The Parables of Jesus
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

The Parable of the Two Debtors

Luke 7:36-50:

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.”

On the cross, when Jesus died, the whole world — the whole human race — was forgiven and was reconciled to God.  That is the clear teaching of the New Testament.  That is what makes the gospel unconditional good news.  However, since this glorious truth is a part of God’s gift in Christ it demands a human response.  That human response can be one of two things:  we can either wholeheartedly accept that gift or we can willfully reject it.

These two responses are described in the New Testament by two words:  belief (or faith, because in the Greek it is the same word) and unbelief.  As we saw in our last study, faith or belief is more than simply a mental assent to truth.  It is a heart appreciation for God’s gift to mankind.  John 3:16 says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God did the loving; God did the giving.  We do the believing and belief is a heart appreciation for what God has done for us.  When we have this response of gratitude, it does something for us.  It completely transforms us in terms of our attitude towards our fellow men as well as our attitude towards God.

In other words, when we understand and when we appreciate what it cost God to save us, what it cost God to forgive us and how much He has forgiven us for, we will treat others the same way that God has treated us.  That is the evidence that we have appreciated the gift of God.  Likewise, our relationship to God will be very different.

Now we are going to turn to the second parable concerning forgiveness.  Remember last study we looked at the unforgiving servant; the servant who did not appreciate the forgiveness that the king offered towards him.  I would like to consider the parable of the two debtors.  Both these parables are dealing with forgiveness.  Both are expressing the same concern of God.  Do we really appreciate God’s forgiving grace?  If we do, we will forgive others just as God has forgiven us and by our conduct — by our thoughts, words, and deeds — we will show our appreciation towards God.

With this in mind, let’s go to our parable.  Our study begins at verse 36.  We need to know the background.  Now according to verse 36 we read,

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.

Why would a Pharisee want Christ for lunch when we know that the Pharisees were against Christ?  Well, there is a reason which is not clear in this passage but the reason is clear in a similar record in Matthew 26 where we learn two things.

The name of this Pharisee was Simon and he was a leper.  We don’t have much leprosy in this part of the world today but, in the days of Christ, leprosy was synonymous with sin.  Here was a Pharisee and I want you to remember that a Pharisee was a “holy Joe.”  He was the one who was very meticulous about every little detail in terms of God’s rules and laws.  Here he is struck with leprosy and I can imagine him saying, “Why me?  What have I done?  I’ve been good.”  But Jesus healed him and it cost Simon nothing because he healed him by a miracle.

I don’t know if you have noticed this, but when somebody does you a very special favor you have no peace until you do something in return for that person.  It’s called the principle of reciprocity.  It’s one of the evidences of our sinful natures because we don’t like to be in debt to somebody.  We have this problem all over the world.  We say to ourselves, “How can I return this favor?”  If we don’t, we are in debt to that person and we don’t like that.  It hurts our pride.

So if any of you ever happen to travel into the Third World where the U.S. has given tremendous aid and the people don’t appreciate you, you’ll know that it is because they cannot pay you back for what your country has done for them.  You are a thorn in their flesh.  You have hurt their pride and it is human nature.  We are the same; it has nothing to do with them; all human beings are the same.

So this Pharisee says to himself, “This man healed me.  The least I can do for Him is invite Him for a meal.”  It wasn’t out of gratitude; it was out of paying back.  It was reciprocal.  He tells his wife, “Cook him a meal” and Jesus and the disciples, who were a unit, all come to this meal and they all sat down to eat.  They ate in the courtyard.  The houses were very different from our houses.  They didn’t have a living room.  The houses were built in a rectangle with little rooms.  Obviously this Pharisee was quite wealthy and he had a courtyard in the middle which is where they ate.  It was a hot day; it was dry and they would have a tray of pita bread and sauce or whatever they ate.  Then they would recline; they would lie all facing that tray with their feet all stretched out.  They would eat a good meal (only the men, by the way).

While they were eating, verse 37 says:

When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town....

Now what did they mean by “that town”?  Remember, Matthew also tells us in Matthew 26 that this incident took place in Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  John 12:3 identifies the woman as Mary, the same one who was caught in adultery, the same one from whom the devil was cast out seven times.  So she was a reputed sinner.  She was one of those persons to whom the Pharisees gave no hope of salvation.

