In the seventh chapter of his Gospel, Luke invites us to peer in on one of the more awkward yet beautiful and revealing dinner parties in history. Starting in v. 36, we find Jesus eating in the home of a proper religious leader, a Pharisee no doubt curious about this emerging teacher. Their evening is interrupted by a woman, known to those at the table as a disgrace.
In the presence of Jesus, she is undone and does what the religious leaders never would or could, anointing him with expensive ointment and something far more precious – her tears. What appears humiliating and needless to the dinner guests is recognized by Jesus as a gesture of worship, a confession, an in-kind act of love lavished upon the great Lover of souls.
To help his host see, Jesus tells the story of two insolvent borrowers forgiven by their benefactor. In a way only Jesus could, he prods the Pharisee to admit that the one with the greater debt would feel more love for the lender.
In v. 47, Jesus says of this uninhibited woman, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
I read those words recently and they cut like a knife. The correlation Jesus makes between our sense of mercy and the spirit in which we love others was painfully inescapable.
Thoughts flashed in front of me; images of those we treat as the “other,” especially in our current social and political climate. We are too quick to reject the already rejected, to look down our noses at those who have never experienced the sweetness of love offered from a heart that is wholly forgiven – that is, a heart with nothing to lose.
Our sins are many. If we lose sight of how much we have been forgiven, it becomes easier to close our door to the refugee. To comment on news websites that the criminal gets what they deserve. To close our eyes to people of other races or those who live in the “wrong” neighborhoods. To stop our ears to protestors because their injustice isn’t ours.
Our sins are many. When we shorten the distance God traveled to save us, we do so at our peril.
If we do not identify with the refugee, we have forgotten that we were once alienated, without a spiritual home.
If we cannot see our former appetite in the actions of the criminal, we tell ourselves a lie about our capacity for sin.
If we ignore those who aren’t like us, or drown out cries of injustice, no matter how well- or poorly-founded, we have lost sight of our former status as the “other” to God. We have too quickly erased memories of our own cries for justice and the truth that we only found it in the one who didn’t give us what we deserved.
Our sins are many. It is easy to forget how much we have been forgiven. To look at our pasts through rose-colored glasses, to major in revisionist history. I am prone to tell myself I was so close to getting it; I was basically good, a runner just feet from the finish line and God pushed me through the tape.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. I was a rebel. Dead on arrival into this world. I flew the flag of my own country, emblazoned with a middle finger, in the face of my Savior as often as possible.
Friends, we must look back at who we were, not with morbid curiosity or to glorify our past indiscretions as if they were old war stories. Rather we need to peer into the chasm, to see the gap God bridged through Christ, and marvel.
It is only as we recall his great love and unwarranted kindness that we will turn to others with a love that knows no boundaries and few, if any, conditions.
Of course, we should be people of love and people of wisdom. As we have talked about refugees and race at Karis, we have made helpful qualifications and discussed right theology. As we consider the criminal, we should be thoughtful about the lines we draw.
But I fear, if we do not look into the well of forgiveness from which God drew us water, we will qualify our love to the point of killing it.
Love and wisdom need not be enemies. Those who worship at the altar of grace, who run into the throne room with a reckless confidence not unlike the woman in Luke 7, see the true wisdom in love. It is not the “wisdom” spouted on Facebook threads or by talking heads on cable TV.
It is the wisdom of a Savior who welcomed those the world never would: the disgraced and disaffected, the sexually immoral and the self-involved, the prostrate and the proud. It is the wisdom of one who forgave so that we might see and show the beauty in forgiveness.
Remember, Karis. Then go out to love Jesus and people with the abandon that only true freedom allows.