The Parables of Jesus - Part Three: The Two Debtors

The parable of the two debtors is found only in Luke’s Gospel.  We find it recorded in Luke 7:36-50, when Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee. As we have in other papers on Jesus’ parables, we need to look back to previous verses to understand the context.  In verse 11 we see the events of the day begin in the city of Nain when Jesus brings a young man back from death.  And, as we can imagine, this caused quite a stir among the people (verses 16 and 17).

The remainder of the chapter leading up to the parable has to do with John the Baptist.  As I mentioned in the previous paper on the new cloth and new wine, at the time these events took place, John had already been put in prison.  In verse 19 John sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask if He really is the Messiah or should they look for another?  And by the way, it’s a testament to the strong religious nature of man (a manifestation of our flesh) to realize the fact that John even had disciples at this point in time. Evidently, John and his followers had forgotten the events recorded in Matthew 3Mark 1:1-11Luke 3:1-22 and especially John 3:23-36.  Read them and see what I mean.  It makes you wonder why John’s disciples had not become Jesus’ disciples.

Nevertheless, John was having his doubts.  To which Jesus answered, "Go tell John what you’ve seen and heard, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk again, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the disadvantaged have the good news of the kingdom preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended or confused by the things I do or the message I preach." (Verses 2223)

Then Jesus begins to talk about John, saying he was a man who was not swayed by men’s opinions (verse 24), not the typical religious leader (verse 25), more than just a prophet (verse 26), but a special prophet mentioned in Malachi and destined to announce the coming of the Messiah (verse 27), and that there had not been a more significant prophet than John born of women (because he was the herald of not only the Messiah, but also of the new covenant of grace), yet, there were those to come in the new order of the kingdom even greater in position and privilege than John (illustrating the superiority of the new system under grace as opposed to the old dominated by the law) (verse 28).  This is yet another statement by Jesus to signal the passing of the old, worn out system and the coming of the new.

And then, we find the point of Jesus’ comments regarding John and the point of the parable that was to follow.  The people, even notorious sinners, acknowledged that God was justified in calling them to repentance through John’s message (verse 29), but the Pharisees and other religious leaders had refused God’s call and purpose by rejecting John’s message (verse 30).  Jesus uses the illustration of children playing in the marketplace, acting like they’re at a wedding, but some children weren’t willing to play along and refused to dance; and some playing like they’re at a funeral, but others refused to join in the fun, not willing to act like they’re weeping (verses 31and 32).

In other words, the Pharisees had their own religious game, with rules that were to their worldly, selfish advantage, so they didn’t want to play a different game.  And when it came to John’s message of repentance or Jesus’ message of the kingdom, they didn’t want anything to do with it.  The new message clashed with their established religious scheme.  So, Jesus compares the Pharisees to children who hadn’t learned to play well with others.  And the illustration goes deeper still.  Jesus points out the fact that these men, so attached to their religion, wouldn’t dance to express their joy for what God was doing through the manifestation of the Messiah and His kingdom, nor would they weep in sincere acknowledgment of their sin and their need for true repentance.

He follows that up by repeating the faultfinding comments of these religious types towards John and towards Himself, as well.  John neither ate bread nor drank wine (Mark 1:6), so they said he had a demon (verse 33).  Jesus ate bread, drank wine and did it with known sinners (Luke 5:30), so He was a glutton, a drunkard and a friend of sinners (intimating that He was an enemy of God) (verse 34).  Notice, Jesus includes Himself in this discussion about John leaving no doubt that He was the Messiah John had come to announce. Further, we see the term "Son of Man" used again as Jesus identifies Himself to these Pharisees, as "The Son of God Who is a Man".  Jesus’ conclusion (verse 35) is that the reality of whether someone is of God or not is shown by his true, God-like character, something the Pharisees couldn’t recognize, even if it bit them on the nose.

This brings us to verse 36 where Jesus is invited to the Pharisee’s house.  We now need to follow the events as they unfold.  As Jesus reclines at the table, a woman with the reputation of being a sinner comes into the house with a container of expensive perfume (verse 37).  She then proceeds to wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipe them with her hair, kiss them affectionately and anoint them with the perfume (verse 38).  And as the Pharisee watches, he thinks to himself, if this Man were really a prophet, then He’d know what kind of woman this is and wouldn’t allow her to even touch Him (verse 39).

