deeper and stronger love for Jesus. Simon the Pharisee, on the other hand, considered himself to be a good and righteous man with little sin in his life that needed forgiving, so he didn’t feel a burden to purposefully extend basic kindness to Jesus. The lesson of the parable was simple - those who are forgiven more typically love more while those who are forgiven less typically love less.
The prepositions used in these verses can be a bit confusing, causing some to mistakenly believe that the woman received forgiveness because of the lovingkindness she showed. After all, she washed and anointed Jesus’ feet before He told her that her sins were forgiven right? But is Jesus’ willingness to forgive us contingent upon our love for Him? No, the preponderance of Scripture teaches just the opposite. Remember, it was Jesus’ notoriety as a forgiving Savior that led her to come in the first place. She washed His feet because she knew Him to be forgiving, not as a means to secure His forgiveness. Jesus died on the cross making forgiveness possible even while we hated Him and were still in our sins. Thus, it is His gracious forgiveness that precedes and should naturally lead to our love for Him.
It is of note that all of the others there at the table were left in wonder by Jesus’ story. Even though this lesson was narrowly pointed at Simon, clearly others overheard and were challenged by it. So it is with us today, as we read and consider this parable centuries later.
The Bible teaches that all people have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. Everyone needs forgiveness because we are all sinners and we all stand guilty before a holy God. We all need Jesus! However, there are clearly some people who have committed more actual sins than others. Just as the moneylender forgave both debts, though they were of differing amounts, so also God forgives the repentant sinner’s debt completely regardless of its size.
The severity of one’s sin does not make some more guilty than others in the LORD’s eyes, but it does affect our human perception of them. We tend to see some people as more sinful than others, and often see ourselves somewhere on this spectrum as well. This is the point that Jesus was making. Perhaps if we would all realize the true magnitude of our sins and the immeasurable depth of His forgiveness, we would each express a greater love for God.
Because God loves us, He offers us forgiveness. Because we are forgiven, we offer God love. Can you see the difference? The Father’s great love for us led Him to send Jesus as the means of our forgiveness. When we understand and receive this wonderful forgiveness, it should motivate us to love the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength. May I ask… how closely is your appreciation of God’s forgiveness correlated with the love you show Him?