“Sorrow Over Sin and the Joy of Forgiveness” (Luke 7:36-8:3)
“A woman of the city, who was a sinner” is the way she is described. What had she done? We don’t know for sure. But the whole town must have known. Simon the Pharisee knew. When she came into his house and interrupted the meal with her weeping and anointing Jesus’ feet, Simon said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” After Jesus told Simon the story about a moneylender cancelling the debts of two people – one with a much larger debt than the other – Jesus says of the woman, “her sins, which are many, are forgiven.”
“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” I love that. Because that describes each one of us. Just because your sins aren’t very public doesn’t meant they aren’t numerous. Likewise, there is no sin so great that the shed blood of Jesus cannot cover it.
For this woman, the knowledge of what she had done brought her to tears. When is the last time you wept over your sin? Have you ever shed a tear over the ways you have offended God with your disobedience? Do you get emotional at a Good Friday service? Are you deeply moved whenever you hear about the crucifixion of your Lord Jesus and how much he suffered in your place?
The Psalmist wrote, “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me … I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning” (Ps. 38:4-6) Also, “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” (Psalm 119:28). The apostle James wrote, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10). Our Lutheran confessions speak of the “terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin” (ACXII.4) and that “in these terrors, conscience feels God’s wrath against sin” (Ap XII.32).
So what about you? Do you know what it means to weep and mourn over your iniquities, buried under their heavy burden? Have you felt your soul melting away for sorrow over the way you have not kept God’s Law? Has your conscience been struck with terror over God’s wrath against your sin? Our confessions are also so bold to say that “True, saving faith is not in people who lack contrition and sorrow and who have a wicked plan to remain and continue in sins” (FC SD III.26).
Many people are not truly sad about what they have done. Their sins do not bother them all that much. If they are sad, it’s because they were caught. Think about public apologies you hear these days. “I’m sorry if my comments offended you.” “I’m sorry if my behavior offended you.” Unless it’s followed by, “I was wrong,” then what they’re really saying is “I’m actually okay with what I said or what I did. It’s YOU who has the problem.”
And tears aren’t always a sign of true contrition, either. It’s possible to put on a convincing display of sorrow, yet inwardly feel no remorse. That’s what we call crying “crocodile tears.” An ancient legend said that crocodiles weep while devouring their prey. Now, it’s true that crocodiles do have glands in their eyes which produce tears. As they eat, they appear to cry. But they certainly don’t cry with emotion when they eat. It’s purely a physiological reaction. Whatever emotional experience they have while devouring their dinner, it’s certainly not remorse or sorrow. If anything, it’s probably satisfaction. Tears of joy over a glorious feast, perhaps![i]
Some of you men from previous generations may have been raised with the old adage, “Big boys don’t cry.” Maybe your dear, well-intentioned fathers taught you that. Now, in your adult years, you aren’t as quick to tears. So I’ll acknowledge that just because you don’t cry, it doesn’t mean you’re “not doing it right” … it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not sorry for your sins.
“If this man were a prophet,” Simon wondered. Well, he is. And more than a prophet. He is the Son of God. He knew exactly what type of woman was wetting his feet with her tears. And he sees right into your heart, whether tears are present on your face or not. He knows what is in your heart. He knows your sin. He knows your attitude toward that sin. Your sins are no less condemning than the many ones this woman committed. Your sins are no less condemning than the ones David committed, and those were some very ugly sins … lust, adultery, lying, murder, etc. “Ugly sins.” As if there’s such a thing as “pretty” sins. There’s no such thing … including the pride and unbelief of Simon the Pharisee. Including the pride and unbelief of all modern-day Pharisees who think they are a cut above the rest of humanity. Jesus the divine prophet didn’t need to look very far to see that Simon was not contrite. Simon showed Jesus no honor or homage, unlike the sinful woman weeping at the feet of God. Jesus receives her and does not cast her out. “Your sins are forgiven,” he tells her.
Actually, there was something prophetic about what this woman did for Jesus. Anointing Jesus with this expensive perfume, she prophetically preaches about the death that was looming for the Lord … whether she realized it or not. In those days, this was part of the preparation of a body for burial. Jesus acknowledged this when, at a later time and place, Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus. It was the week before his crucifixion. The disciples complained about the waste of such costly ointment. But Jesus replied, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me … In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matt. 26:10, 12; cf. Jn. 12:1-8).
Jesus’ death was looming. And his death was no ordinary death. His death was a sacrifice. Anointed with perfume … more importantly anointed with the Holy Spirit as the long-awaited Messiah and sinless Savior … his death was a fragrant offering to the Father on our behalf (Eph. 5:2). His death was a saving death because he kept God’s Law perfectly in our place. His death was a forgiving death because he “became a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13), bearing our sins in his own body as he suffered and died on the tree of Calvary (1 Pet. 2:24).
Jesus said that this woman was “forgiven – for she loved much.” This does not mean that her outward show of sorrow and her love for the Savior earned forgiveness. Rather, it was a sign that she already had faith in Jesus as the one who was worthy of her worship, and that faith received what Jesus had to offer. “Your faith has saved you,” Jesus said. It saved her because it was faith in Jesus alone. Not her works. Not her tears. Not her love. But Jesus only.
The woman was forgiven – for she loved much. You are forgiven – for HE loved much. The life you now live in the flesh, you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you (Gal. 2:20). Your sins, which are many, are forgiven. Your debt has been cancelled. More than that, it was paid in full with Christ’s own holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that you may be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. In Holy Baptism he anointed you with the cleansing ointment of the Holy Spirit so you can offer your body as a living sacrifice, a fragrant offering acceptable and pleasing to God (Rom. 12:1; Phil. 4:18). In the Sacrament of the Altar, he sits down at the table with you and serves you with his body and blood. Anointed, cleansed, and nourished, Jesus prepares you for YOUR death with his very own life and salvation.
“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning,” the writer of Psalm 30 says. I’m reminded of the disciples who were sorrowful after the crucifixion of Jesus. Friday night and on into Saturday, their thoughts were of their Lord’s gruesome death and their own cowardice in his hour of pain. But then joy came with the morning. Their sorrow turned to joy, as Jesus had promised them (John 16:20). The Savior was alive and was victorious over sin, death, and the devil.
Whether you are one inclined to outward signs of sorrow over sin, or whether your weeping is done in ways that are not so noticeable, may joy come to you this morning. May joy come to you this morning because Jesus is alive and is present with his forgiving love today. May joy come to you this morning because “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”