How Big Is Your Debt
4th Sunday after Pentecost
How Big Is Your Debt
Text: Luke 7:36-50
Let’s say that you are the average American. As the average American, you have debt. Most people agree there are “good” kinds of debt and “bad” kinds of debt. Good debt would be your home or land mortgages, school loans, and possibly vehicle debt. “Bad” debt would be other kinds of loans and especially credit card.
Now, since you are the average American, let’s say you have $10,000 in credit card debt (which is about the American average these days). Some of you may gasp in horror at $10,000, others of you might say, “I wish!” But you are hypothetically an average person right now, so you have $10,000 of debt.
Most wouldn’t fret too much about that debt. Sure it’s debt and all, but it’s not too bad. It’s about 50 days of work, maybe a fourth of a year’s wages. Not too bad. You make some payments. Yeah, there’s interest, but you chip away. You know you’ll probably pay it off eventually (assuming you don’t spend more). As long as you make regular payments, the only penalties you suffer are a little lower credit score and lots of wasted dollars in interest.
But let’s say things were a little different. Let’s say the rules were more a bit more ruthless. What if you had $10,000 of debt and your creditor comes and demands the money—NOW. No more time. No more accumulation of late fees or interest. No threat of bankruptcy or repo. Now we’re talking jail time. No, even worse, now you get a little phone call in the middle of the night from Uncle Vito who tells you that if you don’t shell out the dough, you’re going to be “sleeping wit’ the fishes.” Pay up now, or pay the ultimate price!
You would be in quite the jam. Perhaps you could scramble and figure things out, but as the average American you don’t have the money (otherwise you would have paid it back already). This is a big problem.
But now let’s change the scenario. You have a best friend is in a jam too. He isn’t an average American though. Your best friend is an extravagant American. He buys high definition TVs like they are going out of style. He eats caviar for snacks. He has gold-leafed toilet paper holders. And all of this he put on your credit cards. But hey, why not? He gets rewards points!
Suddenly though, your friend realizes his debt is not 50 days of work or maybe $10,000. He’s wracked up debt that would take 500 days of work to earn— a debt that is $100,000! Even worse, Uncle Vito makes a little stop by the house. This time he has Cousin Vinny with him. If your friend doesn’t pay it back tomorrow, he’s going to be wearing concrete shoes and thrown off the Flagler Pier. Pay up now, or pay the ultimate price!
But then something amazing happens. Someone else knows about your problem. He knows that you’ve racked up debt. He knows that your best friend has racked up debt. So this friend enters the situation and pays the price in full for both of you. No interest. No pay backs at all. For free. Fully. He pays the entire debt.
Surely you would be thankful. You were on the fast track to death because you had a debt you couldn’t pay, but he took care of it for you. But your best friend—surely that friend would be over the moon thankful. Perhaps he would fall at the man’s feet and kiss his feet and profusely express his love and thanks. Who wouldn’t? His debt was insurmountable and impossible to pay off. He was surely going to die. But now his debt was paid in full and he was going to live. He knew how big his debt was which means he knew how great the forgiveness was which means he knew exactly how thankful he should be.
That’s the point that Jesus makes in the Gospel today. Jesus had been invited to dinner at the house of a man named Simon. Not Simon Peter his disciple, but a different Simon who was a Pharisee. We can assume this Pharisee was much like the rest, wanting to test an vet Jesus, perhaps even catch him in some mistake or false teaching. After all, we find out from Jesus that he wasn’t greeted very warmly. Simon didn’t give him water to wash his feet as was custom. He didn’t greet him withe friendly kiss of greeting. He didn’t give him oil for his head to signify him as a special guest. Nothing like that.
The dinner was perhaps one big show, or a status play to show-off his “famous” guest Jesus to others. What a disruption when a woman came to the dinner. This woman wasn’t invited. She learned that Jesus was there and came on her own. And when she came, she wept and wept at his feet, cleaned them with her own hair, kissed them, and then poured expensive perfume on them.
Simon the Pharisee had a problem with this. Not with what happened—with whom was doing it. Verse 39: “When the Pharisee who had invited [Jesus] saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.’” Now in those days, to be a woman that was publicly known by most to be a sinner, there were only a handful of things she would have done to earn such a reputation—and almost all of them have to do with the 6th Commandment. Can’t you just hear the thoughts rolling through Pharisee Simon’s head, “Who does this woman think she is? This is my party. This is my house. This is my special guest. Who dare she come into my house and my presence?”
That’s when Jesus told the story just like the one I told you. Two men owed a moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii (a coin worth about a day’s wages), another owed 50. Neither could pay back the debt. But both had their debts cancelled. Jesus then asked Simon, “Now which of them will love him more?” The obvious answer was that the person with the bigger debt—500 denarii or day’s wages—would show more thanks and love because his debt was astronomical and huge. Even Simon understood that.
