Two men found themselves in debt to the same lender. One owed the equivalent of what he could earn in 500 working days. The other owed the equivalent of what he could earn in 50 working days. It became apparent to the lender that neither would be able to pay back their loans. Realizing you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip and being a compassionate kind of guy, the lender forgave both men their debts.
If you had to guess which debtor was the most grateful you’d probably go with the guy who had been forgiven the debt ten times as big as the other guy’s debt. It’s a made-up story, but not one I made up. Jesus told the story to a religious man who, it was apparent, cared a lot less for Jesus than did a woman of bad reputation who, with tears of joy and gratitude, had washed Jesus’ feet, kissed His feet, and anointed them with oil right before the religious man’s eyes.
The incident of this unique social interaction between Jesus, the woman of bad reputation, and the religious leader that prompted Jesus’ story of the forgiven debtors gives us remarkable insight into the only way to have a dynamic and growing faith in God. The level of vitality of our faith in God and the depth of our relationship with Him is in direct proportion to what degree we grasp the idea of our need for God’s forgiveness.
The love the woman of bad reputation had for Jesus was evidence of her having been forgiven, likely because of an earlier encounter with Jesus. The amazing contrast between the woman of bad reputation and the religious leader in how they related to Jesus reveals a fundamental spiritual principle. The less we see our need to be forgiven by God the less of God we experience; the more we comprehend and respond to our need for God’s forgiveness the more of Him we experience.
A first step in getting right with God is to acknowledge our need for His gracious and merciful forgiveness. This is the reason for Christmas (God entering our world as Jesus), Good Friday (Jesus dying on a cross for our sins), and Easter (Jesus’ resurrection affirming that He was who He said He was, God come to us in order to save us from our sinfulness). When a person responds to this truth in a positive way they’ve entered into a right relationship with God. God’s forgiveness is the key.
Those of us who have taken this step of accepting Jesus as our forgiver can easily fall into the trap of the religious guy with whom Jesus had the conversation. We can get to thinking we live a pretty good life, don’t do terrible things, and need little forgiveness. Ironically, as we become more “religious” we can drift from a close and dynamic relationship with God.
I’ve discovered that as I learn more and more about God and allow myself to be more and more honest with myself, I’m more and more aware of my sinfulness and my constant need for God’s gracious and merciful forgiveness. The ensuing and ongoing great relief and gratitude prompts a deeper and more profound love for my Lord. When we understand that God continues to forgive us for much it’s natural to love Him more!
Jesus, referring to the woman of bad reputation positioned at his feet as He addressed the religious man, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47