How Much Do I Love?

April 28, 2017

The setting was well-to-do. Simon, the Pharisee, had invited Jesus to dine with him (Luke 7:36-50). This is a banquet setting with the meal served on a low table with mats or couches surrounding it. The guests reclined at table with their legs extended behind them.

Into such a formal occasion comes a woman who cries at the end of Jesus’ couch. Would you notice a woman crying in a banquet hall? Surely all eyes were upon her. This is no silent weeping. As Frederick Danker notes about the word used, “‘express grief or sorrow aloud’ (not a silent dropping of tears or weeping…).* She “rains down” tears upon Jesus’ feet. Not just moist eyes, but the kind of crying we usually describe as uncontrolled. And she dries Jesus’ feet with her hair, and she anoints Jesus’ feet with a fragrant ointment. Not only can you not notice the crying, but the aroma of ointment sweeps through the room.

Simon thinks to himself, “If he really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him.” With condescension Simon manages to hit two people with one mental stone.

Jesus tells Simon a story that lays bare Simon’s own heart. A money lender has two debtors. One owes 500 day’s wages and another 50, but the money lender forgives both debts because neither had the ability to repay what was owed. So Jesus has a question for Simon, “Which of them will love him more.” We can hear the reluctance in Simon’s “I suppose,” but his answer was correct: “the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”

If people felt uncomfortable by such unusual proceedings, the discomfort level is raised by Jesus’ pointed comparison. Simon didn’t give Jesus water with which to wash his feet, a customary kiss of greeting, or oil for his head. This would have been typical hospitality in the ancient world. The woman had washed Jesus’ feet with tears, kissed them, and anointed them with fragrant oil.

As I mentally enter this scene, two thoughts strike me. First, Jesus came to save sinners not just the Simon type of sinners, people who have it together morally and have a good reputation. But he came to save those like the sinful woman whose reputation for being quite undone preceded her. I need to remember that encountering Jesus can transform lives.

Second, Simon doesn’t understand the depth of his own need for grace. How can any of us love little when we grasp the ugliness of sin. All sins, even the ones done by “respectable people,” nailed Jesus to the cross! If I begin to grasp the depth of God’s love, my response in return should be gratitude and love, and that love should motivate me to follow Jesus wherever he leads me. The challenge of the story is: how much do I love?

*S.v. κλαίω, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testatment, p. 201.

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Calendars and Hearts

November 17, 2016

Governor William Bradford declared the first Thanksgiving Day on December 13, 1621. The Plymouth Colony’s first severe winter had killed nearly half the settlers. The summer of 1621 coupled with the harvest had given them renewed hope, so they observed a day of feasting and prayer.

On November 26, 1789, President George Washington also issued a general proclamation for a day of thanks, but for many years after there was no regular national Thanksgiving Day. Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, promoted the idea for 30 years. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday of November “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”

Presidents since Lincoln have issued official proclamations of Thanksgiving on behalf of the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November. Congress approved this in 1941.

A nation’s strength depends on the moral and spiritual fiber of its people. As Psalm 127:1 says:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. ESV

Security and blessings come from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

That is why ingratitude is such a serious matter. It cuts us off from the Gift Giver. Paul’s description of society’s downward spiral begins with “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21, ESV).

Our country has a long history of setting aside this day of Thanksgiving. It is a rich tradition, but traditions have the danger of losing their meaning. May Thanksgiving not only be something on our calendars but also within our hearts.


Good Gifts

December 17, 2010

Giving gifts doesn’t necessarily come naturally. We give because we have first received. Gift giving means that we have learned to overcome selfish desires and greed. Gift giving means that we have learned to love, honor, and appreciate others. Good gift giving comes from being considerate of other people’s needs, wants, and desires. In gift giving we learn the joy of service — it is more blessed to give than to receive. I suspect that just as we love because God first love us, we give because God has richly given to us.

James describes God as the perfect giver of gifts.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. ” (James 1:17, ESV)

What good gifts have you received?

God is our creator, and he has created a world that is very good, even though it has been cursed because of sin. It is a world that is full of beauty and wonder. It is a world that teems with life. I have enjoyed sunrises and sunsets that were magnificently beautiful. I have felt the awe of storms. I have felt the peace of blue skies and sunshine under the green canopy of trees. I have tasted the bounty of the earth, and I have gazed into the night sky with wonder. I have received good gifts.

God has revealed himself in the Bible. I have received the gift of wisdom that begins with reverence for God and humbly listens to his word. In the Bible I find a message that fills a void in my life. It is as if it is a missing puzzle piece that fills that hole and makes the puzzle complete. Now the world, and life, and values, and meaning make sense. I have received a good gift.

God has given his Son. The Word who knew the glories of heaven became flesh and dwelt among. He became human to save us from our sin. He learned suffering. He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. He died in our place, so that we might have forgiveness of sin and eternal life. I have received a good gift — a priceless and precious gift.

Love and gratitude should be the responses to good gifts. May we experience joy because with grateful hearts we recognize the gifts we have received. May we also learn to be like our heavenly Father and grow as givers of good gifts.