Imagine you learned you were about to receive $10,000 for an unexpected reason. For most people, it would be a very welcomed and appreciated gift that could be used for paying off debt, a nice vacation, or for some other reason. However, for someone like Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon whose net worth is over $150 billion, it would not be nearly as impactful, and he probably would not care that much about going to pick up the check. If we are not careful, we can have the same attitude when it comes to our sin.
In Luke 7:36-50, we read the story of the sinful woman. A Pharisee named Simon had invited Jesus to his house to eat. A woman described simply as “a sinner (Luke 7:37)” came to Jesus, started weeping at His feet, wiping them with her hair, and anointing His feet with ointment. Simon was upset at this, thinking that Jesus should have known what type of woman she was who was touching His feet. In response to Simon, Jesus told a parable.
In the parable, Jesus described to Simon two men – one who owed a lender 500 denarii, and another man who owed the same lender 50. We have to stop and understand what a denarius is, or we will miss the impact of the difference of what they owed. A denarius was about a day’s wage for a laborer, so the first man owed the borrower over 1 year and 4 months’ worth of his wages. For the second man, it was not quite two months’ worth. In other words, if both men earned $50,000 a year, the first would have owed about $67,000, and the second about $8,000.
Jesus then said the lender forgave both men their debts and asked Simon which of the two borrowers would love the lender more. He rightly answered it was the one who owed more. Jesus went on to say that the woman knew she was forgiven much by Jesus, identifying her with the one who owed 500 denarii. Jesus said, “therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little (Luke 7:47).”
The difference between me and Jeff Bezos is real. He is actually worth billions of dollars, and I am not. But the difference between the Pharisee and the woman in this story was not so great. The difference was in what they acknowledged to be true. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And these sins deserve eternal damnation (Romans 6:23). The good news is that Paul says in Romans 3:24 that we “are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” In other words, Simon should have been on his knees at Jesus’ feet, too, bowing down in humble submission, acknowledging his sin and that he was as much in need of grace as the sinful woman.
This story is similar to a parable Jesus tells in Luke 18:9-14. In it, Jesus talks about a Pharisee who looks down on a tax collector and compares himself to the tax collector. The tax collector humbly beats his chest and asks, “God be merciful to me, a sinner (Luke 18:13)!” Jesus then said it was the tax collector who went home justified and not the Pharisee.
In both cases, Jesus did not deny the existence of sin in the life of the tax collector or the sinful woman, but He makes it clear it is necessary to acknowledge sin because to deny sin is to call God a liar (1 John 1:10). The Pharisees in both cases did not think they needed forgiveness because they were comparing themselves to someone else, they thought was worse than they were. But the truth is that the standard God uses is not to compare us to other people. His standard is perfection that can come only from Jesus’ righteousness that is ours when we trust Him for our salvation (Romans 3:21-22).
Let us bow down to Jesus’ feet in humble appreciation, loving Him because we acknowledge like the sinful woman that we have been forgiven much.