Love is the Evidence

Text: Luke 7:36-50
Date: St. Mary Magdalene, Penitent
+ 7/22/07

      I remember in college (a “hundred” years ago!) how we mocked old Professor Streufert (behind his back) for repeatedly asking us in class one day, in his slightly screechy voice, [in a rising pitch:] “Do you love your Lord?” It just sounded funny to us. It was funny, also, however, because it didn’t cross our minds why we should love the Lord or that it was a question of any significance at the time. I guess, on the one hand, we “knew,” as good Lutheran kids, that we “should” love the Lord. But the question is, really, “why” and “how much” should we love the Lord?

     Today’s text says that our love of the Lord Jesus Christ will be in direct proportion to how much we value His gift of the forgiveness of our sins, life and salvation. He or she who is forgiven much, loves much. “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” So let me ask you, “Do you love your Lord?”

     St. Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name in the very next verses following our text, in the beginning of chapter 8 of Luke’s Gospel. She is mentioned as the one “from whom seven demons had gone out” and who, with the others, “provided” for Jesus and His disciples “out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). She is the first witness to the resurrection, having touched clinging to the risen Jesus. Mary Magdalene is an example for us of great love for the Lord. Oldest traditions identify Mary Magdalene with the “sinful” woman in our text. Most today believe this was someone else. Regardless, however, the issue at hand is the forgiveness of sins brought about by Jesus, the Son of God, who came, as John the Baptist said, “to take away the sins of the world.” He did this, of course, when He died on the cross as the one-and-only perfect sacrifice for all sin, thus reconciling God and man by His own blood shed on the cross. It is in remembrance of His death on the cross that forgiveness is proclaimed to us today. And it was in anticipation of His deliverance that forgiveness was given already to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the great King David and, down through the years, to such as this woman who wept at Jesus’ feet. His forgiveness was even for such as Simon the Pharisee in whose house Jesus was invited to recline in table fellowship. The only difference was the sinful woman knew she needed forgiveness. Simon the Pharisee knew she needed forgiveness, too. He was not so sure he needed forgiveness. And though he initially entertained the thought that Jesus might be a teacher and prophet of God, he now changed his mind because, he thought to himself, if Jesus was a prophet, “he should have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

     What did the Pharisee think was behind this woman’s unusual actions? Probably, as so many people think and is so “natural” to the thinking of the spiritually blind fallen nature, that she was begging Jesus for forgiveness. After all, isn’t the forgiveness and grace and blessing of God dependent upon something you do, your works or sincerity or whatever? What the Pharisee did not know and could not see, however, is that this woman’s tears and worship of Jesus was not in hopes of receiving his favor but was the worshipful reaction of the forgiveness she had already heard of and received! “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” The proof is, “for she loved much.”

     Simon the Pharisee knew better, as demonstrated by his correct answer to Jesus’ little story of the two debtors. The one with the larger debt cancelled or forgiven would naturally love the beneficent moneylender the more than would the one with the smaller debt forgiven. In explaining his story, Jesus attempted to identify the woman with the greater debtor and Simon with the lesser debtor! The woman wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair; she continually kissed his feet and anointed them with ointment. Simon, on the other hand, provided no water for Jesus’ feet, gave him no kiss and no anointing. Did Simon get the point? We’re not told, but I doubt it.

     As I’ve said so often these days, the “simple” reason church membership and attendance has been dwindling is because people don’t see their need of the only thing the Church is here to give, namely, the forgiveness of sins. The very first requirement of becoming a member of Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church is that you must be a sinner. “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive”! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore Jesus would receive all. But not all admit or confess to their sin and therefore refuse the gift. The fact is that there is coming a Day, the Last Day, the Judgment when those who have received Christ will enter eternal life, but those who have rejected Christ will be rejected, for it is only and alone by faith in the forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ that a person can enter the kingdom of heaven.

          Confess your sin, therefore, and receive the forgiveness of your sins today…again…and tomorrow, and each day. Stay in touch with the love of God in Christ Jesus in regular worship, frequently receiving the sacrament of love, the very Body and Blood of our loving Lord. Hear again today the words of your Savior, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”