Dear friends in Christ. Scripture of full of descriptions of the wonderful ways the Lord works. The only thing, though, is that those ways seem contradictory and confusing to us. The OT saint, Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel sings [1 Samuel 2.6]: The Lord kills to make alive; He brings down to hell and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and also lifts up. This is picked up by Mary in her song, the Magnificat [Luke 1.52]: He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. This is all a wonderful description of the Lord’s work on us spiritually. He kills us with His Law and brings us down to hell—that is, He shows us what our sins have earned us; He shows us what we rightly deserve and His fierce wrath and condemnation. He makes us poor, puts us down from our thrones—that is, He takes from us any pride or boasting in our works, anything from us that we think have earned us God’s favor or makes God obligated to us. All this is His work for us in His Law—painful though it may be, but all for our spiritual good.
But His work doesn’t end there. The Lord with His just and holy Law kills us, brings down to hell, makes poor, takes away any cause for boasting—all so He can do His right and proper work for us by His just and holy Gospel—make us spiritually alive, give us the spiritual riches of Christ, give us poor spiritual beggars every good thing and exalt us and bring us into His kingdom.
In our text is our Lord’s parable: There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii and the other 50. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. There we see that although some, to human eyes, are “better” than others; while some may seem to be more “righteous”, nevertheless all of us are sinners before God. His holy Law makes us all spiritual debtors and we cannot repay. That is the Law of God—it shows us our sin and condemns us for our unrighteousness. It is the great equalizer of all people.
But then note again how Jesus ends the parable: And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Since all people are sinners, God has had grace on all; and in Christ, on account of His life, suffering and death, He has forgiven the sins of all. Again, the Gospel is the great equalizer of people—freely by God’s grace, for the sake of Jesus, our sins are forgiven. Paul puts it this way [Rm. 11.31]: For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
In our text this morning, we have a glorious example of this: there is the works-righteous Pharisee to whom Jesus preaches Law in order to cast him down from his work-righteous throne; and we have the penitent sinner to whom Jesus preaches nothing but the sweetest, most comforting Gospel to raise her up from her despair and give her every blessing.
1. Precisely to cast down the mighty and to exalt the lowly, is why Jesus comes to us today in His holy word of both Law and Gospel—just as He came to the Pharisee’s house and was there for the sinful woman. Our text: Then one of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down to eat. We know from Scripture that the Pharisees often watched Jesus and tried to trick Him. Whether this Pharisee was one like that or whether he invited Jesus out of curiosity or interest, we cannot tell from Scripture. But we do know that he did not show Jesus any cordiality, like the typical kiss of friendship and welcome or even typical hospitality like water to wash His feet. Jesus knew the man’s heart; He knew what He was in for and yet He came. We see here that Jesus took every opportunity to rescue souls. And here He came, as we find out in the end, to show this Pharisee, this religious leader of the Jews who should have known better, that he was a sinner who needed a Savior from sin. Jesus came to bring the Pharisee spiritual blessing but for Jesus to do so He had to cast him down from his throne of self-righteousness by the preaching of the holy Law of God. He had to show this man that he was a sinner in need of a Savior.
As Jesus and the other guests are around the table we then read: And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinful, when she had learned that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and was wiping them with the hair of her head and she kissing His feet and anointing them with the fragrant oil. Jesus had also come that day not only to proclaim God’s holy Law to the Pharisee but He had also come for this woman to proclaim to her the sweet Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to her who was sorry for her sin. By preaching the Law to the Pharisee Jesus was casting down the seemingly righteous Pharisee from his throne; by announcing the forgiveness of sins, the Gospel, to this penitent woman Jesus was exalting the lowly.
What a glorious grace of Christ! He let this sinful woman come to Him. She must have heard Jesus preach or heard of Him—that He is the friend of sinners, that He is the Savior, the One who brings forgiveness and righteousness and reconciles the sinner with the holy God. And in faith she believed it! She came in faith believing Jesus to be her Savior and Jesus received and welcomed her!
This woman, coming in the correct opinion that the forgiveness of sins should be sought in Jesus, coming in faith, by that recognized and confessed that Jesus is the Savior. Going to Jesus and seeking the forgiveness of sins from Him, that is the highest worship of Jesus! What is that, but taking Jesus at His Word—that He is our Savior and that forgiveness of sins is in Him alone! What is that, but saying “yea and amen” to the promises of God? Precisely that is worship—receiving the gifts and blessings that Jesus wants to give us, that He Himself has earned for us.
