What’s the Big Deal about Forgiveness?
When was the last time you had an ugly cry? You ladies, especially, know what I’m talking about – that gut-wrenching cry from deep with in, no-holds-barred, totally abandoned, loss of control bereavement that isn’t very pretty and frankly, you just don’t care. I’ve had them more than I care to elaborate on in this blog. While the pain involved within that deep of emotion is momentarily crippling, depending on the circumstances, it can also bring healing and cleansing to an ugly-stained past.
Our Pastor, Joe Cross, does a lot of counseling. His gifts and skills in this area of ministry are off the chart. As a result of his ability to get to the root of people’s deep-seeded pain, he sees this kind of emotional outpouring a lot. He also sees and hears a lot of hurting souls who are crippled by pasts that need the peace and redemption that sometimes only forgiveness can bring; forgiving others, needing others forgiveness and sometimes just the need to forgive yourself.
This Sunday, Joe shared one such story, told in Luke’s gospel, about a desperate and emboldened woman, who needed this kind of forgiveness, found her way into a dinner that Jesus had been invited to and began to wash and anoint his feet. We read that she was a “sinner.” What kind of sin or sins? We don’t know. We don’t know many details other than those in the room, occupied by Jesus, his disciples and some of the religious leaders, seem to readily know that she wielded a notorious past. In fact, as she was literally touching Jesus’ feet, we read that Simon, the dinner’s host, thought to himself, “If Jesus were truly a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this was that was touching him” and would immediately stop her. Why? Because Simon belonged to a powerful religious sect called the Pharisees. The Pharisees sought to fastidiously live by the evolved traditions of Moses, and to be touched by someone considered morally or ritually “not holy,” also made the one being touched “not holy” or “unclean.”
And not only was she touching him, we read that she was so moved by the emotion of the moment, that her tears were drenching and, in essence, washing Jesus’ feet. In fact, her tears were so great, she attempted to dry his feet with the only thing she had available to dry them with—her hair. In other words, this cry is no simple whimper, but a flood of broken, abandoned emotion. She is oblivious to those in the room observing her. Her singular focus is upon the one whose feet now absorb her tears.
Sensing the room’s judgmental smugness at the woman’s actions, Jesus seizes a teachable moment. First, he tells a story about two men that were forgiven vastly differing amounts of debt by a gracious lender. He then follows his story up by asking his host a question: Who loved the gracious lender more? To which Simon replies, I suppose the one who was forgiven the greater debt, and to which Jesus answered back, You are correct! And then, very subtly and yet powerfully, Jesus turns the judgmental tables upon his hosts and his guests.
He says, Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair; you didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet; you did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet. I tell you: all her many sins have been forgiven. And that is why she has loved much! Jesus then goes on to put lock and key not only on her new-found forgiveness, but for everyone who will choose to follow after this woman’s courageously bold and emotional example, when he says, It was your faith or trust (in me that I could forgive your sins) that delivered you (from all your guilt and shame or uncleanness); go in peace (forever calmed; forever forgiven…released from all your sins in what will become my atoning death and sacrifice for sin, once and for all)!
With these indelible words Jesus leaves no doubt that while this woman had been a sinner of many sins, in her less-than-etiquette explosion of love and devotion, she had discovered, in the person of Israel’s long-awaited Messiah and Savior, Jesus, what no human beings, including what the misguided and misinformed Pharisees could not ritualistically concoct on their own, by attempting to never allow themselves to be touched by someone they considered as unclean, including this sinful woman–the unsearchable depths of heaven’s long-awaited offer of an unconditional love, mercy, pardon and forgiveness like the world has never known.
In the end, it is not those who should have been experts in the Law’s attempt to point the way to Spiritual cleanliness, but rather a desperate, tearful and lowly sinner that is so taken in by her love and recognition that the feet she is clinging to belong to the one true Savior who can truly redeem her and cleanse her from all her filth and uncleanness that Jesus ultimately pronounces as…redeemed, clean and released from her sin… and who walks away in peace. Seemingly, against all odds, she believed the new truth about herself and about who Jesus was and what he could do for her which drove her to her courageous display of affection! And THAT to me is part of what is so compelling and challenging about this story.
Joe closes by poetically comparing this story to the prophecy in Isaiah 52 where God, out of His great love, is declaring his intention of rescuing his enslaved bride from their cruel and “unclean” captors…How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger (the Messiah) who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation (or redemption from sin).
A desperate, broken, tearful, emotional woman found an eternal peace and forgiveness that day; how about us? You? Me? Are we sitting at the table looking down our noses at the sinners around us? Or are we broken–I mean really broken to the point that we see the stark truth about ourselves and about the love, mercy, grace, kindness and forgiveness that God through his Son, Jesus, and his sacrificial death and resurrection, offers us? Will this unlimited offer of mercy bring us to the point where we too fall to the floor and desperately weep over, wash, dry, kiss and anoint the feet of our Forgiver–-no holds barred? Or will our lack of humility or forgiveness keep us on the other side of the table—the judgmental side? When our Forgiver pronounces us clean, we are able to look up from our mired pasts, receive His pardon for sin, forgive ourselves and go in peace.
What’s the big deal about forgiveness? A new beginning; a fresh start; hope; love; second chance; kindness, because someone has been kind to us. Want to be clean, truly clean–what the Pharisees had failed to perceive? Try forgiveness. True forgiveness. And after God has forgiven you, try to forgive yourself, and then try forgiving others. What’s the big deal about forgiveness? Everything.
And oh, by the way, as Joe points out, we can all still love on the feet of our Divine Forgiver today. How? Well, as Jesus clearly communicates to his disciples shortly before his sacrifice, whatever you do to even to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it unto me (Matt. 25:40). Value, grieve over someone else’s feet for Jesus, and you are once again valuing and grieving over our Lord’s feet as someone incredibly, thankfully did so long ago.
By Shelly Davis Bergland with Joseph M Cross