I’m better than you mentality: to the environmentalist that lives to save the planet, as long as I am a better recycler than you then I have meaning. The materialist: as long as I make more money than you. The pleasure seeker: I know how to party and have more fun than you. The Sportsman: as long as my team wins… The power hungry: as long as I stay on top… The religious person: you are a worse sinner than me!
BTW, salvation is NOT exclusively a Christian idea. EVERYONE seeks salvation, Christian or not. Everyone wants purpose and meaning. Everyone wants a sense of rightness, a sense of acceptance, knowledge of forgiveness. The world may use different terms, but they want Salvation/ peace. Take a look at the last word of Luke 7:50: PEACE…. We’ve been talking about the diamond of faith this past month ~ four angles of faith, four stories: the confident centurion, the helpless widow, the questioning faith of John the Baptist, and now a forgiven prostitute. The final word in this chapter is the blessing of peace from Jesus Christ ~ this is the desire of every human being on earth: PEACE. True and lasting peace is only found in Christ ~ that is what distinguishes Christians and non-Christians: the Christian knows peace only comes through Christ, his love, his saving work on the cross, I’m a sinner saved by Grace. Some seek peace/ salvation through gaining more, attaining more, being better than others. True peace only comes through Christ!
Faith is for sinners. You’ve heard it said that we can never be good enough to save ourselves. What is also true: You cannot be bad enough for the love of God to exclude you from salvation.
A couple of things to understand this story:
1) In those days it was common for a private dinner party to be held in an open court in public. Similar to last Summer when Kayla and Jacob Colburn were married in a public park on the waterfront. I noticed several people watched the service who were not invited guests, but they happen to be there, so they watched, and they talked to me afterwards asking a variety of questions. Morgan and Shelly did not boot them out because it was a private gathering in a public place and looky-loos were welcome. The prostitute was uninvited but a welcome person at the dinner party. Jesus was in invited guest.
2) In those days, custom dictated the host to greet his guests with: 1) a kiss of welcome, 2) water for feet, and 3) oil to anoint their head. The kiss was a mark of affection, the water allowed the guest to wash the dust from their feet, and the oil was rubbed on the forehead as a perfume. The parallel in our day would be shaking hands (or offering a hug), taking someone’s coat, offering them food and drink, and finding them a place to sit. These are common courtesies. To omit them was a breach of etiquette and an act of unkindness. That explains about what the Prostitute did vs. the Preacher (Luke 7:44-47).
Let’s talk about the Prostitute. I’ve met prostitutes. A few months ago we opened the Clothesline to former Prostitutes that are here in the county in a safe home, a transformational Christian home so the girls can have a new life. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that MOST of the time, from the perspective of the girls, the girls are victims of a system. In fact, there is an underground sex trade in this world/country… I’m not sure, but I’m thinking Prostitutes in the days of Jesus were mostly victims of a system as well? Part of the point of this story is the way we categorize people so easily… Simon the preacher saw the prostitute as a sinner. He needed to be better than somebody, after-all, if he was to attain salvation.
I happen to find this note from a friend on Facebook who is teaching ESL overseas. I knew her from Teens for Christ. She says, “I'm so sick of disgusting creepy … men. I can't go for a walk on a nice sunny day … without some creepy man making disgusting comments at me. Today these men pulled off to the side of the road to talk to me! I don't understand [their language], but he made his meaning pretty clear by waving his wallet at me, gesturing to the motel across the street and repeatedly saying "room." feeling angry.////
I don’t know what it would be like to be a woman propositioned in such a manner, but I know this: Simon the preacher showed no compassion for the woman, he de-humanized her. Blamed her. Labeled her. It is significant that the woman is called a woman who “had lived” a sinful life (Luke 7:37). Two verses later Simon says she “is” a sinner. Simon the preacher labeled her, blamed her. Isn’t this how we make ourselves better than others? In contrast to the preacher, Jesus does not reject the woman, he loves her, allows her to take the role of the host of the dinner party.
Jesus tells a story with a deeper meaning: READ Luke 7:41-42. The preacher answers Jesus question: the one who had the bigger debt, and Jesus says, “you have judged correctly (Luke 7:43).
