Luke 7:36-50 tells an interesting story that I think is often misinterpreted or glossed over. Jesus is at the home of a pharisee who has requested dinner with Jesus. Let’s push pause right here before we go further.
One of the mistakes we make reading the gospels is that we often turn the Pharisees into one monolithic group. They were not. They were actual people. And Jesus loved them too. Yes they got a lot wrong. Yes many of them did not like Jesus. But Jesus didn’t hate them. He loved them. He kept loving them all the way through the end. Even when He was challenging them He was doing it to try to get them to see the truth. He asks them once – who will save you from hell?! Jesus was trying to get them to get it. Just like everyone else. And some of them were interested. Obviously this Pharisee was curious.
Back to the story. A woman who was a “sinner” shows up. She is weeping. She anoints his feet with her tears and perfume. The Pharisee is bothered by this. Why is Jesus, a holy man, allowing this woman to do this. Jesus should know not to let this immoral woman touch him.
Jesus then gives him a short analogy to think about. He says a moneylender has two debtors. One owes him 500 denarii (just over two year’s salary) and another owes him 50 denarii (just over two months salary). The moneylender decides to forgive both debts. Now which debtor loves the moneylender more?
The Pharisee answers that the one with the larger debt loves the moneylender more. Jesus says that he has answered correctly. He then points out that this woman loves Him more. She has many sins, has recognized Jesus and has repented and is worshiping Him. He says she who has been forgiven much, loves much. The one who is forgiven little loves little.
When I was younger I remember reading this story and sort of being disappointed. I was a pretty good young person. I didn’t have some sort of big conversion story. Now I did have one. I recognized my need for a savior and understood that I needed one. And I loved Jesus. But I had also watched a lot of people around me who had “sinned” more. I had watched them repent and I wondered – do they love Jesus more than me? Could I love Jesus as much as someone who had lived some crazy lifestyle before conversion? I wasn’t thinking I should go sin more. It was just an honest thought in my head.
But that is not, I don’t believe, the point of the story. There may be some truth to the idea that someone who has come from really hard things or done really bad things and then decides to repent and follow Jesus could more naturally love Jesus more. They needed to be rescued in a more obvious way. But I don’t think that was Jesus’ point.
I think the point of the story is are you willing to recognize yourself as the 500 Denarii sinner or do you think you are just a 50 Denarii sinner? The woman in the story recognized her sin. The Pharisee did not. That is the point.
I don’t believe that all sin is the same. But all sin comes from the same place – that is that we are self centered instead of God centered. And that, frankly is the worst sin. And we all have committed it. We choose to be God of our own life. We choose to represent our own needs instead of God’s. It plays out differently in each of our lives but it comes from the same place.
Self righteousness gets in the way of loving God. Every single time and always. When we view ourselves as incapable of sin, or frankly even a sin, we are operating in self righteousness. We are not better than someone else. Especially minus the grace of God and His forgiveness.
The one good thing about this is that while we are actually indeed the 500 denarii sinner, we can also recognize that and love Jesus. In many ways, the more we recognize that I’m that sinner, the more I will appreciate what Christ has done for me. We have the opportunity to recognize that in reality we are forgiven much and therefore love much.
My question for you today: Are you the 500 denarii sinner or the 50 denarii one?