The Pharisees in Jesus’s day as with most religions around the world work off the principle that a person’s obedience to God brings them His acceptance and blessings. Jesus refuted this view by teaching that it is God’s acceptance that gives birth to a heart and life of obedience.
Who loves more?
In Luke 7:36–50, a prostitute washed and perfumed the feet of Jesus with very expensive oils. The Pharisees were appalled that Jesus would let such a sinner even touch Him. To help them understand why He allowed her to touch Him Jesus tells a story of two men indebted to their master. The master is kind, generous and forgiving and forgives both of them their debt. One man’s debt was just 50 pence, a pence was a day’s wage. The other man’s debt was ten times that at 500 pence. The one that owes 50 wasn’t in that serious of a debt. A little saving or overtime work and he could easily pay off his own debt. The one who owed 500 is deep in debt, his debt is the equivalent of two years of salary plus interest, would keep him in debt the rest of his life.
So, Jesus asks the Pharisees of the two indebted men which one do they think loved the master the most? They said probably the one who owed 500. Jesus said that is the correct answer and then added this woman whose sins are many I have forgiven. The lesson here is the Pharisees believed their debt to God was manageable and they could work hard and pay it off themselves. They didn’t need forgiveness because they could earn their righteousness through their own efforts. Whereas the prostitute knew there was no hope for her other than the mercy of God. She understood that Jesus embodied the heart of God which was full of mercy. Her washing and anointing the feet of Jesus is an acknowledgment of what the prophet Isaiah foretold Israel, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” Isaiah 52:7
Because He first loved us
Jesus wasn’t finished with teaching a very important lesson to the Pharisees. He told them that those who had been forgiven of much would also “love even more.” In essence what He wanted to make very clear to them was this prostitute would love God more than they did. This changed how they saw God and related to Him totally upside down. If they couldn’t “repent” which means to change your mind, they couldn’t experience His forgiveness for them nor be able to love God. “We love God because He loved us first.” 1 John 4:19
Jesus’ final words to the woman were, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” Luke 7:50 Her faith came from believing He would show her mercy. Her Peace came from experiencing His mercy. Her life was dramatically changed by having seen God’s heart reflected through the life of Jesus.
The Pharisees as does all religion teaches your obedience is what makes you acceptable to God. Whereas Jesus taught that God in His amazing love accepts us as we are but the power of His love for us does not leave us the way it found us. Just like the former prostitute, our faith is in who He is to us and our Peace comes from knowing we are accepted in the beloved.
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