Love and forgiveness: lessons

Simon-Sinful-WomanThe Parable Revealed. 47 So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Verse 47 is ambiguous in the Greek. Scholars mount many arguments about how to translate the verse. The ambiguity comes in the word hoti which can be translated “because” or “hence.” If “because” is selected by the translator, then in English we have an implied causality: love was required to precede forgiveness. But if “hence” is the choice, then the latter actions are the consequence of a forgiveness already received. Most scholars opt for “hence.”

  • Culpepper [172]: “Did the woman love because she had been forgiven, or was she forgiven because she loved Jesus? Verse 47 draws together the riddle and the two responses to Jesus, showing that the Pharisee has responded as one who has been forgiven little, while the woman has acted as one who has been forgiven much. The difficulty lies in the causal clause at the end of the first half of v. 47. Some have taken it to mean that the woman was forgiven much because she loved much, but the logic of the riddle, its application to the woman’s act, and the parallel with the second half of v. 47 each dictate that the woman’s loving act is evidence that she has been forgiven much. By implication, the woman’s preparation in bringing the alabaster flask in the first place suggests that she has experienced acceptance and forgiveness prior to this event.”
  • Green [313-14]: “When had she been forgiven? …. we are never told when or how. What we are told is that she had already been forgiven. Jesus’ affirmation of her forgiveness is told in the third person, still addressed to Simon. Simon is not aware of her new status; he still regards her as a sinner with whom a man of God ought not to associate. Jesus’ affirmation is thus for Simon’s sake, in order that he might realize her condition and embrace her in the community of God’s people.

The sense then would be, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have already been forgiven, (and I can tell you this) because she has shown great love and gratitude.” There is another lesson implicit within: “It is not that the Pharisee had less for which to be forgiven than the harlot. Rather, because he did not recognize his need for forgiveness he received less. And she, because she recognized her need and received forgiveness joyfully, received more.” [Culpepper 172]

If the woman had already received forgiveness and her gracious, loving response is the consequence of that forgiveness, how are we to understand v.48: He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Some are tempted to think that she needs this assurance of her forgiveness. The presence of v 49 encourages another reading. The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus’ words were unnecessary as far as she as an individual was concerned; she has already been forgiven and has acted in accordance with her new-found freedom. Others, however, are unaware of her new state and, like Simon, will continue to regard her as a “sinful woman in the city.” She does not now need forgiveness from God for her past, but she does need recognition of her new life and forgiveness among God’s people. As important, the people already understand that only God can forgive sins. This then leads to their response: 49 The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” They need to answer the question: Is Jesus liar, lunatic, or Lord. It is a question that will linger in Luke 8 and 9.

It is not clear how Simon’s guests will respond to the woman, though v 49 gives us little hope that they will embrace and extend friendship to her. Speaking to themselves (cf. 2:35; 5:21–22; 6:8; 7:39), they raise questions about Jesus’ authority to speak on God’s behalf and, more specifically, to forgive sins (cf. 5:21). Had they known who Jesus was, they would have accepted his authority—as the centurion had done (7:1–10), and as this woman had done. Moreover, had they come seeking forgiveness, they too would have had their debts canceled (vv.41–42) and been able to respond lovingly rather than in judgment.

Restored. But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” That Jesus’ concern is also with this woman’s restoration to the community of God’s people. This is suggested, first, by the fact that she is presented as already behaving in ways that grow out of her new life. In addition, Jesus addresses her with words usually reserved for the conclusion of miracles of healing: “your faith has saved you” (8:48; 18:42; 17:19); and he sends her away “in peace.” Such language cannot be limited to “spiritual” well-being or even, in other co-texts, to “physical” vitality, but speaks of a restoration to wholeness, including (even if not limited to) restoration to the full social intercourse from which she has been excluded.

Luke closes the curtains on this scene before the action is completed. It is one thing to have Jesus proclaim her forgiveness in order that her renewed status might be recognized by the community; it is quite another for that community actually to accept his pronouncement and to extend kinship to her. How will they respond? Will they adopt the merciful view of the world that Jesus displays in his interactions in this episode? Will they learn to be merciful and the Father is merciful (Luke 6:36)? Will they come to see God as one who cancels debts and invites others to do the same so that all might behave toward one another with love unfettered by the constraints of past behaviors, reputation, and reciprocity? Will they recognize Jesus as God’s authorized agent to pronounce forgiveness and to bring restoration? How will they respond? How will Simon respond? And how will Luke’s readers respond?

Notes

Luke 7: 36-50 In this story of the pardoning of the sinful woman Luke presents two different reactions to the ministry of Jesus. A Pharisee, suspecting Jesus to be a prophet, invites Jesus to a festive banquet in his house, but the Pharisee’s self- righteousness leads to little forgiveness by God and consequently little love shown toward Jesus. The sinful woman, on the other hand, manifests a faith in God (Luke 7:50) that has led her to seek forgiveness for her sins, and because so much was forgiven, she now overwhelms Jesus with her display of love; cf the similar contrast in attitudes in Luke 18:9-14. The whole episode is a powerful lesson on the relation between forgiveness and love.

Luke 7:36 reclined at table: the normal posture of guests at a banquet. Other oriental banquet customs alluded to in this story include the reception by the host with a kiss (Luke 7:45), washing the feet of the guests (Luke 7:44), and the anointing of the guests’ heads (Luke 7:46).

