In Luke 7 we read how a woman “who had lived a sinful life” (verse 37) anointed Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. “[S]he stood behind him at his feet weeping [and] she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Luke 7:38.
Simon was scandalized by this behavior. “[H]e said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.
“ ‘Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.
“Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ ” Luke 7:39-47.
Jesus teaches a very important principle in these verses: there is a direct correlation between how much we own our sin and how deeply we love. The more we see how sinful we are, the more we will love.
If your sin is not a big deal to you, you simply won’t love others very much. Simon was a Pharisee who observed the law of God and also had good standing in the community. He knew he was a sinner in theory; he presumably would have admitted, if he were asked, that he wasn’t perfect. But his sin in his mind was small and not a big deal. Keeping the law wasn’t all that much of a challenge for him because of how the Pharisees interpreted the law and how Jewish society was structured at the time. Simon felt pretty good about himself, so it was easy for him to disdain this woman. She’s the sinner, not him.
The woman, however, knew she was a sinner. Her life was not as pretty as Simon’s. She’d no doubt been repeatedly used, shamed for her immorality, and cast out of polite society. Yet when she got the chance to show her love for Jesus the devotion poured out of her. Why?
If you’ve ever wondered why you’re not kinder, more patient, more considerate, more thoughtful, and gentler with others (and I hope you have), I can tell you why: you don’t think you’re that much of a sinner. Instead, you’re like Simon: you think the people around you are the sinners, while you aren’t all that bad. You feel like you’ve been forgiven little (because there’s not much to forgive, after all), so you love little.
But when God opens your eyes by grace and you see how ugly your sin is – how selfish you are, how jealous and hateful you can be, how you’ve murdered people in your thoughts and lusted after others in your fantasies, how you can’t stand the success of people around you because you think it somehow detracts from you, when you see how little you trust God but instead trust money and the world’s acclaim to make you feel safe and good – when you really see that, then you know you need forgiveness. When you really see that, you know there’s no point pretending anymore. Trying to convince yourself you’re not all that bad is like trying to talk a corpse into believing he’s not all that dead.
This is where many in modern society say Christianity is a problem because it creates low self-esteem. Nonsense. Christianity just shows us who we actually are, but it doesn’t leave us there.
Only once we see our sin can we ever really begin to see Jesus. Then when we see Jesus on the cross, lifted up for our sins, it’s not some abstract religious doctrine. He is there to guarantee our forgiveness.
Jesus on the cross means that no matter how awful and unloving and unrighteous I’ve been in my life, God accepts me and loves me and declares me righteous. God forgives me, with all my yuck, because of Jesus. He was perfect in every place I’m imperfect, so when he died he wasn’t dying for his sins – he was dying to secure forgiveness for my sins.
If you don’t think you’re much of a sinner, then how can the forgiveness you are offered at the cross of Christ possibly mean much to you? You don’t think you’re all that bad.
But when you really see your sin, when you are crushed by the weight of your sin, when the log in your eye is so big that it keeps you from seeing any of the specks in the eyes of those around you, then that forgiveness becomes the most powerful force in your life. It overwhelms even the ugliness of your sin and changes you from the inside out.
It happened to the woman. She knew she was sinful, she felt her brokenness, so when she met Jesus and experienced his approval she loved extravagantly. She loved without any thought for herself. She increasingly lived only for the good of others. She “loved much.”
It happened to the woman, and I pray it’s happening to me. I pray it happens to you. Our city, our state, our country, and our world need people who “love much”: people who refuse to condemn others for their sins because they are so consumed with joy over how they have been forgiven their sins. People who believe it’s ridiculous and hypocritical to focus on the failings of others because we know we’ve blown it so many times. People who are open and honest about their sin, who in turn create places for others to be open and honest about theirs.
Relationships will flourish in that environment: families will heal, marriages will thrive, children will grow like weeds, friends will encourage one another, churches will be places of joy and safety (instead of self-righteousness and condemnation), and the gospel message will take wings and soar. In that environment love happens. But we can’t get to the love without forgiveness, and forgiveness only matters to you if you own your sin.