Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Luke 7:47-50 -- On Love and Forgiveness

"Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."
Luke 7:47-50

This is the tail end of the story of Christ going to visit the house of Simon the Pharisee.  It's an interesting one for a lot of reasons, but I want to talk about two things: love and forgiveness.  In the first verse of the selection we read that she was forgiven of much because she loved much, and that people who don't need a lot of forgiveness love a little less.

That's a fascinating thought, actually.  The thought that sinners love God more than the righteous seems contrary to expectation in a lot of ways.  Righteous people are *more* pious, right?  ... Except that they often aren't, as Christ was commenting on right here in Simon's house, who was a very pious pharisee.  ... Does that mean we should just give up on the being good crap and start doing whatever we want?  No, of course not.  Just like in the story of the prodigal son, the righteous are "ever with" the Lord, and all that he has is ours (Luke 15:31).  Sinners have to go through a lot to repent and come back, and it is a tough road.  So, yeah, it teaches love and gratitude.  But the kind of love that matters in both cases is love that we learn from working with the Lord on a daily basis.  And we can do that, whether we are in sinner or saint mode (and we all go through both in our lives).  The problem is that when we *think* that we're righteous, a lot of the time is it just actions and trappings, like some of the pharisees at the time of Christ, and it isn't real internal communion with the Lord, learning his ways, and his love.  And when we think (incorrectly) that we are NOT sinners, we don't feel the same desperation to learn that sinners do when they are trying to escape their own bad choices.

Later in this selection, other people at dinner start wondering why Jesus thinks he can forgive sin.  It's an interesting question, because earlier in the chapter he confirmed to John that he was the Christ, he healed the lame and the blind, and he raised a child from the dead.  All of these miracles, and yet they wonder.  I was thinking about that, and wondering why that particular thing would be so strange to them, when really, *everything* he did was under the purview of God, and not man.  Science hadn't advanced to the point where regular people *or* doctors could do the things that he did... and some of them we still can't.  When Christ healed, people didn't need physical therapy afterward, and a man blind from birth instantly knew and understood what he was seeing.  We can't do those things.  The fact that they marveled at the forgiveness of sins suggests to me that they didn't want forgiveness to be so easy.  Even though none of them could know what that woman went through in her path to forgiveness, perhaps they wanted the perceived superiority that external righteousness gave them.

I think we do this too... on both sides.  When we are in righteous mode, we think that we are better than other people.  We're like the brother of the prodigal son, complaining about our own displacement rather than the blessing of our brother returning.  And when we are in sin mode, we think that we're worthless, and even when God forgives us, we kind of persist in thinking that.  We believe that strong people would never have screwed up their lives like that, and that we've permanently lost something that we can never have again.

Both beliefs are essentially denying the atonement.  It's natural to want to get "credit" for being good, and it is also natural to feel like we deserve less for being bad... but remember the parable of the workers in the field.  God gives everyone the same reward, no matter when they are able to get out there and start working.  Christ died for all of us, and ALL of us owe all that we are and all that we have to him.  Yes, absolutely true, some of us come back to God with 10 talents, and some come back with 5, and maybe the prophet comes back with 8 b'zillion.  I don't know.  But the lesson even in the parable of the talents was don't waste what you are given.  God accepted everyone who did something with what they had, and didn't shut the door because one had half as much.

Today, let's remember that Christ died for us, and as long as we are doing what we can and headed in the right direction, he makes up for all that we lack... whether that lack is infinite plus 10 or infinite plus a thousand... it is clear that it doesn't matter.  Let's learn to love the Lord much, whatever state our souls are in right now.  And let's also remember, and hope, in God's promise: "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18).

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