Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
— Luke 7:49
The Puritan preacher Thomas Watson once said, “Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” What he meant was, until we see ourselves for who we truly are apart from Christ—considering the depth of our need, the extent of our brokenness, the totality of our depravity and the condemnation we deserve—we will not see Christ for all that he truly is.
In Luke 7:36-50 we see the curious story of the “woman of the city” interrupting Jesus’s meal in a Pharisee’s home to wash his feet with her tears and precious ointment. The Pharisee of course objects. But the woman he there declares a sinner understands the great divorce between herself and Jesus. For this reason she has determined to serve him and bless him. The Pharisees, on the other hand, thought themselves Jesus’s peers at best, so of course they probably thought they were doing him a favor letting him come eat with them.
The dinner host, Simon, grumbles inwardly, not just because he doubts Christ’s holiness in allowing this scandalous scene, but because he considers himself to have higher standards than Jesus has. He knows what this woman is up to. He knows this woman’s sin. If Jesus knew like he knew, he reasons, he wouldn’t allow her to touch him.
But the gospel turns our religious math inside out. There are not “good people” and “bad people” in the mathematics of the gospel. There are bad people and Jesus. So the story Jesus tells about the man with two debtors serves a dual purpose: it reminds us that we all stand indebted to Christ. Religious or irreligious, people far off and people nearby, “prodigal sons” and “older brothers”—we are all debtors to grace. But the parable also shows us that the more mindful of our indebtedness we are, the more of God’s grace we will know. We are in big trouble if we think we only need a little bit of God!
When we are on spiritual autopilot, trusting in our own wisdom and relying on our own strength, it is fundamentally because we don’t think we need God all that much. This is functional self-righteousness. But the more in tune with our inner inability and spiritual poverty we will get, the more of Christ we will experience and the more honor we will give him.