The parable of the two debtors is one of my favorite parables as it alludes to the kingdom of God in an extraordinary way. This parable takes place in Luke chapter 7. The parable itself only takes up two verses, but the effects of the parable last an eternity. Let’s dive into the parable of two debtors.
For context of this story, this parable actually came out of an event that happened in real time. Jesus had been invited to a Pharisee’s house to have dinner. Now there was a woman who lived in the same town as the Pharisee that heard that Jesus was eating at this Pharisee’s house. When she heard this, she brought a jar of perfume and started crying at Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed his feet, and poured the perfume she brought on his feet. Then the Pharisee thinks to himself, “If Jesus was a real prophet, he would know that this woman is a sinner”. Then Jesus turns to SImon and tells this parable. Luke tells us that this woman was a sinner. We don’t know what she has done, but we do know the forgiveness is worth all that she is doing. Let’s look at this parable now that we have the context.
Luke 7:41-43 says, “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.”
The parable is very short and powerful in nature. Two people owed a man money. One owned him a lot, the other owed a little. When the man cancels both debts, which would love him more? The answer, as Simon answered correctly, is the one who owed him more money. Why? Because now he doesn’t have to worry about such a huge debt. One denarius is about a day’s pay. So the one person owed 50 days worth. That’s a lot of days and a lot of pay but not as much compared to 500 days worth of pay! That seems almost impossible to pay back and that’s the whole point. The debt was way too much to pay back and therefore that person loved the lender more for canceling the debt than one who didn’t have as high of a debt.
Jesus then turns to the woman but still talking to Simon, tells about all this woman has done that he has not done. No one washed Jesus’ feet, or greeted him with a kiss, or poured oil on his head as was the custom for welcoming a guest in those days. No one did that, yet this woman has done all of this and hasn’t stopped since Jesus walked in. Jesus then tells the woman that her sins are forgiven, her faith has saved her, and she goes in peace.
This parable is all about the weird and different system that the kingdom of God offers that Jesus has been announcing. Jesus’ ministry has been about proclaiming the good news and tending to those of low status to be exalted. This woman was a sinner, an outcast of society. Yet Jesus turns her into this example of such great faith and forgives her sins. He had so much debt, so much sin, and Jesus right there in the moment, cancels it all. He takes away all that was burdening her and weighing her down and she could really go in peace because her sins had been forgiven, her enormous debt had been cancelled. Jesus’ whole announcement is that those who need forgiveness, those who are considered the “farthest” from God, they’re first in line to forgiveness and it is offered to them just as much as anyone else.
Jesus then ties in this idea of love corresponding to forgiveness. He says that those who have been forgiven of a lot, love a lot. But those who have been forgiven of a little, only love a little. The Pharisee and perhaps others who were there thought that they didn’t need much forgiveness because they live in such a high standard of religious attributes. Yet it is when we don’t think we need to be forgiven that we don’t ask for forgiveness and are not forgiven. Therefore, they did not love the woman like Jesus did because they had not been forgiven as the woman had and thought they didn’t need to be.
This parable, when compared with Romans 3:23 is powerful. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Not a single one of us has the right to point fingers and say “how dare you” without taking a hard look at ourselves and seeing the reality of our lives. We all have sinned, we all have fallen short. We all need Jesus. It is tempting to categorize and say “well at least I haven’t done…” or “at least I didn’t do…”. We all need Jesus and we all need forgiveness.
This parable was a powerful message at the time about how the kingdom of God is offered and what is offered through it. Exalting the low, humbling the mighty, and offering forgiveness to all is what is offered through the kingdom that is just the opposite from this world’s view. In the world the view is, “don’t forgive those who don’t deserve it”, “be number 1”, “let others fend for themselves, you’re most important”. This is the message the world is sending. Yet the kingdom of God offers forgiveness, exaltation, and humbleness. It was the announcement then, and it is the good news now. Jesus offers forgiveness and Jesus offers salvation.