O Love, How Deep

Sorry, I forgot my voice recorder today.

Text: 2 Samuel 11:26—12:10, 13-14; Luke 7:36—8:3
Date: Pentecost III, Proper 6 + 6/13/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

There are times when a person may be desperately aware of their sins. The sinful woman in today’s Gospel was one such. You could tell—for she loved Jesus much as she saw in Him the love and forgiveness of God. There is little real love for Jesus, on the other hand, in a person who is not so aware of their great need of Him. How little of the time are we aware of our sins and of the true greatness of the gift of forgiveness, holy absolution. And our little or weak love shows it. Such was the Pharisee named Simon in today’s Gospel.

Both of these—the sinful woman and Simon the Pharisee—are like Israel’s great King David nearly 1,000 years earlier. The text from Second Samuel narrates the crushing of David’s proud covering up of his sin and his resulting anguished confession. The most interesting parallel between today’s Gospel and Old Testament readings, however, is that it took the telling of a story to bring both Simon and David of old to the awareness of their sin and their need of repentance and forgiveness.

Now we don’t know if this worked with Simon. We’re told nothing of his response. He had invited Jesus to dinner in his house because he was entertaining the idea that Jesus just might be a prophet. When the penitent, sinful woman came to serve Jesus, Simon was greatly offended and began to conclude that Jesus was not a prophet, for, if He was, surely He would know what kind of woman this is and would refuse her ministrations. Instead, Jesus told a story.

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And Jesus said, “You have judged rightly.” Now, get it? The point, of course, was, whether five hundred or only fifty denarii, Simon was just as much a sinner as this woman. The point was that neither one of them could repay the debt of their sin to God. The point was that the forgiveness of God is a free gift. Did Simon “get it”? We don’t think so.

In a similar way was King David. You need to recall the story of David and Bathsheba: how David’s lust for a wife not his own led from the sin of adultery to the sin of the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, by ordering him to the front lines of battle, and how all this amounted to David’s betrayal of his own country as the sword would never depart from his house. “The thing David had done displeased the Lord.”

We don’t know how long David was successful in keeping the sin of his secret plotting and lust unrevealed. But it was at least long enough for the child he conceived to be born. Did it even bother him as he continued his daily tasks; his secret knowledge that he had committed adultery and murder, and yet no one knew? Did God even know? Could he remain silent in hopes of hiding his sin even from God? Have you ever wondered about these questions for yourself?

But no, for it says, “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” And we would say David deserved whatever punishment the Lord handed out to him. We probably would have been even harsher. Listening to what happened to Uriah, to the country, to Bathsheba, a certain “righteous anger” begins to boil in us. He who did such things certainly deserves to be punished, quickly and harshly! He should have been shot. Take him out and execute him. The man who did this deserves to die; make him pay for what he did.

But then…the story! “The Lord sent Nathan to David.” And he told him a story about the poor man and his lamb. And David was caught in the same trap—pronouncing severe judgment on the man of the story, completely oblivious to the fact that the story was about him! So it is for us, as we hear his story. Listen to Romans 2:1. “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

Nathan turned to David and said, “You are the man!” And today we who would so easily sit in judgment on David and on the sinful woman, and even on Simon, hear the same accusation. “You are the ones. You are the ones whose desires hurt others.” And it’s true of all; so true that the words are enshrined in the liturgy of the common confession of sins, “we justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment.”

He who looks into the heart can confront us in our pharisaical pride with the words of His Son, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder’… But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:21-22, 27-28).

The point is, of course, that you and I are no different and no better than David. As we examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s perfect Law we cannot escape the fact that we, too, are poor, miserable sinners who fall short of the glory of God. Like David, we may be harboring some secret sin that is tearing away at the conscience. Or maybe it’s been so long that the conscience has been taught not to bother us any more. Simon was convinced he was a pretty good, moral guy. Maybe it’s not murder or adultery…or maybe it is…God knows.

Yet as surely as we share David’s sin, so we can share his hope; the hope of the sinful woman, the hope that rests entirely on God’s gracious action toward us in Christ. Left on our own we would only drift aimlessly, like that 16-year old girl in her crippled sailboat, drifting in the Indian ocean recently, moving further and further away from our only source of help in trouble. But as God came to Simon and to David, found David even as he was trying to hide from God, so he comes to us today—in a story! Not because we deserve it or even desire it, but because God loves us and desires our salvation.

As with David, so with us, the Lord lays before us our transgressions, not because he wants to damn us but because he wants us to own up to them and then confess them before Him that we might also receive mercy. We pray in David’s own words in Psalm 32, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” That’s what happens because of unresolved and unconfessed sin. “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

God restored the joy of David’s salvation by turning him from serving his own self-interests to a saving trust in the promised Savior. He who is David’s Son became flesh so that He might know what it means to be tempted as David was and as you and I are. He who is David’s Lord became flesh so that He might bear the full weight of our sins and feel the full pain of their consequences. But more than that, God’s only-begotten Son became flesh that He might overcome temptation and pay the penalty of our sins, and the sins of all mankind, on the cross.

Now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are able to come in faith to our heavenly Father, to lay our sins before Him, and to hear the same blessed words of assurance that David heard, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” Thus can we identify with and pick up the story of the sinful woman who, because of the great love and forgiveness of God she recognized through Jesus, was freed to live a life of true love, service, obedience, faithfulness and peace. In the same way, through the holy absolution of our sins, we, like David, also are able to serve the Lord with renewed dedication, using the reclaimed life of God’s faithful servant of old as our example. God grant us such faith and such love.