How Deep is Your Love?
"How Deep is Your Love?" is the title to a 1977 hit song by the Bee Gees, but as a question it can haunt, hunt, and hurt the Christian heart. So let's answer it.
Based on the text you answer how deep is your love' by asking another one, "How deep is your debt?" Remember 3 things. Jesus was a guest at the house of a Pharisee. Scripture flatly states "the Pharisees were lovers of money (LK. 16:14), so they were particularly sensitive to illustrations about money. And in Matthew the Lord's Prayer has forgive us our debts rather than trespasses. So how deep is your debt?
In this parable one is 50 days' wages the other is 500. Both are repayable amounts unlike the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. There the slave owes his master 60 million days' wages while a fellow slave owes him a 100 days' wages. When sins against God are compared to sins against a fellow man, there is absolutely no comparison. When our sins are compared to other people's sins, there is a scale of comparison. And on that scale usually everyone owes more than we do. Objectively before God it is 60 million work days; subjectively before us it's at most 500 workdays.
What Jesus is putting before this lover of money and this judger of people and of Jesus, is that people perceive their debt to God differently. Some think it more than others. So again I ask how deep is your debt? Is it 10x's less or more than the person next to you, behind you, in front of you? Do you go back to your youth as "Abide with Me Does" and recall your rebellion and perversity and how many times you left Him? Or do you go to "Amazing Grace" and can't believe He saved and wretch like that guy?
How deep is your debt? Are you like John Wesley who chose not to call sinful thoughts sins and so didn't think he had much debt? What about that pet sin of yours you keep in your backyard? Doesn't it dig some pretty deep holes? Do you really believe you're a sinner more than sands upon the ocean floor? Well that's a lot more debt than our national one, but guess what? Regardless if you've finally come to be conscience that you are 500-day debtor or you still think you're only a 50 day one, Jesus says, "Neither had the money to pay Him back."
I don't care if you think your sins are petty, unnoticeable by people, and ignored by God, you can't pay your debt of sin off. Blubber all day how sorry you are and you haven't paid a cent toward your debt. Promise from here to the moon that you'll do better; you'll make up for your indebtedness and you won't stop the Past Due notices from piling up. Make all the excuses you want about your poor upbringing, your genetic disposition to certain sins, and how you're only acting out.' Put all this on one side of the scale and it won't lift your debt of sin off the ground a millimeter. In fact, your indebtedness is so heavy it sinks the scales of God's Justice many feet into the ground. That's how deep your debt is.
Next question is has it been forgiven? The text says both of the debtors had their debts canceled, and when it comes to the woman her sins have been forgiven. It's true they're not the same word but translating canceled' misses the grace. The word for what the moneylender did comes from the Greek word "grace." NASB translates "graciously forgave." The word for the woman's forgiveness comes from the Greek word "send away," and what's important is the tense. More about this later.
Has the debt of sin biting into your back during the day and heavy on your heart at night been graciously forgiven? Don't know? Not sure? Hope so? Well was that debt of yours there when they crucified the Lord? When God made Jesus to be sin were your sins part of His transformation? When John declares Jesus the Lamb of God carrying away the sins of the world, do you see your sins on Jesus, or are yours lying on the ground having fallen off somehow? You can see the sins of the whole world on Jesus but if you don't see your sins there whipping His back, beating His body, bloodying His brow, piercing His hands and side, what good does it do you?
If you do see your debt of sin on Jesus, do you believe He paid it off completely? Surely you've had that experience with a bill from a doctor or a dentist. You leave the office assured that your bill is paid in full only to get a notice later that you owe more. Doesn't it make you mad? Well, if you don't know that the innocent life of Jesus and His holy death paid your debt of sin in full, it won't make you mad but guilty, unforgiving of others, and miserable much of the time.
