Author: Ron Graham
This lesson groups together three parables directed at hypocrisy and corruption among the Pharisees.
Note —PHARISEE: A member of one of the opinionated and self-glorifying sects among the religious leaders and lawyers in Jerusalem. Pharisees accepted miracles, resurrection, angels, spirits, etc whereas their rivals the Saducees did not.
The Pharisees looked down upon "sinners" and promoted themselves as righteous, yet their religion was all about outward show. The three parables that we now study point to these hearts awry.
The three parables in this lesson teach us about the last of the the seven themes of the parables. God looks on the heart. He respects a heart full of love for him. He respects qualities such as mercy, humility, and goodness —qualities that were lacking in the hearts of most of the religious leaders of Jerusalem.
Of course the lack of such qualities reflects a lack of understanding of the grace and mercy of God, the very first theme of the parables.
¶“36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, found out that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and 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. She kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
¶39Well, when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman is touching him, for she is a sinner.' 40And Jesus answering said to him, 'Simon, I wish to say something to you.' And he answered, 'Say it, Teacher.'
¶41Jesus said, 'There was a moneylender who had two debtors. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now Simon, which of them will love him more?' 43Simon answered, 'I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.' Jesus said to him, 'You have judged rightly.'
¶44Then turning toward the woman Jesus said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I entered your house and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47So I tell you Simon, her sins, though many, are forgiven —for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.'
¶48And Jesus said to the woman, 'Your sins are forgiven.' 49Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, 'Who is this, who even forgives sins?' 50And Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'” (Luke 7:36-50).
Luke 7:36-40 shows the background to this parable. Simon the Pharisee has a problem with the way a woman "sinner" is treating Jesus and his acceptance of her. She was kissing his feet, wiping them with her hair and her tears, and she was anointing them with perfume. Simon could not see the lovliness of this act. He could see only the sins she had committed, and he could only despise her.
Luke 7:41-42 records the simple and short parable which Jesus told to Simon. Two men owed money to a moneylender. One owed fifty denarii (fifty day's wages), and the other owed ten times as much. Both were forgiven their debts by a compassionate moneylender. The moneylender in this parable represents God, and the two debtors represent sinners.
Luke 7:43-44 shows the meaning of the parable. Simon was asked to choose which of the debtors he thought would love the moneylender more. Not a difficult question. "I suppose," Simon said, "it would be the one whom he forgave more".
Dead right Simon, and obviously Jesus is suggesting that this "sinner" woman will love God more than you because she has more sins to forgive than you do. Of course, Jesus is describing you through your own eyes, Simon. You think that you have little sin. If you would see yourself as God sees you, then you would know that you also have much to be forgiven of, and when you found forgiveness, you would love God much more than you do now. You would be like this woman.
Luke 7:45-50 records what Jesus went on to say to Simon and the woman. Jesus was hard on Simon, but perfectly fair. Simon had shown no love for Jesus, and even fell short of courtesy. The woman, the sinner, had shown great love and faith, and the Lord commended her and showed her mercy.
¶“9Jesus also told a parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.
¶10"Two men went up into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood praying to himself, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I get.'
¶13But the tax collector, standing well back, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." ” (Luke 18:9-14).
Luke 18:9 gives the intent of this parable. It was aimed at "certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous". God has respect for the contrite and penitent heart, like the heart of David which is expressed in Psalm 51.
Luke 18:10 shows two men doing the right thing. One a Pharisee, the other a tax collector, went up to the temple to pray. That is a good thing.
Luke 18:11-12 relates the Pharisee's prayer. Oddly, Jesus says, "He prayed to himself thus...". He was supposed to be praying to God, but God was not listening, so the Pharisee was really praying to himself. And what a self-congratulatory and self-praising prayer it is. The Pharisee starts by giving God thanks that he, the Pharisee, is not like other people. He is righteous whilst they are sinners. The rest of the prayer is a brag session —a recital of the righteous deeds he does regularly. No mention of any sins, except the sins of other people. This man was exalting himself before God.
Luke 18:13 relates the Tax gatherer's prayer. Not a mention of any righteousness in himself, just a simple humble plea, "God be merciful to me a sinner!". This man was humbling himself before God.
Luke 18:14 gives the outcome of the prayer of each man. The Tax gatherer was the one justified. His were the sins were forgiven. The Pharisee received nothing from God because he did not humble himself contrite before God but exalted himself.
¶“27Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all is filthy. 28Likewise you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." ” (Matthew 23:27-28).
This parable, or parable-like statement, likens the heart of a hypocrite to that of a whited sepulchre. The tomb on the outside is all freshly painted pure white. Lovely. But what's inside? Ugly bones and death's decay. The body of a dead person was unclean to the Pharisees, making the metaphor even more poignant for them.
The Bible says, "God sees not as man sees, for man looks at appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1Samuel 16:7). Man sees the whitewash, God sees the ugly and unclean interior.
Incidentally the manner of speech that Jesus used in these "Woe to you..." statements in Matthew 23 would not be tolerated today. Jesus would be branded as unloving calling people hypocrites and whited graves full of robbery and self indulgence. However Jesus was only telling the truth in plain words. It is never unloving to do that. Just as the blacksmith straightens a bar of iron with fire, a strong arm, and a heavy hammer, so the heart awry may need strong and fiery words to make it straight.