When she came there you can imagine that it was very embarrassing.  Remember that the Pharisees lived public lives so it was quite common for people to walk into the courtyard and listen to what was being discussed or what was being taught but normally it was men.  Women were not taught.  Their place was at home in those days.  They were all reclining, all facing each other and Mary goes to the back of Jesus Christ and she falls down and she begins to weep and with her tears she washes the feet of Jesus.  We find that in verse 38.  She brings an alabaster box of ointment; she stoops at his feet, begins weeping, washing His feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair.  She applies ointment to His feet and to His head.

Now look at verse 39:

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.”

Remember, she is “unclean.”  He forgot that he was unclean when he had leprosy.  In the Old Testament, if you touch a leper you become unclean.  The wonderful thing about Christ is that when Christ touches a leper, He doesn’t become unclean but the leper becomes clean.  This man had forgotten that he was made clean by Jesus Christ.  This man had forgotten that he, too, was a sinner.

The Spirit of Prophecy [by Ellen G. White] tells us that it was this Pharisee who had led Mary into the line of prostitution.  Here is a man who had not appreciated Jesus Christ.  He began to think.  Notice, he doesn’t say a word, he spoke to himself, which means he thought in his mind and the wonderful thing is that Jesus is a mind reader.  By the way, He still is, so if you think you can hide your thoughts from him, forget it.

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”  “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

The moment he says the word “Teacher,” it tells me something.  There were two ways you could address Jesus Christ.  You could either call Him “Lord” or “Son of David,” both expressions meant He was the Messiah, or you could call Him “Rabbi” — Rabboni — which simply means “Master” or “Teacher.”  The ones who rejected Christ would call Him “Master,” so this gives me a clue that, even though he was healed by a miracle, this Pharisee did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

But this Pharisee was a victim to Judaism and what did Judaism teach?  So you may understand what was going on in the mind of this Pharisee, turn to John 9:31.  These are words spoken by the scribes and Pharisees.  This is their theology:

We know that God does not listen to sinners.  He listens to the godly man who does his will.

The trouble is, they did not “know,” but that’s what they thought.  So according to this Pharisee, this man could not be a prophet; he could not be a Messiah because he was touching sinners.  Poor fellow, his theology was all wrong.  Jesus came to save sinners.  He came to touch us; He came to heal us.  So he misinterprets Jesus Christ because his theology was wrong.  So theology is important so that we understand truth.

Then Jesus gives Simon the parable.  Let’s look at the parable.

Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.

That means nothing to you so I sat down and calculated.  We had a study on the parable of the laborers.  Do you remember how much they agreed for a salary for the whole day?  One denaris — a penny.  So we can take that as the wage scale for the days of Christ:  a penny a day.

I took about the lowest figure (I’m not talking to students now; I’m talking to working people because the students are paid basically the minimum wage) but if you go out and work I would take the lowest wage which is about five dollars an hour.  If you work for eight hours that is $40.00 and since there are 25 working days in a month I multiply 40 by 25 to get one month’s salary because 500 pennies a day is equivalent to twenty month’s wages.  Twenty month’s wages at $40 a day at 25 days a month comes to $20,000.  That is how much this one debtor owed the creditor.  The other 50 pennies, two month’s salary, is $2,000.

The difference is between $20,000 and $2,000 and you will agree, for both debtors, middle class or poor people, they both owe, but the amount they owe is tremendously different:  one $20,000 the other $2,000.  We’re talking in terms of dollars so it becomes meaningful.

Going to the parable, I read in verse 42:

Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.

They received something they did not actually deserve.  That’s where we get the word “grace.”  He unconditionally forgave them the debt — canceled the debt — and told them, “You don’t owe me a cent.”

Now, I’m not sure whether Simon the leper was aware what Christ was getting at, but now comes the question:

Now which of them will love him more?

And Simon answered cautiously, hedging his answer with “I suppose,” because now he’s beginning to suspect he’s being trapped.

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

And Jesus responds:

“You have judged correctly.”

