“A little, or a lot?” I ask.
If he’s feeling expansive, he’ll fling his arms out wide and say, “A LOT.” If he’s feeling mischievous, he’ll hold his thumb and his index finger a quarter of an inch apart and say, “A little.”
I swat him, and we both laugh.
I’m not the only person who asks this question. Jesus also asked it, in a slightly different way.
Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus to dinner. Scripture doesn’t tell us why, but we know one thing for certain—Jesus wasn’t the guest of honor. Simon had given him no bear hug at the door. No invitation to step inside and freshen up. No refreshing glass of water to sooth his parched throat or tasty hors d’oeuvres to take the edge off his hunger. Just a seat at the table, nothing more.
Maybe it was one of those socially obligatory invites, you know, like your twelfth birthday party when your mother made you invite the homely girl in your class with greasy hair and pimples.
“You can’t invite everyone else and leave her out. It isn’t Christian.”
So you invited her, and horror of horror, she came. Oh please don’t let her do anything that will embarrass me in front of my friends. Hopefully she’ll just sit quietly in a corner and not call attention to herself.
But radical rabbis, like 12-year-old girls, are wildcards, so Simon knew he’d have to keep an eye on Jesus. Good thing, too, because it wasn’t long before something weird happened.
Just as they were sitting down to eat, in walked the town hussy—bold as brass. Making a beeline for Jesus, no less.
Some nerve she has. Maybe it’s a good thing after all that I invited Rabbi Jesus. He’ll run her out of town on a rail just as soon as he catches sight of her. This could make some great dinnertime conversation.
Then things got even weirder.
The bravado that had carried the harlot through the doorway and across the room faltered, then vanished as she approached the teacher. Her purposeful steps grew hesitant. Her defiant eyes softened. Her shoulders drooped until she collapsed in a heap of tears at his feet, unable to meet his tender gaze.
Bowing her head, she watched in horror as the first, then the second, then a flood of salty tears fell on his dusty feet, making tiny brown rivers that dripped to the floor. She hastily unwrapped her hair until it cascaded over her shoulders like an inky cloak. Grabbing a thick handful, she brushed at the drops, smearing them in her haste. Taking the teacher’s warm feet into her hands, she pressed her cheek against them and began to kiss them.
Hmph Simon thought, aghast at the display. 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.
He didn’t say it aloud, but Jesus answered him as if he had.
"Simon, I have something to tell you.'
"Tell me, teacher.'
"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’” (Luke 7:41-47).
And so we must ask ourselves, how much do we love him?
A little or a lot?
Are we Simon the Pharisee, sitting in self-confident ease, trusting in our good works to earn our place in Heaven? Have we invited Jesus into our lives because it’s expected of us? The cultural thing to do? Do we treat him as the socially awkward friend who will always be around to help us pick up the pieces when our cooler friends dump us? Do we wear him around our necks as one pearl in a long strand? Do we claim him when we’re hanging out with Jesus people and ditch him when we’re not?
Or are we the harlot, bowed under the weight of our sinfulness and the knowledge that apart from his mercy we would spend eternity in Hell? Have we invited him into our lives because without him we would self-destruct? Do we treat him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who loves us enough to confront us when we are wrong, empower us to change, and use us to lead others to himself? Do we wear him around our necks as the most precious treasure of our lives? Do we claim him proudly and unapologetically, unashamedly loving, worshiping, and serving him wherever we find ourselves?
We have all been “forgiven much,” whether we realize it or not.
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son” (John 3:17).
Are you Simon?
Or are you the harlot?
Do you love a little or a lot?
Simon left Jesus’ presence unchanged. The harlot, however, heard these words: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace."