Forgiven much

Luke 7:36-50
She acts with much love because much has been forgiven.
Who is this story about? And what does it mean for us, following in the steps of the Master?
So who is this story about? Ignore the usual heading and ask, who has Jesus got in focus? Who's the parable told for?
It's Simon, the Pharisee who has invited him to dinner – they were not all total adversaries. A good person; someone committed to living God's way.
He's interested in Jesus but he seems also a bit sceptical – if this man were a prophet, he would have known. But the key thing is his feeling, revealed by Jesus' parable for him, that he hasn't got much that needs forgiving. He's “righteous” in the old expression – all is right with him and God, and others, and life generally, and he knows it to be so.
He's all good, and yet he didn't do any of the usual care and attention things. Offering water to a guest to wash hot smelly feet is standard cultural hospitality, and something a person focussed on others would have thought of. But he didn't. A bit smug. Self-righteous, a word we do still use generally, and maybe our contemporary reluctance to use the word righteous is that it too easily gains the add-on “self”.
Serendipitously (but again a sign of Simon's lack of hospitality, not ensuring the woman are welcomed somewhere separate from the men), a woman enters who becomes a teaching moment for Jesus in relation to Simon. She's the kind of person many people wouldn't want to hang around with. Generally presumed to be a promiscuous slut, she's someone whose company Jesus clearly appreciates, enjoys even. We can enjoy being with sinners (we are all sinners, after all!), but the thing with Jesus is that he has no feelings of superiority with it, that becomes self-righteous arrogance. That's what I reckon we find difficult – I do. A subtle feeling or assumption keeps sneaking in, which seems to go naturally with feeling okay about myself, blessed in the life I live and the benefits of background and circumstances. These things are real and good, but they keep encroaching as a comparison when with people for whom life has been different. In contrast, Jesus would be so much more natural and obviously respectful with them.
The step to take to get beyond this righteous mind-set comes in the lesson of the parable.
The woman acts with much love because much is forgiven. Note that she's not forgiven because of the love she shows. The forgiveness came beforehand.
She is the person in the parable who was aware of having much to be forgiven for, the person whose debt, whose burden is that much greater, so being able to let go of it is a really big relief. (The Greek word for “forgive” has in fact the root meaning of “let go”.)
The loudest message in the parable is what is unspoken. The one to whom little is forgiven loves little. The one not consciously carrying as big a debt burden, the one not aware of as big a load that needs to be let go of, doesn't get the chance to experience big forgiveness and therefore the surge of love that naturally follows. Like the woman's tears, like rain (a Greek word is used for her considerable weeping that is usually used for rain), love flows out a person who receives forgiveness.
It happens in being forgiven, and in giving forgiveness to another. The release, and then the love. This is genuine right relationship, “righteousness”, which can only come through openness to one another.
Let us open up ourselves to one another
without fear of being hurt or turned away
For we need to confess our weaknesses
To be covered by our brother's love, our sister's love,
To be real and learn our true identity.
Pat Bilbrough ©1980 Thank You Music

Used by permission CCLI licence number 78945 Scripture in Song 2 168

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