“You are absolutely right.”

Here the text refers to the Pharisee as “Simon,” so we know it’s the same Simon of Matthew 26.

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...”

Now this may mean nothing to you because we don’t give people water for their feet when they come to our house.  But, remember, in the Middle East it is dry; it is hot; it is dusty.  In the days of Christ they did not wear shoes; they wore sandals, what we would call thongs.  Then the custom, the common courtesy, was that when a visitor came to your house, out of courtesy, you wash his feet or you have your servant wash his feet.

Can you imagine?  This man did not even wash the feet of Jesus, which means he was inviting Jesus purely out of obligation and did not even give Him the common courtesy of the Middle East.

“...but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.”

I want to ask you a question.  Why did she weep?  What kind of picture do you have of this Mary?  Is she at the feet of Jesus pouring out her tears and saying, “Dear Jesus, forgive me, I’m a sinner”?  No, she was not asking for forgiveness; she had it already, unconditionally.  She was simply a Jew who understood what that forgiveness would cost Jesus Christ.  She was weeping tears of gratitude and appreciation because she, being a Jew, knew what the law said.  What did the law say?  You can read it in the New Testament also, Hebrews 9:22:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Without shedding of blood there is no, there cannot be, remission or forgiveness of sins.

Here was one person — gentlemen, this woman put us to shame — who did understand.  Not one of the disciples, not one of the men who followed Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry ever understood the cross before the event, even though Jesus predicted it many times.  Mary who was the only one who understood His mission.  The reason she did is because, when He came to her house, she sat at His feet and learned of Him.  That is only way we can learn the truth:  by sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Remember, Martha complained and asked Jesus to rebuke her [Luke 10:38-42] and Jesus said, “Don’t you ever ask Me to do that.  She is doing the right thing.  Martha, Martha, you are cumbered with many concerns about serving Me but I am telling you that she has done a good thing.  She has served Me but now she is sitting at My feet and learning of Me.”  That is where she learned and now she comes with this expensive ointment.  If you read John 12 you will discover that ointment cost 300 denarii.  I have given you the figures.  Three hundred denarii is 300 days’ salary.  You work out how much that is equivalent to today’s income:  300 days’ working.

Here is a woman whose heart was filled with appreciation.  She was willing to come and do something that was not normally done by women in front of men.  She was weeping; she was wiping His feet with her tears; she was anointing Him.  Jesus says to Simon in verses 45-47, not only did you not wash My feet:

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.”

Here we have two sinners; both were forgiven. Now, answer one question.  Was Mary really a greater sinner than Simon?  In God’s eyes, no.  Why not?  Because, according to scripture, all of us are 100 percent sinners.  The problem is, in the eyes of human beings, we are not all 100 percent sinners.  “You are a worse sinner than myself” — that’s human attitude.  But in God’s eyes, we are all 100 percent sinners.

Simon did not put himself on the same level as Mary but Mary recognized that she was a sinner saved by grace.  She recognized that her sins were not small.  Humans create degrees of sin.  When I was a Roman Catholic we had venial sin and we had mortal sin.  If you committed venial sin there was still hope through purgatory but if you committed mortal sin you’d had it unless you went to confession.  God doesn’t have venial sins and mortal sins.  Even the smallest sin in God’s eyes is terrible, like eating a forbidden fruit.

What is the problem?  Before we go into that let’s go to the end of the parable.  Having rebuked Simon through this parable, verse 48:

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

Now she knew that, because I read on, in verse 49:

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

So the reason He said, “Your sins are forgiven” was for the benefit of the others.  What was Jesus claiming when He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven”?  He was claiming to be the Messiah.  He was claiming to be the Son of God who is able to forgive sins.  Then in verse 50 He says to Mary,

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Do you really appreciate what Christ has done for you?  What is it that produced such deep, heartfelt appreciation from the heart of Mary?  Two things.  Number one, she recognized there was nothing good in her.  She recognized that she was a sinner.  She recognized that she was wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked and the day we do that, praise the Lord.  Revelation 3:17:

You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”  But you do not relaize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

Why do we not know that?  Because we think of ourselves as rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing.  Our sin is a subconscious sin and it is my prayer that somehow that will come out in the open and that we will recognize what may be recognized.

