As you heard the Scripture being read, I know what you were thinking: Does she know this is supposed to be a Thanksgiving homily????
Yes, I do, so bear with me for a few moments as we see why this extraordinary passage is so very appropriate for Thanksgiving.
I’d like to begin by asking a question: Why is it that you came to a saving faith and knowledge in Jesus Christ? What is it that drew you to commit your lives to him and claim him as Your Savior and Lord?
I suspect that there are many responses that could be given:
Some of you have been fortunate enough to have been raised in Christian homes and cannot remember a time when you didn’t believe in Christ;
Others may have come to faith as teenagers;
Others as adults;
In my own case, it was a fear of death that led me to a faith in Christ. I remember being ~10 and seeing some medical program in which a woman was in danger of dying. For some reason this particular program captured my imagination and I began to try and envision what it would be like to die; when, eight years later, I heard that Jesus Christ was the resurrection and the life, and that she who believes in him will never die, that was all I needed.
Yet the longer I am a Christian, what I am struck by is that what we really need to live lives in complete dependence upon Christ is not an awareness of our finiteness—though the Lord may certainly use many means to draw us to himself—but an awareness of our sinfulness. One of my seminary professors pointed out once that unlike in some other fields, you do not tend to find any young prodigies in theology. There are those who are math whizzes at the age of twelve; or violin maestros at the age of seven; or those with great ability to memorize as children. But this is not the case when it comes to Scriptural truths. Unlike other areas, what we need to grow as disciples of Christ is not only a knowledge of God’s Word—though we certainly need this—but also life experience. Our Christian faith isn’t just about head knowledge but it is also about changed lives by the work of Christ’s Spirit within us.
And the particular type of knowledge that I think we especially need is knowledge of our sin. In his book, Losing our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision, David Wells observes: “The greatness of God’s grace will never be grasped unless it is preceded by an understanding of the greatness of sin” (29; emphasis added). The woman in today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke—this so-called “known sinner”—is someone who understood the greatness of sin.
In New Testament times, houses seem to have been somewhat open to intrusions by others. As Jesus accepts an invitation to have a meal at the home of Simon, a Pharisee, we are told “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” (v. 37) makes her way into his home when she learns that Jesus is going to be there. In observing the spectacle she was making of herself—weeping, standing behind Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her tears, kissing his feet, anointing them with ointment (v. 38)—Simon said not to anyone else but to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (v. 39; emphasis added).
Well, it doesn’t matter that he didn’t verbalize his thoughts. We are told that Jesus answered his thoughts and told the story of the creditor with two debtors: One debtor owed 500 denarii—that’s 500 days wages; over 16 months worth of wages—almost a year and a half; the other debtor owed 50 denarii or 50 days wages, almost two months—not an insignificant amount but certainly far less. The point here, however, is that neither of these debtors could pay their debt and both were forgiven their debts. When Jesus asks Simon: “Now which of them will love him [the creditor] more?” Simon correctly answers: “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more” (v. 43).
Jesus than goes on to offer the proper application of this passage. He points out to Simon:
You: gave me no water for my feet when I entered your house;
She—this sinful woman—has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair (44);
You: gave me no kiss but
She—this sinful woman—has not ceased to kiss my feet (45);
You: did not anoint my head with oil but
She—this sinful woman—has anointed my feet with anointment.
Therefore her sins which are many are forgiven for she loved much (47). But he who is forgiven little loves little. In other words—and I think there is no doubt that this is implied—you Simon who do not see that you, too, are a sinful person, are unable to love as God would have us love because you do not understand that you, too, owe God in Christ a great debt because of your great sin.
Jesus turns to this women who understands the nature of sin and the nature of forgiveness and exhorts her go in peace. Yet even after all of this, Simon and others who are present still do not understand for they ask: Who is this, who even forgives sins? (49). In John 14.9 Jesus tells Philip: If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. This is because Jesus and the Father are one. He isn’t just a good man; he isn’t just a prophet. He is God in the flesh, Immanuel, God with us. Therefore it is appropriate and right for Jesus, as God, to forgive sins.
When Jesus looks at this unnamed woman, he sees someone who knows who he is and who understands that in looking at him, she is looking at God Almighty himself. But she also knows that he isn’t just an Almighty God, but he is also a loving God, a God of mercy and compassion, a God who has come and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And therefore this is a God who understands even better than we do the devastating effects of sin. And that is why he came.
As we are gathered here this evening, let us thank God for this ultimate gift of knowing him that he has given us in his Word and by his Spirit as recorded for us in his Word. And by all means let us also thank him for the gift of family—the gift of friends—the gift of this church body—the gift of health—or the gift of being comforted when we have lost our family—or the gift of having others reach out to us when we have needed friends—or the gift of being cared for when we have lost our health or our material possessions. But let us not forget to thank God for that which we so often take for granted—the gift of his Son Jesus Christ who came, and lived, and died, and rose again that we might not have to experience the eternal and devastating effects of our sin. Let us pray to God that by his mercy he provide us with an awareness of our sin for—as Jesus tells us earlier in Luke 5.31–2: Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance. Let us this evening turn to our great Physician in gratitude and thanksgiving for all that he is and all that he has sacrificed that we might never be separated from him in this life or the next.
As I’ve shared before I read once that feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it. Let us not be those with wrapped gifts waiting to be given. But let us rise and turn now to sing our thanks to God by turning to Hymn #791, Jesus We Just Want to Thank You.