Two Debtors in Order

Francken Feast House of Simon Pharisee

At Holy Mass this Sunday, we read the account of the Lord Jesus’ visit to the home of Simon the Pharisee.  Within that account, we hear a parable, the Parable of the Two Debtors.  Let’s study the parable a little bit first.  [Para leer en español, click  AQUI.]

One debtor owed 250 days’ wages, the other 50.  Their creditor forgave both debts.  Result:  The one who owed more loved the merciful creditor more.  You forgave me 250 days’ wages!  Thank you!  vs. You forgave me fifty days’ wages.  Thank you.

The parable helps us understand what happened in the house.  When the sinful woman entered, Simon compared himself with her like this:  righteous vs. unrighteous.  I’m righteous; she’s not.  But the Son of God compares the two quite differently.  All of fallen mankind is running some debt with the Lord.  Maybe the woman’s debt exceeded the Pharisee’s by a factor of five.  But any debt at all will land you in the bad place.

In other words:  Nothing could be more pointless than me thinking of myself as more righteous than so-and-so.  Maybe I am more righteous than so-and-so.  But that doesn’t mean that I am righteous enough.  What I have in common with so-and-so outweighs any difference between us.  We both sinners.

Logo for Holy Year of MercySo now we have the meaning of the parable.  But let’s consider this:  The parable has a clear sequence.  First, debt.  Next, forgiveness of the debt.  Then, as a result of the forgiveness, love.  Debt.  Forgiveness.  Grateful love.  A clear sequence.  But, in the Lord’s interaction with the sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house, the sequence is different.  It’s debt, love, then forgiveness.

She walked into the house a notorious sinner.  Maybe a repentant sinner, but apparently an as-yet-unforgiven sinner.  She sought Christ with love.  Why?  Not because He had forgiven her already.  He hadn’t forgiven her yet.

Maybe she just wanted to lavish herself upon the beautiful, righteous One.  Christ’s magnificence as a person—His kindness, patience, gentleness, tender chastity—He makes sin look like what it is:  sad.  So maybe the woman lavished Him with love simply for walking into the world and giving her hope for a better life.

She definitely loved Him.  Lord Jesus Himself said it, as he spoke to Simon:  “You never gave me water for my feet.  But she bathed them with her tears.  You never gave me a welcoming kiss, like even we men give each other in this Middle-Eastern culture.  But she has not ceased kissing my feet, and she has anointed them, cracked and calloused as they are, with sweet, soothing ointment.”

The sinful woman loved Christ, and wept because He is so beautiful, and her life had been so ugly.  She loved Him.  So He forgave all her sins.

See what I am saying about the sequence?  The difference between the sequence of the parable, and the sequence of the events in Simon’s house—the difference is notable.  We picture the forgiven debtors in the parable jumping up with love, after their creditor tore up their IOU’s.  But the woman loved Christ first.  Then He forgave her sins.

Did Lord Jesus get confused?  Did He lose focus, and tell a parable that wasn’t exactly on-point?  Don’t think so.  To the contrary:  I think He is trying to help us get focused and on-point.

divine-mercyOur Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us a jubilee year of mercy.  He has opened all the Church’s doors of mercy, so that we can gaze inside, so to speak, and contemplate the great divine mystery.  When we contemplate the triune God, love moves us, and penance, and self-esteem.

Jesus has revealed the face of the Father.  God loves.  God loves me.  God is on my side.  God has a plan to get me to heaven.  He has a plan for me to become my true self.  The power that governs all things:  He’s a loving, kind, patient father, who only wants His children to be happy.

This is reality.  Love rules reality.  Reality, as we know it—the whole universe—exists because of the divine love.  The very fact that we exist at all is because of Divine Mercy.  And one Person—Jesus Christ—stands at the center of everything.

When we behold this truth, we see our sins for what they are:  pointless self-destruction.  We see our egotism for what it is:  preposterous self-delusion.  We see our self-centered anxiety for what it is:  pride.  When we behold the bottomless graciousness of God, we repent of all our shallow, chicken-scratch smallness.  And we just love Him, because He is so awesome.  We go to confession, and it’s like our sins never happened.  And of course that makes us love Him even more.

The Lord’s gaze upon us has no “sequence”:  it’s just merciful love.  He gazes at us with merciful love, always.

This divine gaze offers us renewal, a change, and a fresh start, at the very same time that it offers acceptance and esteem.  When we look back at Him with love, we feel repentance; we feel contrition; and we feel supreme confidence, all at once.

Parable of the Two Debtors

Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more? (Luke 7:41-42)

Leave it to the one and only divine Messiah to fill a brief episode during a dinner party with so much meaning.

We gather that, upon arriving at the Pharisee’s house, the Lord received only the bare minimum of polite welcome.

Herein we discover Lesson #1: The lowest pit of hell holds all the people who have received the divine Messiah with curt politeness. Better to spit on His feet than to treat Him merely as a marginally respectable intrusion into my precious life. The better course of action is, of course, to bathe His feet with kisses and tears of repentance for all my sins.

Returning to the episode: The Lord proceeded to say to the nervous Pharisee, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” To which the Pharisee responded, “Tell me, teacher.”

Lesson #2: There is hope for this Pharisee yet. He listened.

I may be nervous. I may be judgmental. I may be a gossiping snob who hides behind icy good manners. But if I am prepared to listen to the words of Jesus Christ, then there is still hope for me.

Then the Lord proceeded to tell a very short parable, which only makes sense one way. It only makes sense if: 1. We are all sinners, and I am the worst. 2. Jesus is God, Who is prepared to forgive any sin. 3. The best way to respond to all this is to bathe the feet of Christ with my kisses and tears of joy in His goodness.

Simon managed to deduce the meaning of the Lord’s parable. Quite frankly, the meaning of the parable is perfectly obvious. Another lesson: Confessing our sins and receiving God’s pardon does not require rocket science. Few things can be accomplished more easily. All it takes is a priest, an act of contrition, and a firm purpose of amendment.

The Lord Jesus concluded the episode by telling the woman with the sweet-smelling oil that her faith had saved her. Have peace, your faith has saved you.

What did the woman believe, exactly? She believed that the loving Heart of Jesus is the loving Heart of Almighty God, the loving Heart of the One just Judge, Who can and does forgive sins.