Conversations With Jesus
Text: Luke 7:36-50
Audio: Conversations With Jesus: Simon the Pharisee
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
Title: “Conversations With Jesus”
Text: Luke 7:36-50
My friends, as we begin this new year together, I want to begin a new series of sermons I am calling, “Conversations with Jesus.” We will be looking at the conversations Jesus had with a whole variety of people, which are recorded in the Gospels in the New Testament.
A scholastic philosopher named Josef Pieper once wrote that: “The natural habitat of truth is human conversation.”
Think about that for a moment: “The natural habitat of truth is human conversation.” I believe we see this in the way that Jesus went about His ministry. It was in conversations with people that the truths he came to impart came alive for people. So we are going to be paying attention to these conversations of Jesus, with an eye to discovering the truths that live within them.
And I’d like to begin today with the conversation Jesus had one evening with Simon the Pharisee at a dinner party Simon was hosting and had invited Jesus to attend. This was the conversation which first opened my eyes to the truth of the Gospel. It was the words of Jesus to a sinful woman and to a righteous Pharisee named Simon that turned on the light bulb in my 18 year old heart and brought me to salvation. And I must say, it was this “Jesus story” and this conversation, which formed a foundation for the way I would understand the truth of the gospel the rest of my life.
So listen again to Luke 7:36-50, and to this conversation Jesus has with Simon the Pharisee.
So this is a conversation between Jesus and Simon, but there are actually three people interacting in the dialog, aren’t there? There is Simon the Pharisee, who is hosting a dinner at his home. And there is Jesus, who is the invited guest at the dinner. But then there is this woman, who shows up at the dinner, but was certainly not invited. She is described as a woman who had lived a sinful life, which means she was probably a prostitute.
And it is the interplay between these three people that creates this conversation, and which enables us to see the truth of the gospel which comes to light in the dialogue.
And you know the story we just read: Jesus is at Simon’s house having dinner, and this sinful woman crashes the party and stuns Simon and his other guest by showering Jesus with the most extravagant display of affection.
The dinner guests are reclining at the table, which means that their feet are all pointing outwards from the table. And this woman comes in and falls to her knees right by Jesus’ feet. She is weeping, and her tear drops start wetting his feet; and then she starts wiping the tears with her hair! And it seems she has brought an alabaster jar of perfume. So she then pours some of the perfume on his feet, and then she kisses them! It really is outrageous. And they all know she is the town prostitute, and that makes it even more outrageous.
Simon is wondering how she got into his house in the first place. But even more he is wondering why Jesus hasn’t recoiled from this woman’s touches. And he thinks, “If Jesus really were a prophet he would know what kind of woman this is!”
But before Simon can say a word, or rebuke the woman himself, Jesus initiates this conversation. Jesus says, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” And then he goes on to tell Simon a little story, which shows Simon that Jesus knows full well who this woman is, and what her life has been all about.
And he knows full well who Simon is and what his life is all about.
For in Jesus’ story, there are two men who each owe a money lender some money. The one man owes the money lender a lot of money: 500 Denarii, which would have been about 1 ½ years wages. The other man only owed about 50 Denarii, or about 6 weeks wages. But neither one of them had the money to pay back the loan. So the money lender, amazingly enough, canceled both of their debts. He didn’t break their legs. He canceled both of their debts.
And Jesus asks Simon, “So which of them will love the moneylender more? And Simon says, “I guess it’s the man who had the bigger debt cancelled.” And Jesus says, “You’re right.”
Do you see how “truth inhabits” this conversation? Jesus is speaking prophetic truth right into Simon’s life, and right into the life of this sinful woman! And it’s a deep truth about the forgiveness of sins…And whose sins are being conversed about here?
Well, be careful with your answer to that question. It’s not just the woman’s sins that are at issue! Because in the story, both debtors are forgiven their debt! The only difference, Jesus points out to Simon, is that the one who is forgiven more is the most grateful and the most full of love in response. But both are forgiven!
So Jesus is actually talking to Simon about the forgiveness
which is now on offer not only to this woman, but to him, the host of the party. They both have debts they can’t pay, each for their own unique brand of sin.
The sinful woman’s sins were the outward and obvious “sins of the flesh.” Everybody knew about them and everyone, including the woman, knew they were sinful and worthy of condemnation. They seemed to everyone there to be 500 Denarii worth of sins. Big and Bad.
But Simon’s brand of sin was inward and more subtle. His were sins of the soul and spirit, interior sins: pride, judgmentalism, self-righteousness. He was not thought of as a sinner by those around him. He did not think of himself as a sinner. Or if he was a sinner like we all are, then maybe only like 50 Denarii worth of sins.
But whether it was a 500 D debt, or a 50 D debt, both of their debts were being forgiven.
2. And why was Jesus ready to forgive both their debts?
Well, we need to know that it was not because either one of them deserved it. In the story, the money lender simply chooses for his own reasons to forgive both debts. And there’s the truth of the gospel that inhabits this conversation: God forgives out of who He is, not because of who we are. He cancels our debt for His own name’s sake.
The sinful woman did not deserve to have her sins of the flesh forgiven. She deserved to be condemned. And Simon the Pharisee did not deserve to have his sins of the soul be forgiven. He deserved to be condemned as well. But Jesus is ready to forgive both of their sins because of who He is. He is the Savior who has come to seek and to save the lost, and to take away the sins of the world. He is the manifestation of God’s pardoning grace and love.