Simon got something right with this answer, but he got something wrong. He was right with the truth that the one with the bigger debt is more grateful but he was wrong by assuming it was the prostitute that had the bigger debt. Why do we often assume it is somebody else that is the bigger sinner? The riff raff of Sumas. The white trash. The folks on the wrong side of the track! Two ways to attain salvation: I’m better than you vs. I’m a sinner saved by grace. Simon assumed he was more righteous, he was better, more deserving… he saw himself as carrying the ball 99 yards on his own, pretty good, and he only needed a little bit of help to make a touchdown. I preach a pretty good sermon, I pay attention to people, I make myself available better than that preacher down the road….
PRINCIPLE: The one with the bigger debt is in the eyes of the beholder! As soon as you see yourself in the back of the line of worthiness, that is when you will begin to understand grace. Simon put himself at the head of the line, ahead of the prostitute, good enough for salvation ~ he needed to see himself at the back of the line.
Jesus speaks again. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). How much do you really want to be forgiven? This is an invitation for the preacher as well as the prostitute! Jesus is not saying, “The worse you are, the more you are forgiven.” Jesus is saying, “The greater you sense your own need for forgiveness, the greater will be your love when you are forgiven.”
—If you think you have been greatly forgiven, you will greatly love God.
—If you think you are pretty good because you are a less of a sinner than those other people, and you really only need a little bit of forgiveness to make it across the goal line, you will only love God a little.
How broken are you before God? How much do you sense his love?
If you are like the prostitute, keenly aware of your own sin and desiring a new life and forgiveness of your past, then I have good news for you. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done. It doesn’t matter how “bad” or “unpopular” your sin may be. It doesn’t matter how far down in the pit you find yourself at this moment. If you will come to Christ, he will not turn you away. You cannot be so bad that God rejects you.
If you are like Simon, there is good news for you too. Give up trust in yourself in order to be saved, give up comparing yourself to others. Simon was just as far from heaven as the prostitute. Simon was not the one with the bigger debt, and neither was the woman. But they both were. It’s all how you see yourself. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Two questions: What do you see when you look at others? Simon looked at this woman and saw a “sinner.” So what do you see when you look at others? Before you answer, consider the 2nd question. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Your answer to the 2nd question determines how you answer the 1st. Only those who understand the depth of their own sinfulness can look with compassion and mercy on the men and women they meet every day. The preacher’s problem is not how he saw the woman, or even how he saw Jesus. The problem was how he saw himself.
Jesus speaks to the woman for the first time at the end of the story. He says three things (Luke 7:48, 50):
1. "Your sins are forgiven.” That takes care of her past. We cannot undo the past, we can only let it go and move on.
2. "Your faith has saved you.” That takes care of her present. Faith is the vehicle for a life in Christ, to trust him, believe him, because we are sinners and have no other way to find peace, to receive salvation.
3. "Go in peace.” That takes care of her future. That is the goal of which all people strive. Peace.
Take up any cause, and you can always find people that are worse than you. True and lasting peace is only found in Christ. If you seek salvation by trying to save the planet, there is always more that you can do. If you stake your identity on material wealth you will never have enough. If you set about to be as happy as possible, you will eventually wake up with a hangover. But ride the vehicle of faith, look in the mirror and recognize that you are at the back of the line, the one with the bigger debt, the least deserving, invite Christ into your life, and he will forgive you, that takes care of the past, have faith ~ that’s the vehicle for daily living, and go in peace ~ that’s the future.
Simon’s problem was that he couldn’t see himself. The “sinful” woman demonstrates a big faith because she knows her big need. Because we are sinners Christ died for us.
Because we are sinners we need faith in order to live a full life with Christ at the center. What is more precious than your faith, like the world’s largest diamond? Look at it from one angle and we are invited to live with confidence, no matter how unreasonable the world looks, confidence is ours! Look at another angle and thank goodness faith means it is all God, we must fully rely on God. Turn the diamond again and we see that even with faith it is ok to ask questions, to struggle, to search and walk with God as imperfect people, and one more time turn the diamond and understand that faith is needed because we are the worst of sinners and undeserving of God’s grace.
If you want to know more about receiving Christ, his forgiveness, living by faith, having peace, please talk to me, Pastor Jack, an elder, or any one of the wonderful faithful people in this congregation. What is more valuable than the world’s largest diamond? Faith in Jesus Christ! Amen.