Number two.  Mary recognized that it was not cheap forgiveness.  Mary recognized, knowing the law, knowing the Old Testament, coming from the home of Lazarus where they read their Bibles daily, that in order for Christ to forgive her He had to shed blood, which to the Jew meant giving up your life.  In Hebrews 2:9 I read that He tasted death for how many people?

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

For everyone.  But Mary realized that the death Jesus tasted for her was no ordinary death.

We will go to the New Testament and I will show you something.  I want you to put yourself in the shoes of Mary.  She probably was barefooted but I’m using a good old modern expression.  Think like a Jew.  In Galatians 3:10 we read (this is something that is taught in the Old Testament, Paul is simply reminding them):

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written:  “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

If you fail to keep the law you are under the curse.  What is the curse?  Ezekiel 18:4b:

The soul who sins is the one who will die.

This is the curse, and by “death” it means good-bye to life forever.

Now look at Galatians 3:13:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written:  “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

Here Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 21:22-23a.  What does that text say?  Well, let’s go to it.  The devil has obscured this passage from us.  Today the Christian church, including our own, looks at the cross with Roman spectacles.  It may be true that Christ died on a Roman cross but that Roman cross meant something else to the Jews and here it is:

If a man guilty of a capital offense [that means an unpardonable sin] is put to death and his body is hung on a tree [which is what the cross was equated to in the New Testament times], you must not leave his body on the tree overnight.  Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.

Do you know what that means?  Do you know what the curse of God is?  It is the irrevocable curse of God.  It means that when Jesus hung on the cross, the hope of the resurrection was taken away from Him because the Father disconnected Himself with His Son.  There, as Jesus hung on the cross, He was willing to say good-bye to life forever, not just three days, but forever, that Mary may take His place.

That is what Mary understood.  She was a Jew; she understood the curse of God and she realized that if Christ is the Messiah then He is a righteous God; He is a just God and a holy God and He cannot forgive Mary simply by excusing her sins. He could not say to Mary, “I am the One that gave the law.  I am above the law.  I don’t have to keep it Myself.  I made it for you creatures; therefore, I love you, Mary and I will simply forgive you.”  God cannot do that.  He is a holy God; He is a righteous God.

If He did that, Satan would say, “What about me?  You’re practicing discrimination.  If you can excuse her sin, you can excuse mine.”  But Christ did not excuse Mary’s sin; He paid the price for it.  Neither does He excuse your sin or mine; He paid the price for it and that price was the curse of God.  Jesus was willing to say good-bye to heaven forever, not just for three days.  Can that ever sink into your head or mine?  He could not see through the portals of the tomb.  Hope did not present to Him a resurrection.  He felt that sin was so offensive that the separation was forever.  Can you see why Mary’s heart was so filled with appreciation that she couldn’t stop crying?  Can you see why she paid three hundred denarii, three hundred days’ worth of wages without any deductions?  You multiply that by forty (that’s forty dollars a day) by 300.  It’s unbelievable how much money she spent on that ointment.

Mary was not only the one who anointed Him, she was also the first to go and visit the tomb.  Mary was the first to be there.  For her it was no longer serving self.  Philippians 1:21:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

The disciples were the same but only after the event.  Before the cross they had failed to understand the significance of Christ’s mission even though He told them many times that He was going to die.  It was only after the cross they recognized what that meant to them.

In concluding, I am going to turn to 2 Corinthians 5:14 because this is what it should do to you and me.  May I say something.  Any Christian church, anybody, who legislates standards has not understood the gospel.  It is the love of God that must constrain us.  Here I read the famous words of Paul:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

He tasted the death that belongs to all of us.

