Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Debt: Luke 7

In Summary: Luke 7 shows us a combination of teaching and preaching in the life of Jesus. We get the healing of the centurion’s servant, the raising of the widow’s son in Nain, and John’s disciples asking for some clarity about who Jesus is. These came on behalf of John.

The raising of the widow’s son raises some chronological questions, because none of the Gospel writers were intent on satisfying our timeline-oriented society. It appears to be the first recorded time that Jesus demonstrates His power over death, though there are statements about Him doing so elsewhere. Further, in the answer to John the Baptist, we see Jesus refer to “the dead are raised” (7:22) as if this has happened more than once. Notice that this healing is met with both fear and worship (7:16), and we never see Jesus preach a funeral—He just raises the dead.

John’s disciples come to ask a question from their imprisoned leader. Apparently, though John had been certain about Jesus, he was starting to have doubts. Jesus deals with those and in the process explains who John was. He also contrasts the differing lifestyles of Himself and John, and points out that there is no way to make some people happy.

In Focus: Then comes the major story of this chapter. Jesus goes to dinner with a Pharisee. Let that soak for a moment. As much as He criticized Pharisees, He still ate with them. While they are having dinner, a woman comes in and washes His feet with her tears. Then she anoints His feet with perfume.

The Pharisee mutters under his breath that if Jesus had any spiritual sense, He would know what kind of sinner this woman was—hinting that the Lord was being made a partner to her sin by sitting there. Jesus responds by pointing out how one who has been forgiven much, loves much—especially compared to the one who has been forgiven only a little.

Being a good Pharisee, the critic does not comprehend that he, too, needed much forgiveness. Considering the parable Jesus used to illustrate the point shows that the Pharisee was in need as well. Jesus highlights forgiveness by telling of two men who were in monetary debt. Both would likely be a lifetime trying to pay it back—one would die with a little less debt than the other. Both were forgiven, but the one whose debt was bigger was more gracious. Both were in trouble, but only one truly recognized it.

In Practice: Have you ever been in debt to moneylenders? I have, and still am. It’s a long story that involves a combination of bad choices and the housing market collapse. Suffice it to say, I could have much love for some financial institutions if they were forgiving. They are not—and don’t let anyone fool you, the “loss” that many banks have taken on mortgages is a “loss” of profits—on mine, they only made $25K in 4 years instead of $30K had it been paid off perfectly at sale. (Don’t worry, they were made “whole” through tax money approved in 2009.)

I digress: we all know what it’s like to be indebted. Maybe you have been fortunate to avoid the monetary debt, but it takes an isolated life to never owe something to another, even if you only owe affection and compassion. We are not sufficient for ourselves, and so find ourselves always needing others. That sense of indebtedness is not always bad, but sometimes we feel a debt we’ll never repay. And then we’re told not to worry about it and we feel relief that bleeds over into admiration for the giver.

Why? Because they were not “made whole” on their loss, but instead absorbed it as part of their character. As part of their grace and humility. Sometimes, because they were once forgiven and pass that on. However it may slice, they did it because forgiving was part of who they chose to be, not because they were forced to.

Take this, and amplify it. Jesus forgives not because He is compelled to by another, nor because He is made whole by anything else, but because it who He choose to be. He chooses to be the healer of our souls, the forgiver of our sins. He chose to be the sacrifice to pay to make it possible—the reality is there is no aspect where the Lord is not the Lord in forgiving. He is in charge, choosing through it all.

If we are to be like Him, we will note two practices. First, we will practice humility by seeking His forgiveness and the forgiveness of others. We know we have done wrong, and it is the better part of growth to admit that upfront. I need forgiveness, you need forgiveness. And err on the side of assuming you need it, rather than thinking you have done no wrong.

Second we should adopt the attitude of the Lord and be forgiving. There is much more about how relationships are affected, sometimes permanently, due to sin. The focus is this here: we ought to forgive, and we ought to allow room for the Lord God to forgive. Holding grudges does no good, and assuming that because we know someone’s sin means that God and everyone else needs reminded is questionable. There are times to warn, and times to let the past be the past. Jesus was in no danger from the woman, so why the Pharisee’s concern? Only religio-pious-babble. If that’s what you have, then let it go.

In Nerdiness: The biggest nerd item here is standard Synoptic Gospel questions: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all record an anointing of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and John reference the anointing in the Passion Week and place it in Bethany. Luke’s event is geographically disconnected—He’s been in Capernaum and Nain, but we do not know where Jesus is in Luke 7.

Are these all tellings of the same event? Or does it occur more than once? If it is the same, then Mary (of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus) is the “sinful woman” of Luke 7. If it’s not the same, then one has other questions…this is why we read, and re-read. We learn as we go.

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