Volume 24, Issue 6 (February 6, 2022)
The Parable of the Two Debtors
By Bill Cavender
One of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 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, 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.
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.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain money lender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:36-50, ESV).
In point of time, this parable is evidently the first one spoken by our Savior. He was in Galilee, in the second year of His public life and preaching. His first year was defined by His two visits to Jerusalem for two Passovers (John 2:13- 5:47), with the months between being spent in preaching and doing mighty works in Galilee. In His second year in Galilee, He reached the height of His popularity, having done many miracles in His first year, and now His fame was spread abroad and multitudes followed Him (Matt. 4:23-25; 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-12; Luke 6:17-19). Early in this second year He chose twelve from His number of disciples, whom He called “apostles” (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-19). He took the Twelve aside upon a mountain northwest of Capernaum and taught them the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-7:27), teaching a synopsis to the multitudes by the sea when He came down from the mount (Matt. 7:28-29; Luke 6:20-49). He healed the centurion’s servant at Capernaum (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). At Nain He raised the widow’s son from death (Luke 7:11-17). He received John’s messengers (as John was now in prison), answered their inquiries, and then explained John to the people and spoke those noble tributes to the Baptizer (Matt. 11:2-30; Luke 7:18-35). This was the last contact between John and Jesus, shortly before John’s death by beheading and Jesus’s death by crucifixion about a year and a half later.
After this visit with John’s disciples, Jesus was invited to a meal in the house of a Pharisee, evidently in Capernaum, where He taught the Parable of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:36-50). After this, He went about Galilee on His second preaching tour (Luke 8:1-3); He encountered scribes and Pharisees who accused Him of being in league with Beelzebub (or Satan) and committed an “eternal sin” when they did so (Matt. 12:22-45; Mark 3:19-30); He taught the people who the “true kindred” of the Christ are, in contrast to blood kin, our family (Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21). It was after these events that our Lord taught the parables by the Sea of Galilee, beginning with the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-53; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-18).
One cannot but wonder regarding the motives and purposes of Simon in inviting Jesus to his house for a meal. This is one of those “secret things” which belong to the Lord our God (Deut. 29:29). Open hostility to Jesus in Galilee, removed from the seat of Jewry (Judea and Jerusalem, John 7:1), was not yet as apparent as it later would be (Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13). The Prophet of Galilee, now famous throughout the land, excited attention and a following of disciples, and would be of interest to a Pharisee. Simon’s motives may have been sincere and not ulterior, having a true desire to know Jesus better and to determine for himself whether or not Jesus really was a prophet. Luke names the Pharisees twenty-eight times in his account of the life of Jesus and in every case, except Simon’s, they are indicted for their hostility to Jesus.
He invited Jesus to his house but with a chilly, coldly courteous reception. Other guests were there. They would be judging Simon as well as Jesus, and, for sure, Simon’s conduct that day would be made known to the leaders of the sect in Jerusalem. Simon must be careful. On the one hand he acknowledged the importance of Jesus and His claims, and on the other he must keep his distance and not appear to be a disciple and ally of the Prophet. Jesus did not, therefore, receive the warm, normal, gracious courtesies which would be extended to an important guest. So, why did Jesus accept the invitation, knowing in advance how He would be received? Because Simon was a sinner! He needed help, teaching, and salvation, just as much and more so, as did the assembled guests and the “sinful woman” who disrupted his meal and perplexed his guests. Any life which is disfigured by censoriousness, harshness, a party spirit, and pride, needs instruction, grace, mercy, and salvation. But the sad fact is that folks of this kind and class know not that they need the “Great Physician.” They think they are “whole” and set others at naught (Matt. 9:10-13; Luke 18:9-14). Simon loved little, had little faith, thought himself to be a little sinner, but an important religious leader. He needed help from Jesus more than did the “sinful woman” who came to his house, unwanted and uninvited!