Do you know that you and I will never have to experience the second death?  Not because Christ has bypassed it, but because you can die the second death only once and all of us have died the second death in Christ.  We get the benefit; He gets the suffering.  He does the dirty work but we can’t remain the same.  It has to constrain us and, when it constrains us, what does it do?  Look at the next verse, 2 Corinthians 5:15:

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

I want to pause here.  Do you know what Christ meant when He said, “those who live”?  Do you realize that legally you and I had no right to be born in this world?  Do you know that when Adam sinned, legally he had no right to spend one more month or one more day on this earth?  When we in this country sentence someone to death, to execution, we leave him there in prison for months and sometimes even for years and we have to pay our taxes to feed him while he enjoys that good food because I ate in the prisons.  It’s pretty good in America.  But when God said to Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:17):

“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

He meant that very day.  You have no right.

Why did God allow Adam and Eve to live?  Why did God allow you and me to be born?  He allowed it because there was One, who is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world.  We are alive not because we have a right to be but because of One who paid the price.  I like those words that I find in The Desire of Ages [by Ellen G. White], p. 660:  “The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf.  It is reflected in every water-spring.”

Every breath you breathe is because Jesus died for you.  That is a truth.  The question is not the truth.  The question is how has it touched you?  Verse 15 again:

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Can you imagine what kind of a church this would be if we had people who appreciated the love of God, the supreme Sacrifice?  Mary understood it because God opened her eyes.  She saw the truth of the cross; her heart was filled with appreciation; she didn’t care what people thought of her.  She didn’t care how much it cost.  She wanted to show Christ her gratitude and appreciation because she believed that when He died He would not rise again.  It could be possible because she knew He was dying the curse of death.  But she wanted to say, “Jesus, I want to show you my gratitude and appreciation before You die, not after You die.”

Before you and I go to sleep, are we going to show our appreciation for Christ?  I have told you this story before.  I’m going to close with it because it is something that is very dear to my heart.  One of the greatest missionaries that ever walked on the soil of Africa was David Livingstone.  You have read his books; you have heard about him, a great man of God.  In fact, I visited his birthplace in Blantyre, Scotland.  He was a medical doctor, but he gave up his lucrative profession and went to Africa when it was really a dark continent, when there was sickness, hostile tribes, wild animals that were dangerous.

To make it worse, the British government gave him a hard time because he was a stubborn old fellow, very stubborn, did not believe in committees and when you do not believe in committees you get a hard time from the brethren.  When he died on his knees praying to God, he was 400 miles from the coast.  The British government decided to give him a royal burial in Westminister Abbey where they have all the great men of England buried.

The problem was, how could they bring his body to England?  In Africa there were no trains; there were no cars.  Horses could not survive there because of the tse tse fly.  The Africans were willing, out of appreciation, to carry his body four hundred miles.  The Africans did a wonderful thing.  They said you can have his body; you cannot have his heart.  So they cut open his chest, pulled out his heart and buried it in Africa, because he gave his heart to Africa.  Then they carried him those four hundred miles to the coast.  Now that is appreciation.

When I was deported from Uganda, there were soldiers in the airport, and they said to my wife Jean and the children, “You can go on the plane, but he remains here.”  That meant concentration camp and probably execution for me.  I said to Jean, “Go ahead.”  She said, “No, I will die with you.”  She refused to go and the soldiers were mad so they said, “All right, you give us 700 shillings,” which is $150 and that’s all the government allowed me to take out in travelers checks.

So I took that $150 in traveler’s checks and said, “Take it.”  He said, “No.  I want it in cash.”  He knew if he used traveler’s checks he would be caught.  So I said, “I don’t have the cash.”  “Too bad,” he said, “then you won’t go.”  Then one of the African members came up to the counter, risking his life and he said, “Here is the cash,” and he paid it for me.  That was appreciation.

God is not asking you to do things — dos and don’ts — simply because that will take you to heaven.  He has given us salvation as a free gift.  He wants a people whose hearts are so filled with appreciation that they will do two things.  The will say to God, “As long as I live from henceforth, I shall live for You.”  He wants us to look at our neighbors and say, “If God so loved me when I was a wretched, miserable sinner, I must also love my neighbor.”  That is keeping the commandments.  Love for God — appreciation for God and loving your neighbor — on these two rest all the law and the prophets.

God will produce a people like that and how will He produce them?  Not by hammering them with commandments but lifting up Christ and Him crucified.  It is my prayer that the Christ crucified will transform you.  May God bless you that the truth will set you free.

Home Study Materials