The Parable of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:36-50)


This familiar story is a contrast between traditional religion and a personal, intimate relationship with God through Jesus. It’s one that a Pharisee was confronted with but not able to comprehend. As with all parables, the meaning is hidden from those who do not have the Spirit to reveal the deeper message.

Obviously, Jesus paid the debt for all of our sins at the cross. But if there was a scale that could be used to measure the number or magnitude of sins that you committed during your life –how would you compare with other people? It’s crucial to understanding this parable.

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Let’s go back to the question posed at the start. Had Jesus not forgiven all of your sins already, where would you rank on the scale of needing forgiveness? You might think it’s not worth considering since He did indeed pay the entire debt. But the fact of the matter is that the rank that you assign for yourself determines the amount that you love Him. Paul measured himself and openly told the whole world what his score was.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

When Paul said “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance…” he was not trying to get us to agree that he was truly the worst. Rather, he wants each and every one of us to closely examine the depths of our need for a savior. Knowing your own thoughts and attitudes that flow through your mind all day long, are you really a basically good person? Or would you come to the same conclusion that Paul did in Romans chapter 7?

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)

Here is the passage from Revelation with a description of the church that is neither hot nor cold. It emphasizes the magnitude of how we should view our need –and adjust our “score” on that imaginary debt scale.

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched , pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:17-20)

Hopefully, between these two Scriptures, you are able to see yourself like Paul saw himself –”the worst of all sinners.” In doing so, your relationship with Jesus will grow in meaning and purpose for your life.

The Scriptures go on to explain the change that takes place through the new identity we receive by being “in Christ” –where we are rich, having no stain of sin, able to clearly see all that He has provided.

By the way –should you be interested in the symbolism in the Luke passage– the kiss is about seeking acceptance; tears are of salt water implying an impending death; a woman’s hair is her glory, her best; and anointing is showing respect for someone who we consider great. The standard way of showing respect in those days would have been by pouring oil downward onto the most respectable part of a person –from our supposedly high position.

The woman recognized Jesus as being supremely important. By anointing His feet; she was looking up from her lowly position. She was seeking His acceptance –knowing that her very best was less than His least. From the perspective of the story of two debtors, the woman knew the enormity of her debt and so she loved Jesus greatly.

We should all recognize ourselves –our flesh– has not changed even after salvation. It will not improve. Although our actions might appear better as Christians, our inner thoughts and attitudes –that’s where our flesh is– remains unchanged and destined for death. And its war with our spirit wages on. The point of this is that we can grow in our love for Him –that personal relationship– by knowing the enormity of the debt He canceled for us.