If you think there is something or anything left for you to do before you can count your debt of sin as paid in full, your love won't be, can't be very deep at all. If you think Jesus lived a holy life in your place keeping all the Commandment of God that you can't and died to satisfy God's wrath against your debt of sins and all you need do is choose, accept, decide, or ask Jesus into your heart, your debt is not paid in full. If you think Jesus did all things necessary to pay off your debt of sin and all you need to do is try your best to lead a Christian life, your debt of sin hangs on you. If you think, and you Lutherans listen closely, if you don't get this you need more instruction in basic Lutheranism, if you think Jesus paid your debt in full and all you need do is repent and/or believe, you're walking out of here with your debt in tow.
Why? Because you're not free of your debt of sin. That youthful indiscretion of yours or that horrible fall into unbelief or sin were not paid off completely and forever on the cross. No, you have to add your repentance or your faith to it to complete the transaction. Then Easter Sunday can't be God the Father proclaiming the forgiveness of the world's sins based on the wrath removing sacrifice of Christ on the cross but only a proclaiming of the potential forgiveness for those who repent and believe. In that scenario are you free? Are you free not to think of your sins anymore? Are you free to leave here with the certainty your debt of sin is paid off? Only as long as and as much as you repent and believe, and how long are you certain you will do either? How long do you consistently do both?
Yet Jesus says this woman's sins have been forever forgiven and sends her into peace. There's not to be a doubt in her mind that no sins remain on her account. You too are to go into peace. A place where God sees no debts, where all accounts have been washed clear and clean by the blood of Christ. A place where when the Devil, the World, or your own Flesh comes seeking payment, there are no bills of indebtedness to be found. They all have been paid 2,000 years ago.
There are two potential stumbling blocks. One is Tina Turner's highly charged question: "What's love got to do with it?" Jesus states that those who love much are forgiven much because He starts with the woman's actions compared to Simon's inactions. However, Jesus isn't saying that those who love much get much forgiveness. He is saying those who know they have been forgiven much show much love. And Jesus certainly doesn't say her love caused her forgiveness. Your insert tries to avoid this by translating "for" instead of "because." "I tell you her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much." The word translated "for" is really that, because, since,' and don't be afraid of it or stumble over it.
Saying she is forgiven much because she loved much is not wrong as long as you understand that because' here is used in an evidential not a causal way. It states the evidence of something not the cause. The love she was showing to her forgiver Jesus is the evidence that she has already been forgiven. We say things like this all the time. Someone asks, "How do you know it rained last night?" You answer, "I know that it rained last night because the sidewalk was wet this morning." Nobody thinks you are saying that a wet sidewalk caused it to rain. Everyone knows the wet sidewalk is proof that it did. The woman's tears, her wiping, her kissing, her anointing were proof as Jesus says that "her many sins have been in the past forever sent away from her."
The second stumbling block is the last verse, "Jesus said to the woman, Your faith has saved you, go in peace." Well that seems to make a liar out of me, doesn't it? Your faith is the last payment on your heavy debt of sin. No, it is the acceptance of Jesus having already fully paid off your debt of sin, but you don't focus on your acceptance of it any more than when someone picks up the check for you. You don't focus on whether or not you've accepted the paying off of the check. You focus on thanking the person who paid it.
Jesus says what He does about her faith having forever saved her because the other guests flatly denied what Jesus had declared: that "Her many sins have been forever forgiven." They deny that anyone should believe that. "Who is this one who forgives sins?" is better translated "Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!" They denied that her faith was valid by saying the object of it was invalid. Jesus' response is that your faith in Me is valid.
But you're tripped up by Jesus saying, "Your faith has forever saved you." Again people talk like this all the time. You will see this if you make faith a verb. "Believing has forever saved you" is like saying "eating or drinking saved the lost child." No, the food or water is what actually did the saving. Eating sawdust or drinking antifreeze wouldn't. Besides the forgiven woman didn't cry over, wipe, kiss, or anoint her faith but Jesus. Our faith waxes and wanes; we believe and don't believe at the same time. Jesus remains fixed, firm, and forgiving.
There are 5 different songs with the title "How Deep is Your Love?" That shows it is a regular question that troubles fallen hearts. How deep is Christ's forgiveness is a better one to ask. The answer to that is bottomless. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (20160612); Luke 7: 36-50