There are two stories in the New Testament which so wonderfully portray the dynamic power of forgiveness. Interestingly, they both share the same three elements: Dinner, a sinner and a Saviour.
Story number one takes place when a Pharisee named Simon invites Jesus round for a meal. It’s not clear whether Simon is being genuinely hospitable, or whether he has an ulterior motive, but what we do discover later on, is that Simon fails to show Jesus the customary Jewish welcome of a kiss and a bowl of water for the washing of feet. As they are reclining at the table, things take an interesting turn.
A woman with a jar of perfume and a bad reputation, gate-crashes the party. She breaks open the alabaster jar of fragrance and starts to anoint Jesus’s feet. Weeping and crying, she dries His tear-stained feet with her hair, and kisses them again and again. Talk about awkward moment!
Suddenly Simon gets all fidgety in his seat. Ha! If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have been able to discern what kind of woman this was. If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have this woman thrown out into the street.
But Jesus with x-ray-like vision, sees right into the depths of Simon’s soul. And He begins to tell a story about two debtors. One who owes a little, one who owes a lot. Both of them receive good news- their debts have been cancelled by their Creditor.
“Now which of these two will love the most?”
“I suppose the one who has been forgiven the most,” Simon rightly answers.
Which leads us nicely onto story number two- the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is the Chief Tax Collector in the Jericho region and let’s just say ‘popular’ is not his middle name. He takes what people owe…plus a little bit extra besides.
But he’s heard a rumour. Jesus is coming to town. “I’ve gotta’ see him”, thinks Zacchaeus. “I’ll do anything to see Him”.
But Zacchaeus is a little on the…er, little side. As Jesus passes through Jericho, vast crowds press in around Him. And try as he might, Zacchaeus cannot see above the crowds.
So what does he do? Give up and go back to his mansion? No! He runs ahead of the crowd and climbs up into a Sycamore Tree! Now this man was rich. He probably had swag! But nothing was going to stop him!
And Jesus stops right underneath that Sycamore Tree and peers up into the branches, right into the face of a man who is outwardly rich, but inwardly profoundly empty and says:
Jesus knows his name. He knows all our names. “You’d better climb down because I’m coming to your house today!”. This time Jesus invites himself round for dinner!
And they talk. And Jesus explains that He came to this earth to cancel the huge debt of sin that people like Zacchaeus, and the woman with the alabaster jar – people like me, and you- simply couldn’t pay.
And once again forgiveness has its transformative effect. Zacchaeus is a changed man. Repentance flows from his heart just like the perfume that flowed from that alabaster jar. Because the point of the story was not so much the broken jar, but rather a broken, sin-weary soul, kneeling at the feet of a merciful Saviour. And Zacchaeus promises to pay back anybody he’s ripped off four times over!
You see it’s true. He who is forgiven much, loves much.