"Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little”
This past Sunday the sermon focused on the “new commandment” Jesus gave his disciples in John 13:34, that we love one another as he has loved us. We acknowledged that when it comes to people with whom we have much in common and enjoy spending time with, it’s a fairly easy commandment to follow. But it becomes rather difficult when it comes to those people that we find unlovable. Maybe they have very different opinions than we do, or they have hurt us in some way, or they simply get on our nerves. Whatever the reason, we find it very hard to love them.
Loving all people as Jesus loves us is not simply a matter of the will. It is a supernatural feat, and therefore requires a supernatural power, a power only God can provide, which he makes available to us through his Holy Spirit. But this power must be accompanied by a realization and admission on our part, that we are not so lovable ourselves.
In his gospel, Luke tells the story of a sinful woman who come to visit Jesus while he dined at the home of a Pharisee. As far as we can tell, no words were shared between the woman and Jesus…only actions. First, the woman bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Then, she kissed his feet and anointed them with costly perfume. As far as Jesus was concerned, it was an act of great devotion and sacrifice, and an expression of great love. The Pharisee, on the other hand, thought it was scandalous, given this woman’s reputation.
To justify the woman’s actions to his host, Jesus presented him with a scenario in which two individuals had their debts canceled by their debtor, but the debt of one was ten times greater than the other. When Jesus asked the Pharisee which individual would have appreciated the forgiveness more, the answer was obvious, the one with the greater debt. This woman, who was keenly aware of how great a debt she had been forgiven, was responding by demonstrating great love toward the one who had forgiven her. The Pharisee, in contrast, had shown hardly any love to Jesus. This could be explained by the fact that he felt he had very little for which he needed to be forgiven.
In telling this story Jesus was not suggesting that the Pharisee had a lesser debt to God. No matter what we have done, we all stand in need of forgiveness. His point was that because this woman had a more accurate view of the depth of her sin, she likewise had a more accurate understanding of the depths of God’s love and grace. Loving Jesus in such an extravagant way was the most natural way for her to respond to this realization. The same is true for us. The more we come to realize how much God loves us, the greater our loving response to him will be. When we truly love Jesus, we will find it easier to love the people he has created, all of them, not only our favorites. We will understand none of us is without faults, that God’s love and forgiveness extends to all of us, and that to love the creature is to love the creator.