And right there Jesus caught Simon in the typical, Pharisaical, holier-than-thou attitude. With one simple story Jesus pointed out the glaring difference between Simon’s heart and the woman’s heart. Simon didn’t give any kind of warm greeting to Jesus at the dinner. For all we know, it was either one big show-off dinner or a plot to take down Jesus. But this woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them. Why? It’s so simple in verse 47: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” This woman was filled with overwhelming, overabundant love for Jesus because his love and forgiveness for her was overwhelming and overabundant. Jesus cancelled in insurmountable debt that was leading to death and hell, and she couldn’t thank him enough. And to make this even more clear, “Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
So which person in the story do you identify with? Simon or the woman? I think most Christians know that your answer should be the woman. But is that always how you think and act?
Start asking your questions about certain types of people in this world. What do you think about Isis terrorists who want to slaughter you and millions of other Americans? What about the repeat offender drunk driver who on his fifth offense kills someone you know? What about the sexual predator who attacks you or does something to your children? What about Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, or Jeffrey Dahmer? What about Adolf Hitler?
These are the types of people and situations where we start struggling. Suddenly we have thoughts like, “I don’t think I can forgive that person . . . I don’t know if I want to forgive that person.” Or even, how could that person ever be forgiven?
You see, all of us have that little Pharisee in us that is ready to puff out out the chest in holier-than-thou pride thinking, “Well surely I sin, but I’m definitely not as bad as you are.” It’s that kind of pharisaical attitude that makes you watch the news and wish the worst for all the “bad guys” of the world as you hope they “get what’s coming to them” rather than hoping for their repentance that somehow Jesus would squeeze them into heaven in his mercy too.
It’s that kind of pharisaical attitude will make us do all kinds of other shameful things like: rolling our eyes at “those people” who walk into church, neglecting to share our faith with people who are a different color or culture, talking only to our friends on Sunday morning and never greeting any new visitors as if we’re God’s holy people—his special frozen chosen who don’t care much about anyone but ourselves.
Of course, the irony of it all is that it is precisely that kind of proud attitude that proves just how sinful we are, because that isn’t even close to the kind of love that God wants us to show others. So then we begin counting all those times we have been proud or selfish or unloving. Then we add in all those deliberate sins we do that are so bold and daring before our holy god. Then we add to that all the sins of our youth that we want to be sure no one ever finds out about. Then we add to that all the sins we do subconsciously without even recognizing it.
Do you realize that if you sinned only once every 14 minutes that it would be 100 sins a day? Now I wish our number was that low. If you count everything I think or say or do or think while sleeping—it’s way over 100. But even if I sinned only 100 times a day, once every 14 minutes, that would be over 3 million sins in an 80 year life time.
The point is, our debt to God is insurmountable and impossible to pay back. There is no possible way we could ever pay that back. Thus, because we couldn’t pay God back, we were doomed to pay the ultimate price of death in hell.
But then something amazing happened. Someone knew our problem. He knew the debt we racked up. He knew that we were doomed. So he entered the situation and he paid the price in full. No interest. No pay backs. For free. Fully.
That’s what Jesus did. He offered himself as the payment for all of your sin and cancelled your debt completely. As far as God is concerned, you are completely debt free because you are completely forgiven. It’s a gift to you—certainly not because you earned it or deserved it. It’s a gift that comes by grace and gift that comes through faith in him.
Did the words you heard Jesus say to the sinful woman today sound familiar? It’s the same thing Jesus says to you through me when you receive his very body and blood for forgiveness in Communion. At the very end of Communion I say to you, “The body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will strengthen and keep you in the truth faith. Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.” Like the sinful woman in the story, you can go with peace in your heart knowing that your debt is completely cancelled. Your sin is forgiven.
The key to understanding this story today then is to understand the answer to one simple question: How Big Is My Debt? Every one of us should understand that our debt of sin was gigantically ginormous—insurmountable and impossible to pay off. It doesn’t matter if someone sins differently than we do or does what is “worse” in this world’s eyes. Every sinner has an insurmountable debt of sin. And yet, by God’s grace and by faith you can now answer the question this way: How Big Is My Debt? My debt is nothing because Jesus paid it all!
Once you understand how big your debt was, then you can begin to understand how big Jesus’ forgiveness is. And when we understand how great is Jesus’ love and forgiveness for you and every sinner, then our actions start to look like this woman in this story. Suddenly we are filled with tear-filled thanks. There is no opportunity to thank Jesus we would ever pass up. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for Jesus in service to him. There is nothing we wouldn’t give to Jesus in thanks to him. “Lord, you gave me your life. You gave me forgiveness. You gave me heaven. Please, take my time, my talents, my treasures.”
When you know how great your debt was, then you know how great your Savior is. When you know how great your Savior is, then you know how great your thanks will be. God fill our hearts with overwhelming thanks for his overwhelming forgiveness, for Jesus’ sake. AMEN