by Rev. Calvin Odhner
Text: Luke 7:36-50
Divine Providence 100
Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church!
This morning we begin our series on forgiveness. Is forgiveness important? Does the Lord want us to forgive? How can we be forgiven? Nobody gets through this life without feeling betrayal by someone: getting hurt, that feeling of being “done wrong” to. It could have happened when we were young, or it could have happened yesterday. We hold these wrongs in our mind. We carry them with us. If you would like, write one or two of these offences/wrongs on a label with the pens provided, and we’ll take care of it.
I know a boy who picked up one of those bazookas sitting on a porch--a potato shooter. It was winter, and he picked it up and pulled the trigger! There was now a frozen potato in it, and it flew 200 feet and hit his best friend in the jaw! It broke his jaw and he had to have it wired shut for a month! It still hurts. If he were here, he’d be writing that down. So if you want, you can just write down story Q or story J. The Lord will know which one you mean!
Sometimes, we can do things we feel are so wrong that we can never be forgiven for them! The Lord has a story for us about that in Luke. Let’s read it now!
At the opening of our story we find the Lord going to eat a meal with a Pharisee:
“Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat.”
Not only did He go into the pharisee's house, which signifies consociation with him as a man, but He also ate with him, which signifies conjunction through good, whatever good there was.
Now Pharisees were known for their hypocrisy, not really being interested in what the Lord had to say unless they could gain from it. But here is our first instruction in this parable:
Many times the Pharisees had “done the Lord wrong” like people in our own lives have betrayed us. How often have we felt injustices by our spouse or a co-worker for some infraction! And yet we must continue to connect, overlook, and be tolerant, allowing for whatever good that can come about from that connection. The Lord spurned fear and resentment for the sake of the use. He continued to connect. He stayed in the game and went beyond personalities and problems.
For He says:
“ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
"And having entered into the pharisee's house, He reclined to eat."
In those days it was common at meals for guests to recline on cushions which were arranged in a pattern radiating outward from a central, low table. They faced the table, but their feet stretched out behind them, away from the center.
“And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping…”
Take a moment to think back to a time when you had done something so shameful, so wrong, that you wished you could erase that moment. But now that it is in your life, if only you could be forgiven for it. If only the Lord would forgive me. The "woman of the city" who came to worship the Lord was not merely a particular individual, but she represents all of us!
She pictures the “affection for truth” which can be alive in everyone! It is with this affection for truth that we must approach the Lord if we wish to be conjoined with Him.
She came with humility, conscious and repentant of her sins. She did not come ostentatiously with reasoning or promises of great plans. She came to perform a use for the Lord.
“… and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.”
When we picture this in our mind we can just imagine the humility and need for forgiveness this woman must have felt. But for the real power, we must turn to the internal sense.
Washing represents the way we can cleanse our minds so we can clearly see and embrace the Lord. The Lord’s feet stand for the Word—the part of Him that touches the earth. The dirt on His feet represents the evils in us that cover Him and stand between the Lord and ourselves. Tears are the true ideas that she possessed to help her see and accept responsibility for her evils and repent of them.
The story mentions both weeping and the shedding of tears: again, like everything in the Word: even this little detail is important. Weeping comes more from the mouth, thus from the chest and abdomen, signifying grief of the heart over our falsities. Tears are a bitter watering of the eyes, coming from the thought and thus signifying grief of our mind.
When we discover the real condition our minds are in, we, too can feel a grief of heart and mind on account of our lack of truth and our false ideas.
Only after the woman had washed the Lord's feet, and dried them with her hair, did she kiss Him on the feet. The kiss represents unition, and conjunction from affection, thus further acknowledgment and reciprocation with the Lord.
When we begin, from an affection of truth, to recognize and acknowledge our sins, we begin to see ourselves for what we are, all of us, interiorly: sinners, and we may wonder what we can do to obtain the Lord's forgiveness and mercy.
The answer is in our story:
We are to approach the Lord with humility, especially when we have grief in heart and mind. We are to repent from our evil ways cleansing our minds so we can clearly see and embrace Him. And finally, from an affection for truth, we are to unite with Him and (like the fragrant oil) worship Him from the good of love. Notice that we are the one who must get busy and work to receive the Lord.
The pharisee had failed to do this. The Lord pointed out, despite an appearance of concern and respect:
“... you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
Without forgiveness we carry resentment that blocks the Lord’s entry into our mind. It is so important to forgive that the Lord incorporated these words into our daily prayer: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
The Lord cannot forgive man his trespasses as long as he retains hatred, revenge and enmity in his heart. He indeed forgives all people, but the law according to which He forgives them is the same to all. It is by repentance, reformation, and regeneration that man receives the Divine forgiveness. To forgive is to create in ourselves a love of the neighbor which is charity itself--a love which, because of its greatness, because of its nobility, because of its Divine source, will enable us to receive forgiveness of the Lord.
"I have heard from heaven that the Lord forgives every man his sins, and never takes vengeance or even imputes them, because He is Love Itself and Good Itself; but that nevertheless sins are not on this account wiped out; for that can only be done by repentance."
(True Christian Religion 409.)
During this six week study of forgiveness, I challenge you to study forgiveness as a craft! For it is really a “practice” anyone can learn. The art of forgiving; instant and loving forgiveness. When you figure it out you can teach me. But we know it starts by approaching the Lord with an affection for learning the truth. This is called faith. This is why the Lord said to the woman:
"Your faith hath saved you; go in peace."