This unnamed, sinful woman entered the house and, without any vacillation, came to Jesus. Generally, commentators want to associate her with harlotry. Adam Clarke argues that she was simply a heathen, Gentile woman of Galilee (Gal. 2:15-16; see his comments on Luke 7:37). Jesus, shortly before this visit to Simon’s house, invited penitent sinners, those who are laboring under the yoke and heavy burdens of sin, who are conscious of their sins, and who learn of Jesus who can help and save them, and give them rest and peace, this Jesus invited such ones to come to Him (Matt. 11:28-30). This “sinful woman” could very well have heard this message of relief, salvation, and comfort. It is obvious she knew who Jesus was, His claims and His power. She had heard Him. She “learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house.” With her faith and her ointment, she made preparations to find Him and to show her love for Him. She, who was judged by most to be of the lowest rungs of society, climbed the ladder to heaven that day with Jesus holding her hand and pronouncing her to be well-pleasing to God. Greater contrasts can scarcely be imagined than those seen in the meeting of the Pharisee and the “sinful woman”—and all of this because Jesus was there!
She entered the dining area of Simon’s house, brokenhearted, weeping profusely, wetting the exposed feet of Jesus with her tears, loosening the tresses of her hair and wiping His feet dry, and, bending over, began kissing His feet (Greek: “kissed repeatedly”). Then she broke the seal of the alabaster cruse and anointed His feet with the perfumed ointment. All he saw was a “sinful woman” with her hands on Jesus, pouring out, not only ointment, but tender, heart-felt expressions of love and devotion. This wasn’t appropriate! “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!” So, Simon thinks Jesus is an imposter, He is not a prophet, He is traveling under false colors! A real, God-endowed prophet would have known better than to allow such a woman to be near Him, let alone touch Him! Jesus, knowing Simon’s heart and thoughts, told Simon, “I have somewhat to say to thee,” and Simon replied, “Speak” or “Say on.”
Jesus spoke the parable of the two debtors to Simon. The five hundred denarii debtor is the woman; the fifty denarii debtor is Simon; the creditor is God. One owed ten times more than the other. Both were insolvent; neither could pay. The Creditor “frankly” (“freely,” “forgave of his generous bounty”) forgave both of them. Now, which one will love the Creditor, their Benefactor, the more? Simon answered correctly: “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
Now the beauty of the parable and the great lesson of this encounter between Jesus and Simon is taught to us. Simon may have seen this woman somewhere before she entered his house. To his dismay, he now had seen her in his house. But he was blind. He had never seen faith, love, mercy, penitence, sorrow for sin, and redemption—those inner, spiritual traits and qualities which one must have and cultivate if he is to see God. Jesus put Simon and the woman side by side. She did the very hospitable, lovely deeds from a sincere and contrite heart that Simon did not do or have. “Simon, I do see and know this woman, but do you see her? Side by side you stand with her, both debtors, and, by comparison, you are as coarse as burlap and she is as refined and pure as finely spun silk” (borrowing words from a sermon preached years ago). In truth, Simon was the five hundred denarii debtor and the woman was the fifty!
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” “Your sins are forgiven.” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” May goodness and mercy continue to follow thee (Ps. 23:6)! The Pharisee murmured and the penitent rejoiced. Jesus had won the woman and saved her soul. Jesus tried with Simon but there is no indication He succeeded with him. Her faith had saved her, and her expressions of love and devotion to Jesus were the growth and fruits of faith. “Justified ones live by faith,” so said the prophet and the apostle (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17, etc.). Hearts and lives filled with the love of God in Christ Jesus will ever be fruitful and will never be neglectful, even to such sweet deeds of hospitality and kindness as washing the feet with tears, wiping them with the hair, bestowing kisses of genuine and godly affection, and anointing others with the holy oil of friendship and fellowship in the house of God with Jesus (Ps. 23:5-6).
Truth Magazine 50.7 (Feb. 2, 2006): 7-9