Our love for Jesus flows directly from our awareness of how much he has forgiven us. I do not minimize the compelling nature of his attributes when I affirm this. His excellence should move us to love him in and of himself apart from any favors we receive. In forgiveness, however, we see all of his excellence in action; all of his wisdom, power, righteousness and holiness as well as the revelation of a number of tender mercies conspire to produce the truly divine disposition of passing over our abundant offenses. All of them were necessary in order to find forgiveness from the One who is “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty”(Exodus 34:7). Luke illustrates this gospel principle at a memorable dinner party (Luke 7:36–49).
Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus over for a meal with his friends. Luke does not say if the invitation is sincere or a trap, but when Jesus arrives, Simon’s greeting is less than enthusiastic. He provides no water for Jesus’ feet, gives him no kiss of welcome, and neglects to anoint his head with oil—all basic tokens of hospitality. Is Simon’s inattentiveness to Jesus calculated, or just careless? In either case, his love for the Savior is underwhelming.
Soon, another figure enters the room, as different from Simon as we could imagine. She is an unnamed “woman of the city,” known to all as “a sinner.” She was likely not invited to Simon’s distinguished home. But, apparently, she has met Jesus before; at least she has heard his message about God’s grace. When she learns Jesus is at Simon’s house, she shows up with an alabaster flask of ointment. Finding Jesus reclining at table, the woman kneels behind him. Weeping, she bathes his feet with her tears. She wipes his feet dry with her own hair, kisses them, and anoints them with her oil. It is an extravagant display of love.
As Jesus goes on to explain in a story about debt, our love for him is always proportionate to our sense of how much he has forgiven us. The notorious woman knew that her sin-debt was massive. When Jesus canceled her debt and sent her away in peace, she loved him much. Simon is, of course, every bit as spiritually impoverished as this woman. But his external righteousness has blinded him to his crushing need before a holy God. He does see himself as a debtor; he feels no need for mercy. He assumes that he requires little forgiveness, and it shows in his little love for the Forgiver.
Our story suggests that few practices can yield greater spiritual fruit in my life than considering just how much and how freely Jesus has forgiven, is forgiving, and will forgive me (cf 1 Tim 1:15). As our story suggests, such reflection produces humble gratitude to God, loving commitment to the Savior, sympathy and tenderness toward my fellow sinners, and unshakable peace in my heart as I reenter the world.