Now, I love this next part.  In his religious self-righteousness, the Pharisee (we now find out his name is Simon) thinks Jesus should be able to discern the heart of this woman who is touching Him.  And He has!  The problem is that Jesus’ discernment doesn’t agree with Simon’s religious opinion.  Jesus recognizes her true repentance.  Simon knows nothing about repentance, and sees a woman known to him only by her questionable morality.  Jesus then turns the tables on Simon and does with him what Simon thought He should be doing with the woman – He reveals Simon’s unrepentant heart with the parable of the two debtors.

Here are verses 40 through 43:

"Then Jesus said to him, Simon I have something to say to you.  And he answered, Yes, Teacher, tell me.  A certain moneylender had two debtors. One of them owed him $200.00; the other owed only $20.00.  When they had no way of paying, he freely forgave them both.  Now, which of the two will love him more?  Simon answered, The one, I suppose, for whom he forgave more.  And Jesus said, That’s right."

The next seven verses to the end of this chapter reveal a familiar theme that is repeated several times by Jesus in His parables.  What is it?  It’s this unmistakable, undeniable truth that I’ve mentioned in some of my earlier papers: you cannot have religion and God at the same time.  The greatest and most effective deception ever perpetrated in this world is the idea that God is found in religion.  Religion is specifically designed to keep you from God, not lead you to Him.

Let me show you what I mean.  In verse 44 Jesus turns to the woman and begins to compare what she’s doing to what Simon has not done.  Simon had not bothered to show Jesus even the most common courtesy of providing water so He could wash His feet when He entered the house, yet the woman had wet His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  Simon had shown Jesus no affection or respect by giving Him the customary kiss, yet the woman had not stopped kissing His feet with tender affection (verse 45). Simon had not demonstrated the slightest hospitality for his guest by anointing Jesus’ head with even ordinary oil, yet the woman had anointed His feet with expensive perfume (verse 46).

In other words, Simon’s social and religious position was what mattered most to him.  What other men thought about him was more important than what God thought.  The only reason Simon invited Jesus into his house was because he thought it would make him look good.  Here was this teacher that everyone was so excited about, and He was at Simon’s house.  This is typical religious B.S.  Simon wanted to be able to brag about who he had lunch with when he got together with his religious buddies.  Repentance was the last thing on his mind.  No, that’s not right.  Repentance never even entered his mind!

On the other hand, the woman obviously didn’t care what anyone thought. Notice, Jesus, the woman and Simon weren’t the only people in the room; there were other guests at the table watching and commenting on everything that was happening (verse 49).  The woman’s repentance was genuine.  She was overcome with emotion and gratitude.  But the self-righteous, religious Simon didn’t have a clue.  The woman knew she had a debt she couldn’t repay; Simon’s religious viewpoint probably told him God was indebted to him, since he was such a "good" man.  The drivel spewed by the prosperity crowd today isn’t exactly new.

So, in verse 47 Jesus lowers the boom on Simon.  And though Simon’s response is not recorded, it should have hit him like a ton of bricks.  But it probably didn’t.  Remember, Jesus has just compared what the woman had done with what Simon hadn’t done.  Then He says to Simon:

"Therefore, I’m telling you, her sins, as many as they are, are forgiven her, because she has loved much.  But he who is forgiven little, loves little."

Now, I need to go back and remind you of what we saw in verses 29 and 30. The people acknowledged that God was right to call them to repentance. They agreed that repentance was necessary and John’s message was the correct message.  But the Pharisees rejected it.  The woman had repented. She evidently had a lot to repent for.  But she humbled herself, repented and was forgiven.  Make no mistake, Simon had just as great a need as the woman, with one huge difference – she knew her need, but he didn’t.  His arrogant, religious self-righteousness had blinded him.  The woman asked forgiveness, as demonstrated by her actions. Simon was so preoccupied with his image the whole thing went right over his head.

That is, until Jesus makes it crystal clear to Simon what had just taken place. In verse 48 Jesus turns to the woman and says, "Your sins are forgiven."  But what does He say to Simon?  Nothing!  The important message for Simon is not found in what was said; it’s found in what is not said.  Jesus may as well have said, "Woman, your sins are forgiven.  Simon, your sins are not forgiven."

