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Two staggering thoughts come together in Luke 7:36–50:
(1) The first I have mentioned before in these two volumes, but it is worth mentioning again. Who has the right to forgive sins? If someone robbed you of your life’s savings or murdered your spouse, I would not have the right to forgive the perpetrator. On the human plane, the only one who can forgive is the injured party. From God’s perspective, of course, regardless of how many human beings are injured, the primary offense is against God himself (cf. Ps. 51:4). Thus God can forgive any sin, because he is always the injured party. On the human plane, the sinful woman in this narrative had not injured Jesus in any way. At that level, he did not have the right to forgive her. But the narrative turns on Jesus’ forgiveness of this woman (Luke 7:48)—and the other guests, a bit confused by this development, raise the question, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49). Who, indeed?
(2) The axiom Jesus develops in his interchange with Simon is puzzling. At one level the axiom is clear enough: the person who has been forgiven many things is likely to be more thankful to the benefactor than the person who has been forgiven little. As Jesus says, “[H]e who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). The axiom makes sense of the conduct of both the woman and the Pharisee: she is overcome with tears of sheer gratitude, while he is stuffy and supercilious.
But if this axiom is pressed too hard, would it not mean that those who have lived a relatively “good” life inevitably love God less than those who have been converted out of a life of abysmal degradation? One might then argue that there are some benefits to being degraded before conversion: one appreciates grace in proportion to the degree of depravity grace must overcome.
That misses the point. At the social level, of course, the woman’s sins are much worse than the Pharisee’s. But the gradations of sin that one makes at the social level are nothing compared with the awfulness of the rebellion in which each of us has indulged. Simon the Pharisee has not even got to the place where he perceives that he needs to be forgiven. Suppose instead that two people have both been converted, one from a socially despicable background and one from a disciplined and “righteous” background: what then? Both ought to pray that they may see the ugliness of their own sins, whether sins socially disapproved or those ugly sins (often condemned by Jesus) of arrogance and self-righteousness. For unless we are given grace to see the horror of our sin, it is quite certain that we shall never grasp the glory of grace, and we will love Jesus too little.
It is one thing to wait for the Lord’s coming; it is another to wait well.
One may honestly and self-consciously wait for the Lord’s coming, not only acknowledging that the Second Advent is a necessary part of our creed but even after a fashion looking forward to the Parousia, and hoping it will occur in our lifetime—only to find, on reflection, that the way we live has been affected very little by this perspective. In fact, this waiting for the return of the Lord may be nothing more than a hobbyhorse in our reading or teaching, a well-handled map of the future that divides us from other believers, rather than a fixed point in our worldview that decisively shapes how we conduct ourselves.
Of course, there is an element in waiting for the Lord’s return that is just that—waiting. Just as “the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop” (James 5:7), so we too must “be patient and stand firm” (James 5:8).
But like all analogies, this one isn’t perfect (it isn’t meant to be), and James himself quickly leaves it behind. After all, the farmer is patient because he knows more or less when the harvest will take place; we do not know when Jesus’ return will take place.
There are other differences. The farmer is waiting for crops; we are waiting for the Judge who “is standing at the door” (James 5:9). That means that what we are waiting for has an immediate bearing on how we live: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged” (James 5:9) by that very Judge himself.
Moreover, although farmers may have to work hard as they wait for the harvest, in the normal course of events their waiting is not characterized by suffering and persecution. Christians waiting for the End encounter both of those things, James insists—and with that in mind, our waiting might more properly be likened to the perseverance of the prophets (James 5:10) than to the placidity of the farmer. They “spoke in the name of the Lord,” and more often than not were reviled for it. That suffering did not tame their faithful proclamation. But we need not restrict the models we look for to the prophets. Consider Job, a righteous man, who faced catastrophic reversals yet nevertheless persevered—and you “have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). That perspective is important: in the end, not only God’s justice but his compassion and mercy prevail. The focus on Jesus’ return and on the End not only shapes our current living, but will bring with it perfect vindication in the unqualified goodness of the consummation.
18:1 After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and he took Gath and its villages out of the hand of the Philistines.
2 And he defeated Moab, and the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.
3 David also defeated Hadadezer king of Zobah-Hamath, as he went to set up his monument1 at the river Euphrates. 4 And David took from him 1,000 chariots, 7,000 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses, but left enough for 100 chariots. 5 And when the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down 22,000 men of the Syrians. 6 Then David put garrisons2 in Syria of Damascus, and the Syrians became servants to David and brought tribute. And the LORD gave victory to David3 wherever he went. 7 And David took the shields of gold that were carried by the servants of Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem. 8 And from Tibhath and from Cun, cities of Hadadezer, David took a large amount of bronze. With it Solomon made the bronze sea and the pillars and the vessels of bronze.
9 When Tou king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the whole army of Hadadezer, king of Zobah, 10 he sent his son Hadoram to King David, to ask about his health and to bless him because he had fought against Hadadezer and defeated him; for Hadadezer had often been at war with Tou. And he sent all sorts of articles of gold, of silver, and of bronze. 11 These also King David dedicated to the LORD, together with the silver and gold that he had carried off from all the nations, from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, and Amalek.
12 And Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, killed 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. 13 Then he put garrisons in Edom, and all the Edomites became David's servants. And the LORD gave victory to David wherever he went.
14 So David reigned over all Israel, and he administered justice and equity to all his people. 15 And Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder; 16 and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar were priests; and Shavsha was secretary; 17 and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and David's sons were the chief officials in the service of the king.
5:1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers,1 until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.2 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying,
“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
7:1 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant1 who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion2 heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
11 Soon afterward3 he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus4 gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers5 are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
24 When John's messengers had gone, Jesus6 began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just,7 having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among8 themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”