Roger Severino

Reasons Church People May Love Jesus Much or Little

Reflections on Luke 7:36-50: Religion vs. the Gospel

Religious people tend to observe certain rituals (i.e. church attendance) and follow a code of morality that makes them feel they are good, or at least better than others. Often, they see themselves (subconsciously) in a contract with God, and that God is fortunate to have them on His team. When circumstances go south, however, religious people can feel betrayed because, after all, God has not kept His end of the bargain. They should be rewarded with a good life for their faithfulness. They don’t really love God wholeheartedly, but are attempting to earn God’s favor and put Him in their debt.

The gospel, however, is counter to this type of religion. The good news of Jesus means that God’s grace has been lavished on the undeserving and we are transformed by His love.

Luke 7:36-50 provides a good contrast between Simon the Pharisee and a sinful woman who comes and falls at the feet of Jesus. It’s a story that shows the difference between religion and the gospel.

You may know the story. Simon, a religious, observant Jew, invites Jesus over for dinner. We learn in time that Simon does not extend to Jesus some of the customary hospitality for a guest, which perhaps reveals the regard Simon has for him. In walks “a woman in the town who was a sinner” and sits at Jesus’ feet while he is reclining at the table (typical in that culture); she washes his feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them, and anoints them with oil. Wow. I can’t imagine how shocking that would be in the house of a prominent religious person!

We don’t know the background of her story. Perhaps she was so broken and had heard the good news that Jesus came to proclaim, that God welcomes sinners into His family. Perhaps she felt the weight of shame and guilt lifted off of her shoulders and experienced the cleansing of forgiveness. Perhaps she finally felt genuinely loved by someone without ulterior motives.

Simon, as you can imagine, is not amused. He concludes that Jesus must not be a prophet or man of God, because if he were, he would know that this woman is a sinner. And if so, he obviously would not allow her to display such affection on him. How scandalous!

Jesus then tells a story of a creditor who had two debtors, one who owed a lot of money and another who owed comparatively less. The creditor forgives both. Jesus asks Simon: “Which of the debtors will love the creditor more?” Simon answers: “I suppose the one he forgave more.”

After comparing Simon’s attitude and actions with that of the “sinful woman,” Jesus says that “her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little loves little.”

What should we learn from this story? Do we need to live a wild and reckless life before coming to Jesus to make sure we have a lot of sins to forgive? Is that what Jesus is teaching?

No. If we understand the purity, perfection, and holiness of God we will realize that we are all broken sinners who “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are astonished that God would be so gracious and forgiving to “a wretch like me.” It’s not about religion and impressing God or others with our godliness. It’s about being amazed by God’s grace and gratefully receiving the love God pours out to us in Christ. We are then transformed to love as He loves us. Be honest. Are you more like Simon the Pharisee or the sinful woman? Do you love Jesus much or little? Why?

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