Miafede chronicles the thoughts of a traveler in this faith journey with brothers and sisters who believe we are not alone and seek a closer union with God and each other.
“He who is forgiven little, loves little.” – Luke 7:47
Forgiveness seems in short supply today. Ironically, our need to be forgiven has grown to epic proportions. Scandals unfold every day, the foibles and flaws and shortcomings of those around us unmasked and revealed for public ridicule and scorn.
Ridicule and scorn are standard tools of the trade in modern secular society. We mock those who stumble, deride those who make mistakes. And this isn’t limited to the public arena – it creeps into our private lives and relationships as well. We are “wronged” and we cling to our indignation like a life preserver.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- Why should I forgive him? He hasn’t even really apologized.
- I can’t forgive her because she hurt me too much.
- What he did was so vile no one can ever forgive him.
- That monster doesn’t deserve forgiveness.
- I don’t care why she did it, it was wrong and I can’t forgive her.
Even #metoo, #timesup and endless other hashtag slogans.
Anger is Understandable
Sometimes, holding onto anger and bitterness is comforting, perhaps even understandable: the rapist of one’s child, the murderer of a loved one, a twisted young man who picks up a weapon and slaughters innocents for no fathomable reason, a trust financial advisor who fraudulently steals billions from unknowing investors, a betraying spouse.
These and countless other examples sear into our souls like white-hot coals, ripping at our hearts and forever changing us. Yes, we feel justified in holding someone accountable, someone to blame.
Yet blaming others and holding them hostage to our contempt is like enslaving ourselves in emotional bondage. We poison our lives with anger or hatred. The bile of unforgiveness seeps through us, coloring our thoughts, strangling out our capacity to love.
A Different Approach
There was an encounter in the New Testament, told only the book of Luke. It’s a curious story found in Luke 7 and tells of an encounter between Jesus and a Pharisee named Simon.
The chapter begins with the encounter of Jesus and a Centurion in Capernaum, where Jesus saves the Centurion’s servant. This in and of itself would be startling to Jesus’ contemporaries – it would be hard for Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to forgive Jesus for giving aid and comfort to their Roman overlords.
This is followed by the story of Jesus raising a widow’s son from the dead in the town of Nain, an encounter that spread his name across Judea. Jesus’ spreading fame eventually reached John the Baptist, who sends his disciples back to Jesus asking if he is, in fact, the expected Messiah.
Jesus replies with a masterful answer to the crowds and Pharisees around him, cutting to the very heart of understanding and forgiveness: “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Luke 7:33-34)
The next encounter happens in the house of one of the Pharisees in the crowd, a man named Simon. He invites Jesus to dinner, presumably to show his influential friends this novel Nazarene prophet creating so much excitement across the country. Notably, the Simon does not extend Jesus the customary courtesy of offering of foot washing, a clear sign that he neither respected nor honored Jesus.
While at dinner, an unnamed woman, a “sinner” like those mentioned in his response to the question asked by John’s disciples, approaches Jesus cradling a small jar of expensive perfume. As dinner guests gasp and mutter about who she was, the woman begins sobbing at Jesus’ feet, bathing them in her tears, drying them with her hair and pouring her perfume over them.
Shocked, Simon thinks to himself how clueless Jesus must be not to know “what kind of woman” she was. Jesus’ reply was stunning and point on. He tells the story of two debtors, one great, one small, who each had their debts forgiven. Simon, being challenged on who was the more grateful, said the one whose debt was larger.
After telling Simon that this woman – whose sins were great – had shown him hospitality and attention far beyond Simon’s, Jesus then concluded with this comment: “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
This one statement lays out all we need to know about forgiveness. We will love God (and each other) to the same degree we recognize our own failings and God’s undeserved forgiveness of us – and our forgiveness of others, even when we believe they do not deserve it.
As a Pharisee, Simon had likely been deeply schooled in the Law, memorizing extensive portions of Scripture, practicing rigorous self-discipline, diligently tithing, publicly displaying his “service” to God, and generally having a reputation as a godly man. And yet his actions did not reflect love for God.
The woman, however, who had nothing to offer except shameful sin, was described as a model for true worship. Why? Simply because she knew how desperately she needed God’s forgiveness Jesus offered in his gospel, and she believed that he would grant it.
That is what God asks of us. That is the grace-filled faith that saves.
Slave trader-turned-pastor, John Newton said it this way “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Saviour.” We can learn from this.
When we fail to forgive, we fail to love. When we fail to love, we fail to serve God.
Society’s current open season on anyone who makes a mistake is completely antithetical to God’s instruction to His people and leads us directly into Jesus’ warning from his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:2“ For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”
The next time someone offends you, pause and take a breath. You could be on the receiving end yourself someday, or even today. And the freedom offered in letting go of blame is as powerful as truth itself.