And look at how this plays out at the dinner party:
There is Jesus, the manifestation of God’s love on earth, and he is reclining at table with Simon the Pharisee, and being anointed by a sinful prostitute. And he does not recoil from either one of them because of their sin. He doesn’t recoil in horror when this prostitute breaks into the dinner party and starts weeping all over his feet, and wiping them with her hair.
And he does not recoil from the sinner named Simon, nor from all of those other sinners at the dinner party. No. He is breaking bread with them. Sharing table fellowship. Even knowing all the while that Simon was a self-righteous, pharisaic, prig, who would not give him a kiss of greeting on his way in, nor wash his feet as a proper host would do, nor anoint his head with oil as a sign of honor and respect. Simon has been disrespecting Jesus from the time he arrived.
Yet, Jesus still accepted the invitation and came to break bread with Simon at his home.
My friends, you and I need to know that our sin does not cause God to recoil and turn away from us. But that in Christ, the pardoning grace of God has come to seek and to save us.
He comes to cancel our debt.
3. My friends, I have told you before that it was this “Jesus Story,” this conversation with Simon, that brought the truth of the gospel alive for me many, many years ago.
I have told you about my going to Germany the year after I graduated from High School as an AFS student. How I had rejected the Christian faith at that point in my life, but how my mother gave me a JB Philips translation of the New Testament as I was leaving and said, “If you’re going to reject the faith, you ought to at least have read the book.” So I took that New Testament with me, and started to actually read it. Just a chapter or so each night. And I started at the beginning with Matthew, and then Mark, and then Luke.
And I thought, “Geez, it’s the same story over and over again.” But on the other hand, this Jesus in the gospels was really quite something. I wasn’t sure what to make of the miracles, but it was these conversations that struck me: how astute Jesus was. How smart he was. Yet also compassionate.
And reading about Jesus’ life, and listening to Jesus’ teachings made me somehow aware of my own shallowness, my selfishness, my lack of compassion, my pride, my pettiness. I didn’t know what sin was, but I felt like a sinner. I felt dissatisfied with myself, and unworthy somehow.
And then in my nightly reading through Luke, I came to this story in Luke 7:36-50, and this conversation with Simon. And the words of this particular Jesus Story seemed to jump off the page to me. In fact, it was like Jesus was having this conversation with me, not with Simon. I felt like Jesus was unpacking my life, showing me my sin and my debt and my need.
And I can’t tell you exactly how that happened, but I felt like Jesus was offering me forgiveness. Like he was telling me that my debt had already been cancelled, and that the proper response was not to wallow in guilt and feel bad that I was a sinner, but to receive the forgiveness and respond like the
woman with love and thankfulness and worship!
It was the truth of the gospel that got ahold of me that day. A truth which inhabited this conversation. And which came alive in me as Jesus carried on the conversation with me about my life. And you know what? It is this Jesus Story, and this conversation with Simon that has been the foundation of my discipleship in many ways. My own following of Jesus has been shaped by this story. And the ministry to which Jesus called me has always been shaped by this story.
On the one hand, I have sought like the woman in the story to leave the life of sin I had as a teenager behind. To change my ways. To get rid of the obvious sins. To live in a way that might honor and please God.
But on the other hand, I have also always sought to avoid becoming Simon the Pharisee. It’s the danger we all face when we are seeking to leave sin behind and live a life honoring to God. We so easily fall into the trap of becoming self-righteous. We so easily start thinking we are better than other people who aren’t leaving sin behind, or seeking to live lives pleasing to God. We start getting judgmental of others, looking down our noses at them. Thinking of them as “sinners” who we want to avoid.
Becoming Simon the Pharisee is a great danger for “religious people.” But for me this story has never left me. I have told myself again and again, “Paul, becoming a prig like Simon is not the goal Jesus has for his followers. If you are becoming self righteous and judgmental, then you are headed in the wrong direction.
It’s this story that has always helped me again and again to come back to the gospel of truth and grace. The truth: that all of us are debtors who cannot repay their debt. And the grace: that God has forgiven our debts because of who He is, and not because we deserved it.
It’s the deep truth which inhabits this conversation for me.
So what’s your Jesus story? Is there a way in which Jesus first initiated a conversation with you in your life? Was there a “Jesus Story” in the Bible that somehow jumped off the page for you and drew you in?
It happens for different people in different ways. God initiated a conversation with the three Wise Men through a star in the sky. They were astrologers and God was speaking their language. God initiated a conversation with Mary and Zechariah by sending an angel; and with Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, it was in a dream.
It’s in these conversations that God reveals the truths about who He is, and the truths about who we are, and the truth of the Gospel: that the Christ was born for us, to pay our debt, and take away our sin, and restore us to the love of the Father. It’s a conversation He wants to have with all of us. And a conversation He wants to invite us to initiate with other debtors who need their sins forgiven, too. With 500 denarii kinds of debtors, and the 50 denarii kind of debtors.
It’s a conversation that changed my life 46 years ago, and it still grabs my heart all these years later. You who have been forgiven much, Paul, will you love much? Will you love me back with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself?
So what about you? What’s your Jesus story?