When the host of the party is outraged that a woman of sketchy reputation is devoting so much attention to the rabbi Jesus, the teacher launches into a parable
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Most people reading this know this story, and understand the parable, which sort of quantifies degrees of forgiveness. Debts do, after all, come in various sizes.
The parable itself comprises only two verses, 41 and 42, but it contains a foregone conclusion of a forgiveness that doesn’t take place until verse 48. The woman knows who she is, the life she’s lived, and her need of repentance. Jesus responds to the contriteness of her heart and tells her that her sins are forgiven.
But who else needs forgiving in this story?
Simon has not been very accommodating to Jesus, he has not acted as a host should, especially if we see this in light of 36 which seems to paint Jesus as the guest of honor. I’ve often wondered then, how this woman of ill repute gets in, but some suggest that certain occasions might have been open to a wider swath of people, not unlike a situation where a British lord might invite the villagers to a type of open house at the manor. By whatever means she gets in.
But Simon seems to have snubbed Jesus somewhat, and his outrage at the interaction between the woman and Jesus provides Jesus with a context to note Simon’s lack of social graces.
Clearly, Simon is also in need of forgiveness.
But here’s the good news: In the parable Jesus tells, two people are forgiven!
At this point, I need to acknowledge a footnote in Ann Spangler’s telling of the story in the recently released Wicked Women of the Bible:
I am indebted to Kenneth E. Baily for his fascinating interpretation of this story in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP, 2008, pp 239-60). Though Baily does not speculate on whether Simon showed signs of repentance as I have done… he does make it clear that the story Jesus tells Simon speaks of forgiveness that is extended to both people, the one with the large debt and the one with the small one, implying that Simon is the person with the smaller debt.
It must be said however that there’s nothing in the text to suggest Simon enters a posture of penitence. But the parable leaves the potential there for both the one with the great debt and the smaller debt to have the same opportunity to begin with a fresh slate.
How many people do you think were forgiven that day?