Read Luke 7
Suppose you had a co-worker who came down with a mild sniffle, and a mutual friend came along and gave this co-worker a recipe for a home remedy that cured the sniffle in two days. Then suppose you met a different co-worker who had just found out they had terminal cancer, and this same friend of yours gave this person a special elixir that cured the cancer instantly. Which co-worker do you suppose would be more grateful? I personally would assume that the one who was cured of cancer would be the more grateful one because it essentially saved his life, whereas the other co-worker’s sniffle may have cleared up in two days without the home remedy.
In today’s reading Jesus tells a Pharisee named Simon a parable with a similar message, and follows it up with a question.
A certain moneylender 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? (v. 41-42)
Simon correctly answers that the one who owed a greater debt would likely feel more gratitude. What we are left wondering is whether Simon ever gets that the parable was directed at him. The point of the parable was not so much that this wayward woman whom Jesus forgave was fortunate to have been forgiven. Rather the point of the parable was that Simon should have been equally grateful but he did not demonstrate as much gratitude because he felt that because he was a Pharisee who kept the law, he did not need the forgiveness Jesus offered the woman, and in this assumption is were Simon was mistaken.
We often make the same kind of judgment in regard to people as we categorize them according to what we see on the outside. We see a dirty, unkempt, homeless person and we assume that they do not deserve the same respect that we deserve because we are actively contributing members of society. We don’t care to admit it, but if we are honest we have to admit we believe we have more than they do because we deserve more than they do. This parable makes me suspect that God might not see it that way. God doesn’t look at how much we have “done for Him”, He looks at how much we truly love Him. We don’t have a way of measuring that, but He apparently does.
There is a very subtle, but critical shift in thinking that occurs when we understand this whole gratitude thing. It is the foundational step that moves us from a “works” theology, to a “grace” theology.
A works theology is founded upon fear. Fear that if I do not perform up to the standard that God requires of me, I will not make the cut and He will reject me, so because I fear rejection I work hard to perform the best I can for God.
A grace theology is founded upon love. I choose to perform the best I can for God not because I fear rejection, but because I am grateful to know that I have been accepted, based not on my performance, but on Christ’s performance on my behalf.
It is not a huge difference, but it is the difference between thinking or hoping that I have eternal life, and knowing that I have eternal life.