This brings us to the last verse (50), where we see Jesus saying, "Your faith has delivered you, go in peace."  I don’t want to get bogged down with a bunch of technical stuff here, but the verb in this verse ("has delivered" in the translation above) is the perfect indicative of sozo.  The perfect indicative makes a basic assertion of fact that has occurred in the past, but indicates continuing action in the future.  The word sozo illustrates God’s deliverance from the bondage of sin.  Jesus is telling the woman (and us) that her repentance has delivered her from the consequences of her sin and her repentance in the future will continue to deliver her.  Another proof text telling us that salvation or deliverance is not a one-time, instantaneous act, but an on-going process over time that requires our faithfulness and perseverance.

And, this is a perfect example of what true faith is all about.  Again, faith is not simply what you believe.  Faith is not what religion teaches or what religious men require.  It’s not your denomination’s doctrinal statement.  And it’s not what you happen to agree with.  Faith is what you do in response to God, because of what you know to be true.  Faith describes your actions, not what you accept mentally.  Faith is not a concept; it’s what determines your activity.  In this case, the woman’s faith is described by what she did.  What she did was determined by what she knew was true. There’s a great application here.  If you don’t go to God in repentance on a regular, on-going basis, there’s good reason to question your "faith".

Of course if you’re participating in religion, you’re, no doubt, dealing with the same blindness Simon had.  Religion wants you to think that you can always gain God’s acceptance and approval by doing the things religion prescribes.  Go to church, sing this song, show this emotion, stand up now, sit down now, say this, don’t say that, support the programs, give your money to perpetuate the institution, be faithful and loyal to the leaders of your denomination or group and be careful to adhere to whatever moral code happens to be accepted at the time.

Now this leads me into a slight diversion I think is appropriate here.  Every religious, "Christian" group in the world has a slightly different moral code. Some of them even clash violently with others over moral issues (abortion, homosexuality, divorce, on and on it goes).  And everyone thinks the code they follow is the right one, and everybody else is wrong.  But God is given credit for all of them.  Something’s wrong with this picture.  As I’ve said before, God never intended for there to be any such thing as the traditional, institutional, denominational Christianity we see in the world today.  Have you ever wondered which religious, moral code out of all the ones that exist is the one God really subscribes to?  If you want to know, I can tell you - none of them.

Again, I hate to repeat myself, but some things are worth repeating.  God never called us to morality; He requires true spirituality.  Religion promotes morality as a smokescreen to keep people away from spirituality and away from God.  What is spirituality?  It is the reality of your individual, personal intimacy with God, where you are submitted to Him and He is personally involved in your life in a relationship that has as its focus the plan and purpose of God, which is to deliver you from your sin and change you into the image of Christ.  And it’s not a flash-in-the-pan religious experience; it’s a life-long endeavor.

Christianity promotes morality (along with a lot of other useless, superficial activity designed to make people think they’re doing what God wants them to do).  It is a man-made system that understands nothing of the true spirituality God requires.  And the morality religion is selling will never put anyone in right standing with God.  Our morality must be a result of our spirituality.  And as such, it is individual, not corporate.  God determines our morality, not men or religious institutions.  And a true relationship with God can never be reduced to a religious, moral code or doctrinal statement, exactly what the religions of the world try to do.

And what’s the point of all my ranting and raving about morality and spirituality?  When you go back and look at the parable of the two debtors and the circumstances surrounding it, you should come to the conclusion that one of Simon’s problems was the fact that he had accepted a man-made, religious moral code.  And when he compared himself to the woman, he knew he was morally (religiously) superior.  His morality blinded him and kept him from God.  Religion did its job.  Simon clung to his morality; the woman opted for true spirituality.   Jesus approved of the woman; His judgment on Simon, however, was reserved for a later time, as it is for all.

Let me point out one more thing, and we’re done with this.   Jesus told the woman to "go in peace".  "Peace" is eirene and describes the inner joy, contentment and freedom from guilt and fear that can only be the result of a personal exchange with God.  Notice I use the word, exchange.  The woman repented, God forgave.  That’s how it works.  That’s the only way it works. This is another time that it’s significant to see what Jesus didn’t say to Simon. Oh sure, Simon could always fall back on the self-satisfaction that comes from following religion.  He probably went to the marketplace and recited a long, flowery prayer.  Maybe he went to the synagogue and waited for a crowd to gather so he could make a public show of giving alms to the poor. Whatever he did, you can be sure his religion gave him the opportunity to do something that would make him feel good about himself.  Personally, I’ll take the peace of God over religious self-satisfaction any time.  And I have to tell you, most of the time that peace only comes after repentance (because I felt bad about my sin, not good because of some religious thing I'd done).

To Be Continued in Part 4, The sower, the seeds and the four types of soil.