by Martin G. Collins
The setting of the Parable of the Two Debtors is the house of Simon, a Pharisee, who had invited Jesus to eat with him. To show respect for Jesus, a woman stops in uninvited, but Simon calls her a sinner, one notoriously wicked, a prostitute (Luke 7:36-39). These three real people are reflected in the three fictitious characters of Jesus' parable (verses 41-42): a creditor, a debtor who owes 500 denarii, and another who owes 50.
The forgiving creditor represents Jesus Christ. The professedly righteous man owing 50 denarii represents Simon. The person in debt for 500 denarii represents the woman sinner. This Bible Study will analyze the attitudes of the two debtors and the three questions around which the parable revolves: "Which of them will love Him the more?" "Do you see this woman?" "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
Comment: Simon's pharisaic sensibilities were shocked by the sinner's action—and even more by Christ's attitude toward her. He was complacent and self-absorbed, and his self-righteousness manifested itself in pleasure with his own "goodness" and "importance." Although he invited Jesus to eat at his house, it was not to learn from Jesus or to honor Him, as his lack of effort to supply the traditional courtesy of water to wash His feet shows. Jesus could have regarded this serious breach of etiquette as a direct insult.
Simon also shows Jesus no warmth or concern when He arrives at his house; in that day's culture, a polite kiss was appropriate in greeting. Neither does he pour oil on Jesus' head, another widespread custom among the Jews. The oil was a sweet or olive oil prepared to give off a pleasant smell, as well as to render the hair more smooth and elegant. His negligence of concern toward Jesus exposed Simon's true spiritual bankruptcy.
Comment: The woman's entrance is not as rude as it may seem to us, as it was customary for an uninvited guest to join a gathering in a house as an observer. Her silence reveals her appropriate behavior; she came to learn from Jesus and receive forgiveness rather than to talk or eat. Knowing she was a sinner, she wept in repentance, washed Jesus' feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. "Began to wash" in Luke 7:38 means "to water with a shower," and "kissed" implies kissing repeatedly. The "fragrant oil" of verse 46 was a mixture of various aromatic substances, far more costly and precious than the "oil" commonly used for anointing the head.
Her conduct, compared with Simon's, is dramatically different. While he shows comparatively "little" love, she shows "much." She expresses abundant appreciation for the forgiveness Jesus offers and openly displays her love for Him. What a contrast to Simon's disregard of extending the common courtesies to Jesus!
Comment: Simon admits that the one forgiven more would feel the most obligated and should love more. Jesus succeeds in causing Simon, by his own admission, to pronounce judgment on himself for misconstruing the woman's act, doubting Christ Himself, and dishonoring his guest.
All three people knew the woman had many sins, but Jesus' declaration that her sins were forgiven—in contrast to Simon's condemnation—conveys great love. She, in turn, responds by expressing lavish love upon Him. Christ was willing to forgive Simon as He did the repentant woman. However, while both debtors in the parable are forgiven, Luke gives no indication that Simon repented.
Comment: Christ wants Simon to realize that her loving and faithful attitude is what is required for forgiveness. His emphasis is on the words "you" and "this." Jesus could discern Simon's attitude. Simon saw nothing but the woman's past reputation as a reckless, rejected, sleazy woman. Then Jesus delicately and graciously exposes Simon's callousness, hatred, and poor judgment. He also points out to him the depth of her repentance and faith. Her past may have been full of sin, but because of her genuinely repentant attitude, display of love, and obvious faith in Him, Jesus discerns a desire in her to change from her old ways and begin living God's way of life.
Comment: Simon's guests are surprised to hear Jesus taking on the divine prerogative to forgive sin. He says that it is her faith that brought forgiveness—not her tears, kisses, or ointment. His last comment to her is "Go in peace" or "Go into peace." She receives Christ's command to enjoy that peace and live in the full realization of the peace that passes all understanding.
We are all debtors in the sight of our just Creditor. All have sinned, so none of us has a way to discharge our debt on our own. Christ can forgive all who truly repent of their sins and turn to Him in faith. Through His willingness to take our debt and blot it out with His own blood, we receive the remission of our sins. Once freed from sin's oppressive debt, we must show our gratitude to Him by living in holiness and loving service to others, glorifying Him in a life of righteousness.