Luke 7:40-50

Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:40-50

Here’s the problem with self-righteousness – it is a deadly spiral to a place that is bad for you, for everybody else in your life, and for the way that you put the world together. By definition, if you are right, everyone that sees life differently than you has to be wrong.

But it is hard for us to see our own self-righteousness. We have too much invested in “what will the neighbors think?” We get defensive which blocks new information from cutting through the smokescreens we project. We get stuck on ourselves.

So Jesus – wisely – doesn’t wage a frontal attack on Simon’s self-righteousness. Instead, he tells him a story.

Hearing the right story at the right time told in the right way has a chance to shake up our way of looking at the world. Hearing a real live person telling their own story, about their own experiences of life, especially if we already have a relationship with that person, can do the same thing.

Simon gets it right away. But notice how he hedges his answer. “I SUPPOSE the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” It is never easy to be confronted with our own self-righteousness. Simon isn’t going to go down without a fight. We seldom do either.

Notice also that Jesus, when he redirects Simon’s attention to the woman, speaks only out of his own personal experience. Jesus describes how he was treated by the woman and compares that to how he was treated by Simon. From the woman, Jesus experienced being loved. From Simon, not so much.

Then Jesus wipes her slate clean. “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

Everybody else at the table starts doing theology. The woman walks away, reborn. The difference? She held nothing back. She didn’t cling to anything approaching self-righteousness because she knew full well who she was and what it took for her to survive in the world. She came to Jesus from a place of humility and hope; Simon probably patted himself on the back that he had the courage to invite Jesus to dinner in the first place AND he was a little disgusted that a woman like her had crashed the party.

That is where self-righteousness takes us. If we don’t think we need the love that Jesus gives us, we’re quite unlikely to come at the world from a place of love. When we judge ourselves lightly, we feel entitled to judge the rest of the world too. That never helps anyone.

Dear Jesus, thank you for reminding us today of the overflowing nature of your love, your mercy, your grace. Keep us always in touch with our own need for forgiveness, that we might in turn be more forgiving, more accepting, more merciful, more honest, with the other people in our lives and in our world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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