The Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-43)

Here are the notes from Caroline’s sermon


Challenge of parables. So often really familiar – trying to step out of that and see in a new way – good for us.

Particularly as I wrongly assumed which parable it was and had started thinking about another similar one before I read this!

Also hard – easy to get in comfy groove (or rut?) with our way of thinking. Jesus – iconoclastic – he broke peoples thoughts – he wasn’t what people were expecting – this was true for disciples as well as those who didn’t follow him. This is a challenge for us – think Sermon on Mt – not just outer attitudes – but inner heart. So many examples when we see disciples think they have “got it” only to find they haven’t quite! I have heard his ministry described as a ministry of “deliberate provocation” – challenging the status quo and entailing a new way of looking at things – new wineskins for new wine. (Luke 5:37-39)

A key question for parables – why did Jesus tell this parable when he did? What is its context – I suspect this is important for us – and helps us understand it.


Where is he? – Invited for dinner with one Simon, a Pharisee. We don’t know Simon’s reason for this – whether he was sympathetic or not. As he is reclining to eat a woman described as having lived a sinful life, comes in and starts weeping and washing his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. She then anoints his feet with costly perfume.

This startles Simon and we gather from v 39 that in his mind he is asking questions. Perhaps he had asked Jesus round because he genuinely wanted to find out for himself who Jesus was. Is he a teacher? A prophet? I think he has a picture in his mind of what a prophet should be or would be like and allowing such a sinful woman to touch him does not fit that picture. Previously I thought Simon was coming from an anti Jesus standpoint, he was a Pharisee after all. Let’s pause in the story for a moment and think about the Pharisees. I think we tend to give them a bad press. There is apparently a lot we don’t know about them – they have a large influence on the society of the time. They lived an ascetic lifestyle – they were very self disciplined. They were very devout – they obeyed the law rigorously. They also had an additional body of traditions and interpretation and practises. They were very conservative. I guess we would probably call them the “religious right” of their day. Over the course of the gospels, they become a stereotype for the opponents of Jesus – they suggest they were trying to “vet” Jesus. Perhaps this was part of what Simon was trying to do by inviting him for a meal.

But I wonder – perhaps not. Perhaps he did genuinely think Jesus was a teacher, a prophet to take note of – but somehow he isn’t quite what he thought. The picture is shattered. Is Jesus something special? Does he realise that this woman is a sinner? I guess there were lots of questions in Simon’s mind.

It’s into this questioning, exploding mind that Jesus tells this parable. It’s a story of a moneylender with 2 people who owed him money – they owed different amounts of money 1 owed a lot 1 owed much less. But the key thing was that neither could pay. The moneylender’s response is to cancel the debt. Wooah! Not what you’d expect a moneylender to do – they are not known for their kindness are they? It’s the stuff of soap opera’s isn’t it – you’d expect them to “send the boys round”! But that’s not what happens in the story Jesus tells. Jesus asks a question – which of the 2 would love him the most? A bit of a strange question in a way – again you can hear cracking and breaking of illusions here I think. Simon thinks about it and answers – the one who has had the biggest debt cancelled. And Jesus says this is correct.

He doesn’t just leave it there though does he? He does give something more of an illustration. Notice he doesn’t explain the parable, he leaves that to stand, but he does illustrate it. He explains how the woman in her actions has made up for what was perhaps a lack of graciousness in Simon’s welcome of him. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting there was anything wrong in Simon’s welcome – just suggesting it was purely formal – what was required and no more. It makes me think of the phrase “the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law”. The woman has washed his feet – not with a bowl of water but with her tears. She has dried his feet – not with a towel, but with her hair. And she has anointed his feet with costly perfume. What is in her heart? A simple outpouring of love – and I think repentance – hence the tears.

Jesus goes further – saying her many sins have been forgiven (not denying she’s a sinner, but not judging her) and so she loves much. And the implication I think – or perhaps the challenge to Simon is that he by contrast loves little. For all his worthy self discipline which means perhaps he has sinned less – he loves less.

Jesus has to shatter his pre conceived ideas in order for him to find out the truth of who Jesus is. Poor Simon – because it seems that his ideas and pictures are being completely shattered. There is more – having implied that he is able to forgive sins., Jesus then in v 48 says directly to the woman “ Your sins are forgiven”. He makes the implication completely explicit.

We can’t really appreciate what a shattering statement this must have been. Jesus forgiving sins – no wonder v49 says “Who is this that even forgives sins?”

What about us?

What has this parable to say to us? There is of course the sense that however much we have sinned is in a way irrelevant – we are like both debtors in the story unable to pay and we need God to forgive us by his grace. There is really no sense of any of us being any better or worse than anyone else – so lets realise again in our acceptance of each other that sense – we are all sinners saved only by God’s grace.

Don’t be surprised if in your relationship with God that there are surprises – or you find what you thought was so gets challenged. God wants to bring us to a deeper relationship with him and to do so at times he has to shake us by shattering some of our ideas. He’ll do what he needs to get us out of a rut when we are in one!

For me the greatest challenge was “how much do I love?” – and I was reminded of Rev 2 and the words to the church in Ephesus. I would encourage each of us to prayerfully consider this. You see the church at Ephesus was very concerned about doing the “right thing” concerned to persevere – all good things – a bit like Simon and the Pharisees. BUT they had lost their first love. Remember they would say regularly that “Hear O Israel… love the Lord your God…” They had lost that sense of love that comes out of a deep sense of how much they have been forgiven. They are told to repent – and do the things they did at first – out of love. And told that if they did not repent, their church would not continue. Sometimes we get so caught up in the busyness and form of the way we do things that we lose the sense of our love relationship with God. As individuals and as a church – let’s allow room for grace – and act from love – not just be coldly concerned about doing the right thing.

The woman who acted out of love in anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume actually blessed them all. The aroma of the perfume would have spread and been something which they could all enjoy. As we allow room for God’s grace and as we love God and each other, there will be great blessing both to us and to those who we meet and who we want to show Jesus to. It will also please God. You see the distinctive mark of a Christian is their love – John 13: 34,35.


4 thoughts on “The Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-43)

  1. listening to this sermon made me think about how much i love God and if it is related to my sin. i feel the need to be loved. i know God loves me but i think i’m guilty if i’m honest of sometimes being in love and relant on God more when i have a problem. when all is going well my be not so much. this sermon has helped me focus on my relationship with God and has alowed my prayer life to grow.

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