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Who is Righteous?

Who is Righteous?

by Jim Rice

The gospel passage from Luke is often given a title something like "The Woman Who Was a Sinner." His message to the woman—"Your sins are forgiven....Your faith has saved you; go in peace"—has universal resonance; we can rest assured that it is directed to us as well.

Yet the heart of this story is Jesus' conversation with Simon, the Pharisee. Simon had invited Jesus into his home. The fact that Jesus accepts this invitation is telling. His relationship with at least some of the Pharisees wasn't as unequivocally adversarial as is sometimes believed. He was clearly interested in speaking not only to outcasts, but also to those in positions of power and leadership.

While Simon welcomes him in, he does so with a skeptical bent: "If this man were a prophet, he would have known." Jesus is aware of his doubt, and much more; he knows Simon's very heart. The parable Jesus tells is aimed not at the woman, but at Simon. She is the example of the "righteous one" in this story, the one who loves much. Her generous acts of hospitality and love are signs that she has been forgiven much. (She is not forgiven because of her acts, as some commentators have misinterpreted the story to mean, but she acts with much love because much has been forgiven, as in the parable.)

The most eloquent message—and the most indicting—is what is left unsaid. The one to whom little is forgiven, Jesus said, loves little. Simon was unlikely to miss the point. Being a righteous man, trying to do the right thing and live in a godly manner, he probably assumed he had little to be forgiven for. But Jesus' point is that all of us, even—especially!—those considered righteous, are in need of forgiveness (see Romans 3:22-24). Those who most see themselves as on the right path, the "Pharisees" among us, have perhaps the greatest difficulty seeing the real way to salvation: not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16).

Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners.