2156) Always Give Thanks? (part two of two)

Luke 7:36-50  —  When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  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 people 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 forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

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

“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—as her great love has shown.  But whoever 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.”


     (…continued)  In this story some high achievers, the Pharisees, look down on a woman who we are told “lived a sinful life.”  They objected to the attention this woman was paying to Jesus, and they objected to the attention Jesus paid to her.  But Jesus looked not at her sinful life, but at her repentance.  She, unlike the Pharisees, knew she was a sinner in need of grace, and Jesus said that “her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much.”  Then he added, no doubt referring to the Pharisees, but “he who has been forgiven little, loves little.”  The Pharisees needed forgiveness just as much as the woman, but they were blinded by their self-righteousness.  Proud as they were of their own goodness and their own achievements, they felt little gratitude for the forgiveness offered them by Jesus.

     From the safe distance of 2,000 years later, it is easy to read the New Testament and always take the side of Jesus against the wicked Pharisees.   But to be honest we need to look at those ways that we are similar to them.  Are there people we look down on?  Do we have a full awareness of depth of our own sin?  Do we have a deep gratitude for the forgiveness of sins that we have received, or do we take it for granted, and casually and knowingly continue to do wrong?

     Michael Vick was the number one NFL draft pick in 2001.  He became an all-pro quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons, and was off to a brilliant career.  But Michael Vick was a bad boy, and was often in trouble with the law.  The worst trouble came when he was arrested and convicted for running a dog-fighting and gambling ring, a wicked business that inflicts unspeakable cruelty onto dogs.  His brilliant career was halted in 2007 when he went to jail for the dog-fighting.  Vick was sentenced to almost two years in prison and was released in 2009 after serving 18 months.  His reputation was ruined, he had to file bankruptcy, and he had a hard time finding a job.  The Atlanta Falcons no longer wanted him, and could not even find any team willing to trade for him, and so they released him.  Finally, Vick was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles who were risking more trouble and a public relations nightmare.  Michael Vick went from the peaks of success to the depths of failure in the blink of an eye.  He is a man who lived a sinful life, and like the woman in the parable, was looked down on by everyone.

     At this time Michael Vick received encouragement from an unexpected source.  The support came in an article written by Chuck Colson, who was looked on by some people as the self-righteous Pharisee type.  Colson was a vocal proponent of religion, morality, and individual responsibility.  He was an ex-marine, a tough lawyer, an ex-political power player, and a real no-nonsense kind of guy.  After his conversion, he was up front and out-spoken about his Christian faith, speaking all over the country against the many sins of modem society.  With his appreciation for law and order, he would fit in very nicely with Pharisees who loved to emphasize the Old Testament Law.  And law and order is good and necessary.  The Pharisees were not wrong about that, and Jesus never condemned them for that.  Jesus also opposed the sins that they opposed, and sometimes he even made the law stricter.

     But what Jesus objected to in the Pharisees, and what Chuck Colson did not have, was a spirit of self-righteousness.  You see, Chuck Colson also spent time in prison, going to jail for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up.  He has much to be ashamed of, his sins were broadcast to the world, and his crude and conniving words are recorded on the Nixon White House tapes for all time.  Like Michael Vick, he knows what it means to fall from the heights— from an office in the White House right next to the President’s, to a 6′ x 9′ jail cell.  And Colson knows what it means to be given a second chance.  He used his second chance to start ministry for prisoners, and for almost 40 years he has worked with prisoners all over the world, establishing some of the most effective prisoner release programs in the country.  Chuck Colson believed in second chances because he believed in Jesus, and he was glad that someone was giving Michael Vick a second chance.  He didn’t pretend to see into Michael Vick’s heart, and he didn’t know how sincere his public remorse was, but he wanted to see him given a chance.  (Vick did make good use of his second chance, returning to the NFL for a while, establishing charities, working with youth football, and having a family.  Colson died in 2012 at the age of 80.)

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Michael Vick  (1980-  )

     Colson’s story is a good illustration of this theme.  He lived a sinful life, he came to faith and received Christ’s forgiveness, and he has since lived a life of service to others in gratitude to God for his grace and mercy.  His attitude was Christ-like– strict in own personal life and his stance on morality and ethics, but at the same time displaying in his life and service genuine Christian forgiveness and mercy.

     To fully appreciate God’s mercy we need to understand that just as we are appalled by the behavior of some who we know lived a sinful life, God in his perfect holiness is appalled by our far from perfect behavior and faith.   And yet he offers his grace and forgiveness.  We must not take that for granted, but live every day in gratitude.  From now on, says Ephesians 5:20, “always and in everything, give thanks.”


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–Ancient Jesus prayer


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