Luke 7:37 an alabaster flask of ointment:The word alabastros denoted a globular container for perfumes. It had no handles and was furnished with a long neck which was broken off when the contents were needed. The container was not necessarily made of alabaster. Jewish women commonly wore a perfume flask suspended from a cord round the neck, and it was so much a part of them that they were allowed to wear it on the sabbath (Shabbath 6:3). The extensive use of perfumes may be gathered from the fact that the Sages allotted a certain woman an allowance of 400 gold coins for perfume (Ketuboth 66b)

Luke 7:38 she stood behind him at his feet: People reclined on low couches at festive meals, leaning on the left arm with the head towards the table and the body stretched away from it. The sandals were removed before reclining. The woman was thus able to approach Jesus’ feet without difficulty.

Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment: Wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair is a significant action given that Jewish women did not unbind their hair in public. There are examples of the kissing of the feet of a specially honored rabbi (e.g. Sanhedrin 27b), but it was far from usual. Finally she anointed Jesus’ feet with the ointment (probably not the best of translations since in our time modern ointments are pastes/solids). Normally this would have been poured on the head. To use it on the feet is probably a mark of humility. To attend to the feet was a menial task, one assigned to a slave. One might well speculate that Jesus had turned this woman from her sinful ways and that all this was the expression of her love and gratitude.

Luke 7:39 If this man were a prophet: The form of conditional sentence he used implies in the Greek (a) that Jesus was not a prophet, and (b) that he did not know who and what sort of woman was touching him.

Luke 7:40 Jesus said to him in reply: Given that Simon the Pharisee had not spoken aloud (v.39) Jesus shows that he knew Simon’s thoughts thus indicating what kind of man he was indeed.

Luke 7:41 days’ wages: one denarius is the normal daily wage of a laborer.

Luke 7:42 forgave: The Greek word used is charizomai. It is a verbal form of the noun charis = “grace, kindness, mercy.” This word is used only three times in Luke: twice in our text (vv. 42-43) and earlier in the chapter when we are told that Jesus has been giving sight to many who were blind (7:21). There are two Greek words that refer to “canceling” a debt. Although they overlap in meanings, the verb in these verses implies more a sense of “to being gracious towards” = “giving something that isn’t deserved.” The other term — aphiemi — a word that a frequently translated “to forgive” (see 7:47, 48, 49) — implies more of a “releasing from” something, e.g., canceling financial obligations or releasing from (punishment for) sins = “forgiveness”.

Luke 7:43 I suppose: Simon’s response seems begrudging at best – perhaps indicating that his own attitude had been revealed in Jesus’ telling of the parable.

Luke 7:44 Do you see this woman?: Clearly Simon had seen the women, but Jesus’ question is contextualized by the parable. Jesus proceeded to contrast her attitude with that of his host. It now comes out that, though Simon had invited Jesus to his home, he had not given him the treatment due to an honored guest. It would have been expected that the host would have provided water for his guest’s feet (cf. Gen. 18:4; Judg. 19:21). Jesus had not received this courtesy, but he had had his feet washed with the woman’s tears. Similarly in place of the kiss of welcome that might have been expected from the host (cf. Gen. 29:13; 45:15) he had received kisses on his feet. And finally, whereas Simon had not anointed Jesus’ head (cf. Pss. 23:5; 141:5), the woman had anointed his feet (oil is olive oil, which was plentiful and cheap; there is a contrast with ointment, which was rare and expensive perfume).

Luke 7:47 her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love: literally, “her many sins have been forgiven, seeing that she has loved much.” Jesus does not gloss over those sins: they are many. That the woman’s sins have been forgiven is attested by the great love she shows toward Jesus. Her love is the consequence of her forgiveness. This is also the meaning demanded by the parable in vv. 41-43. By contrast, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little”. It is natural to think of Simon. He certainly had shown little love and the implication is that he had not been forgiven very much.

There is an ambiguity in the Greek of verse 47. It would be possible to translate, “Her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love,” understanding her love as the basis for receiving forgiveness. This, however, contradicts both the parable, where forgiveness leads to love, not vice versa, and the final statement in verse 47 (little forgiveness leads to little love). It seems necessary then, to understand “because she has shown great love” as providing the reason why Jesus is sure that she has been forgiven, connecting this phrase with the beginning of the sentence, “therefore, I tell you.” The sense then would be, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven, (and I can tell you this) because she has shown great love.” Simon is being shown the value of the woman’s experience, not just for her but for him. It is valuable not because Simon also has many sins (no such accusation is made), but because Simon can learn about the depth of God’s forgiveness and its powerful effect through the experience of the woman. If Simon can accept her, the woman’s experience can revitalize Simon’s understanding of God.

Luke 7:48–50. Your sins are forgiven: (cf. 5:21–24). Luke tells us that this provoked a discussion among the guests. The forgiveness of sins was a divine prerogative. “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But Jesus completely ignored them. His interest was with the woman: “Your faith has saved you.” This is important as showing that the love spoken of earlier was the consequence, not the cause, of her salvation. As elsewhere in the New Testament it is faith that is the means of receiving God’s good gift. Jesus dismissed her with “go in peace” (cf. 8:48). The Greek is literally ‘go into peace’ and it may be worth noting that the rabbis held that ‘Go in peace’ was proper in bidding farewell.

 

Sources:

  • Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004) 168-73
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 305-15
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) 336-85.
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris, (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989). 951-52.
  • Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952) 232-37
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Brian Stoffregen, Scripture Commentary at http://www.crossmarks.com/brian
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s