That’s what worship here is about every week and why we come here. We don’t come here because we are like the Pharisee—I am so good and holy; coming to church is not a good work we do to please God, a feather in our cap—but believing what Jesus says and promises in His word, trusting in His work, we gather in worship to receive what He wants to give us sinners here in word and sacrament—forgiveness of sin, life, salvation, peace, joy, etc. Coming to church, worship, is for sinners, not the self-proclaimed righteous.
The glorious thing here is that although according to public opinion this woman is sinful, and when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner"—in spite of that, Jesus accepts this woman’s worship and praise; He graciously received this sign of love and affection. Why? It was done in faith. It was her faith that received the forgiveness of sins; it was her faith that looked to Jesus as her Savior. When she saw her Savior what could she do but give Him all her love and gratitude? Her faith showed itself—her worship both inwardly in her heart and outwardly by her actions.
That’s the picture of each of our Lord’s Christians. We recognize that we are sinners who earn and deserve nothing but God’s wrath both now and eternally in hell. We feel the burdens of our sin, our consciences always telling us—if we are honest enough to listen—that by our sins things are not right between us and God. When we hear the Gospel—that Jesus is our Savior, that in Him is the forgiveness of sin, that in Him we are at peace and reconciled to God, how our hearts overflow with joy and praise of the Lord. That, too, is part of our worship in church as we receive the forgiveness of our sins in the word, the absolution and sacrament: we praise our Lord in song and prayer! The glorious comfort here—Jesus accepted the worship of the sinful woman; He also accepts our praise and worship. No matter how sinful we may be, how many and grievous our sins may be, they are forgiven us! Faith looks to Jesus and receives His perfect righteousness. God does not and cannot reject us and our praise as it flows from faith, as we are forgiven our sin and covered with Christ’s perfect righteousness.
Through faith, the lowly sinner is exalted to the glorious heights of Christ’s perfect righteousness. But without faith, the self-proclaimed righteous with all their supposed righteousness and worship are rejected by the Lord.
2. Through this parable our Lord calls the self-righteous Pharisee to repentance; He proclaims to him a word of Law showing him his sin so that he too may recognize he is a sinner in need of a Savior. 40 And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it." "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he graciously forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged".
Not only did Jesus show He was more than a prophet as He knew what the Pharisee was saying in himself, but He was preaching the powerful message in this parable that all people—no matter how few sins they think they may have—are sinners and need the Savior from sin. That means in the imagery of the parable that all people are debtors to God owing Him a righteousness they cannot pay; they can only be released from that debt by His gracious decree: that debt of righteousness that is required of all people Christ has paid.
It is precisely faith that receives that glorious decree and leads to love and gratitude. Whether there are many sins or few sins, it is an unpayable debt. But whether there are many sins or few sins, they both have been paid for/ forgiven. The one who recognizes and believes that will show Christ great love and worship. In fact, there is no true love of God and worship of God unless there is first the receiving of the forgiveness of sins. Otherwise, what do you have?—An angry God who will condemn you to the depths of hell for sin. Who can love and truly worship such a God?
Jesus showed the Pharisee that what he thought was worship of God—trying to earn God’s favor by all sorts of man-made laws and ritual trying to make God obligated to him—wasn’t worship of God. At best it was a love that had grown cold. That’s no surprise because so little did he regard Christ and forgiveness because he thought he didn’t need it. Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little".
The question Christ puts before us as He in grace comes to us in His word is: has your love grown cold, has your interest in church, in worship, in study of Scripture, in prayer, etc. grown cold? It’s because you have lost sight of your sin; you do not think you have great sin; that it is not an unpayable debt. Recognize again anew how great your sin is and that Jesus is your Savior from that sin. Then there will be true fervent love of the Lord, the desire to love and serve Him, to be in His house and hear and study His word.
Do you, like the woman, very much feel your sin but also trust in Jesus as your Savior and love Him and want to be served by Him in church, in word and sacrament, and also then to serve Him? Then to you Jesus says the absolution, as He did that woman that day: Your faith has saved you. Go in peace. Keep relying on the mercy God has promised you in Christ and enjoy His wonderful peace now and forever. He truly exalts the lowly sinner. INJ Amen.