Who is this who even forgives sins?

by Mike Ratliff

48 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῇ· ἀφέωνταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι. 49 καὶ ἤρξαντο οἱ συνανακείμενοι λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς· τίς οὗτός ἐστιν ὃς καὶ ἁμαρτίας ἀφίησιν; Luke 7:48-49 (NA28)

48 And he said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 And the ones reclining with him began saying among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Luke 7:48-49 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In Luke 7:36-50 there are three main characters. There is our Lord Jesus Christ, Simon the Pharisee, and an unnamed woman who is referred to in v37 and v39 simply as ἁμαρτωλός (hamartōlos), “sinful, sinner.” The events in this passage take place at a meal in Simon’s home and there are others reclining at the table with them. The unnamed woman is uninvited. These events take place in Galilee immediately after John the Baptist’s disciples have come to our Lord on his bequest to confirm whether Jesus is indeed the Messiah. He then shows the Pharisee’s hypocrisy in vv31-35 for rejecting John the Baptist even though he lived in rigid abstinence, but they demanded the same, if not more, of our Lord while the message preached by both was the same. Then in v36 one of these Pharisees, Simon, invites Jesus to eat with him.

36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”
40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 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 wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50 (NASB) 

If we put this passage in context, we know that Simon the Pharisee probably had ulterior motives for having Jesus over to his house for this meal. Notice also that he did not treat him as an honored guest. Simon knew of the reputation of the woman weeping and anointing our Lord’s feet. What was his reaction? His reaction was based in his contempt for sinners. He was convinced that if Jesus knew her character, he would have sent her away. Why? Her very touching of him was presumed to convey ceremonial uncleanness. In other words, he cared nothing for the spiritual needs of those who desperately needed forgiveness and to hear the words of life. Of course, his whole theology was totally based in works righteousness.

Early in this ministry I wrote an article about the unbiblical nature of the ministry of Rick Warren. I wrote it on my old PC one night and transferred it over to my new MAC, which I got the next day and converted it to a new format for the word processor on it. In any case, there was one section in which two words came together with no space between, but I did not catch it. I posted it. One very well known Purpose Driven pastor posted a very rough comment basically telling me that that post couldn’t be from God because of that typo being in there. I thanked him for pointing out the typo, fixed it, and I never heard from him again. What did I learn? What do we learn from this? It is the very same thing Jesus was teaching us in Luke 7 with how these Pharisees think. Their rejection of the truth is deliberate and they are determined not to hear it.

Jesus’ reaction to this woman is radically different than Simon’s. He does not pull away from her. He allows her to weep and wash his feet with her tears, dry them with her hair and anoint them with the very expensive ointment or oil. The Greek clearly says in v40 that Jesus answered Simon proving that he was indeed a prophet, knowing Simon’s thoughts.

In vv41-42 our Lord poses a question of comparison. If a creditor freely forgives two debtors who cannot pay, but one owes 10 times as much as the other, which will love the creditor more? Simon supposes that the one forgiven the most money will love him more.

In vv44-46 our Lord compares what this sinful woman has done for him since his arrival at Simon’s house while Simon failed to treat Jesus with the respect of an honored quest in any shape form or fashion.

Here is v47 from the Greek, “οὗ χάριν λέγω σοι, ἀφέωνται αἱ ἁμαρτίαι αὐτῆς αἱ πολλαί, ὅτι ἠγάπησεν πολύ· ᾧ δὲ ὀλίγον ἀφίεται, ὀλίγον ἀγαπᾷ.” Here is my translation, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven for she loved much, but to whom little is forgiven, he loves little.” What does our Lord mean? This woman was not forgiven because she loved much. If we go back to vv41-42, the forgiving of the loans was unconditional, and love was the result. Therefore, we cannot make the woman’s love the reason for her forgiveness for this would distort the lesson Jesus is teaching. He then clearly tells the woman in v48 that her sins are forgiven. It is then those others at the table marvel at who Jesus is or who does he think he is, et cetera for making such a statement. It is in v50 that it is made clear why this woman’s sins are forgiven. She exhibited true faith and now has peace with God.

Simon the Pharisee and those like him attempt to have peace through works righteousness while walling up all possibility to access to God to those like this woman (or you or me) who desperately need to hear the words of life and have access to the Saviour. This is why I am a Monergist not a Synergist. God saves his people despite the wacky religiosity of those all around us that darkens the truth and attempts to direct people down wrong paths. This woman came to where Jesus was and she was already weeping when she got there. The Father drew her to the Son, gave her to him and her regenerate faith saved her by the grace of God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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