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God’s Word for You

Luke 7:40-43 Denariuses of sin forgiven

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, March 2, 2018

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” He said, “Tell me, teacher.”

Jesus is going to show just how much Simon the Pharisee had misunderstood, and not everything will be laid out for everyone to hear. Jesus will use a parable for Simon which will teach about forgiveness and thanks in a simple way for the banquet’s onlookers. But for the Pharisee, it will defend this repentant woman, and it will also show Simon—perhaps in retrospect—that Jesus even heard and understood Simon’s own thoughts, proving what Simon had thought Jesus was unable to do, which was to know “who (he) was, and what kind of (man) he was,” because Jesus was indeed a prophet, and more than a prophet. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ; the Anointed Savior who forgives sins.

41 “There were two men who owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.

The “moneylender” is a daneistes (δανειστής), the “oppressor” of Proverbs 29:13; the feared “creditor” of Psalm 109:11 and 2 Kings 4:1. How these two men became indebted isn’t the point of the parable, but a warning to keep in mind is “Don’t become a beggar by feasting with borrowed money when you have nothing in your purse” (Sirach 18:33).

A denarius was a day’s wages (Matthew 20:2,9,10,13). Today, a day’s wage is something like $75 in much of the country. So fifty denarii (that is, ‘denariuses’) would have been about $3,750 to us. Five hundred? $37,500. For many people, that’s the difference between what’s in their checking account today, and the value of their car. The smaller one was a serious debt. The bigger one was incredible and crippling.

42 Neither of them had anything to pay him back, so he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?”  43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Jesus said to him, “You have judged correctly.”

What did the feared creditor do? For whatever reason (again, we’re not told), he forgave their debt. The word Jesus uses is charizomai (χαρίζoμαι), the verb form of the word charis “grace.” The debt would never be charged; the papers were torn up or burned. The debt, with all of its zeros and the dreadful seriousness of what it meant, was no longer owed.

Next, Jesus introduces the word “love” (agapao, ἀγαπάω; as a noun: agape, ἀγάπη). In Classical Greek literature, there were several words for love, which could mean passion, attraction, etc. Of those, agape was the one that was least colored by any association with passion, sex, or self-interest. It was used by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament to describe God’s love for mankind, a love that is not self-interested, but selfless. It became the usual word for Christian love, and in later Greek literature in the Koine and Byzantine dialects, it retained that meaning. Here, Jesus asks about love. Does love come before a debt is canceled, or after? It can only be after. Before the debt was canceled, these two men only had fear of the moneylender. Now that they owed nothing, they loved him. And part of the parable’s point is this: They loved him because he canceled the debt. Our faith and love for Christ come because of what he has done for us. He did not forgive us because we loved him; we love him because he forgave us.

The question Jesus asks about which one loved more is based on the size of the debt. Here, the transition between parable and life becomes completely fluid and transparent, so that can reach right in and grasp the meaning with ease, like picking up a spoon in a sinkful of clear water. This sinful woman wiping Jesus’ feet loved him because, yes, she had led a sinful life in that town. Her reputation was damaged, but her relationship with God was damaged even more. She knew and understood that Jesus had set her free of that guilt, and if a certain famous Pharisee didn’t understand that, she didn’t care. She was cleaning the very feet of her Savior, as if to turn over the words of the Song: “How beautiful your sandaled feet, O Prince!” (Song of Solomon 7:1). She delighted in Jesus’ feet because she understood the meaning of the gospel: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace… who proclaim salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

Simon the Pharisee considered Jesus’’ question. Which one loved him more? “I suppose,” he said, hypolambano (ὑπολαμβάνω). This is to “imagine” or “suppose,” and Simon was trying to be cautious, but Jesus agreed with him. The Pharisee had got his foot caught in his own trap: “I suppose, the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” And the one who had the bigger debt forgiven was the one washing her Savior’s feet with her hair. She understood. Of course, Jesus understood. And now Simon the Pharisee understood, too. Jesus has more to say about this, but let’s take time to appreciate her simple act of worship. What a slave might be commanded to do; what a slave might do because he or she had no choice, was what she was doing freely. She did it out of love, because her debt, her sin, had been forgiven. It was forgotten. She could well have been the woman to whom had said, “Go now, and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). They much in common, but the important thing was their forgiveness through Jesus the Lord.

What a future heaven will be! Think of all your sins! All of your unpayable debt! And the Lord’s words come shining forth, like sunlight blazing in all its glory after a dark and stormy winter:

Has no one condemned you?

No one, sir.

Then neither do I condemn you.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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