In our world today, there is a pervasive idea that in order to go to heaven, a person must be good. Of course, no one knows how good they must be in order to get in, but that doesn’t seem to bother many of us. We can always point out at least one person who is worse than us.
Unfortunately, the Bible teaches that no one is good enough to get into heaven on their own merit. In fact, Jesus taught the exact opposite. Jesus regularly made comments to the effect of, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
In Luke 7:36-50, there is a delightful story about a Pharisee, a Rabbi, and a prostitute. Jesus (called “Rabbi” by many) was invited over for lunch by a Pharisee. While they were enjoying a pleasant meal, a sinful woman entered the house, knelt at Jesus’ feet weeping, washed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, kissed his feet, broke open a bottle of fragrant perfume, and poured it on his feet.
Indignant, the Pharisee thought to himself, “If Jesus is who He says He is, then He would know that this woman is a sinner.” (Pharisees had no dealings with sinners because of they did not want to be exposed to any sort of defilement .)
Reading Simon’s mind, Jesus asked him a question: “who appreciates forgiveness more: someone who was forgiven a small debt or someone who was forgiven a large debt?” Simon, the Pharisee, answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the larger debt.”
“Correct,” Jesus said. He went on, “This woman has committed a great deal of sin in her life. Even you know that. But, she recognized that she was a sinner and in need of forgiveness. Look how she has humbled herself and come to me. She washed my feet with tears and kissed them. You didn’t even give me water to wash my feet. Nor did you give me a kiss to welcome me into your home. Therefore, this woman is forgiven of her great load of sins. Can’t you see that because she has been forgiven so much she is now able to love much? But those who are forgiven a small amount don’t love very much at all.”
Turning to the woman, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Simon and the other at the table immediately began choking on their food, asking each other, “what gives this guy the right to forgive sins?!”
Ignoring these religious hypocrites, Jesus tells the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Have you ever noticed the correlation between the amount you have been forgiven and the amount you love? Maybe at one point in time you really offended a friend or relative and they completely forgave you. Did that cause you to love them more?
Have you ever thought about how much you have offended God? It’s not a pleasant thought because most of us think we are pretty good. Unfortunately, the Bible again says “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). Furthermore, it tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
The Pharisees and other guests at this luncheon probably thought that they were doing a pretty good job living up to God’s perfect standard. On multiple occasions Jesus called them “hypocrites” and things like “blind leaders of the blind.” Obviously, Jesus did not think their efforts were good enough.
(I’ve noticed this in my own life. Growing up in a conservative Christian family, attending church weekly, Bible studies at least twice a week, and never getting into much trouble, I have often been tempted to think that I’m a pretty good guy. Recently, though, God has allowed me to see past this veneer. He has shown me that I might look pretty good on the outside but my heart, just like everyone’s is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” (Jeremiah 17:9).)
It’s wonderful to see how Jesus was so quick to forgive this sinful woman. My prayer is that God will show each of us our sinfulness so that we will also bow at Jesus’ feet and receive the forgiveness we need. As humbling as this will be, it will transform us into people who love much!