November 16, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 7:48-49 (NRSV)
Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
We respond to Jesus in different ways. Some reject him outright. Others are quickly drawn to follow him. Still others are intrigued and curious. They wonder who Jesus really is. Whether we are Christians or not, we should feel free to ask our questions about Jesus. He can handle them just fine.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In the last several Life for Leaders devotions, we have been reflecting on the authority of Jesus. Exercising his unique authority, Jesus raised a young man from the dead and publicly forgave the sins of a woman known to be a “sinner” (Luke 7:37). His displays of authority provoked a variety of responses. In last Wednesday’s devotion, for example, we noted one kind of response to Jesus, that of Simon the Pharisee. Though he had invited Jesus to his home, he did not welcome him fully. His response to Jesus was reserved and tentative.
Today we’ll examine another response to Jesus’s exercise of authority. This one comes near the end of his dinnertime encounter with Simon and with the woman with a questionable reputation. After explaining that this woman loved lavishly because she had been forgiven lavishly, Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” This provoked a particular response from several who were sitting at Simon’s table along with Jesus. Luke puts it this way: “But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (7:49).
You can read this question in a variety of ways with a variety of tones. For example, one could ask this question with disdain, meaning something like, “Who in the world does Jesus think he is, forgiving sins?” We see a question like this in Luke 5, after Jesus forgave the sins of a paralyzed man. There, the scribes and Pharisees asked, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). Their questions were really veiled accusations. They weren’t wondering who Jesus really was. They had already answered that question. He was a blasphemer, not someone who actually had the authority to forgive sins.
But the questioners at Simon’s dinner party don’t seem be using their questions as a means to condemn Jesus. Rather, their question is more neutral in tone, more curious than critical. Simon’s guests have just observed an astounding chain of events. First, they met someone who, if nothing else, was making news with his message and miracles. Then, this purported holy man allowed himself to be anointed and cared for by a woman known for her sinful past, something an ordinary Jewish holy man would never tolerate. After this, Jesus explained his actions to his host, suggesting that Simon had not been very welcoming in contrast to the woman. Jesus went on to tell a story about forgiveness, which accounted for the woman’s lavish love for him. Then, after all of that disruption, Jesus actually assumed the authority to forgive the woman’s sins. Though some at the table might have been incensed by Jesus’s actions, others appear to have been genuinely intrigued. They really wanted to figure out who Jesus was and why he was doing such unexpected things.
I believe that this sort of questioning response to Jesus is absolutely appropriate, even essential, not just in the first century, but also in the twenty-first century. In fact, when people who don’t know Jesus become exposed to him, either through reading the Gospels or through the witness of those who follow him today, questions are perhaps the most sensible first response to Jesus and his authority. Folks who are getting to know Jesus should be encouraged to ask all the questions they can imagine. Who is this man Jesus? What does his teaching mean? Why does he do such odd things sometimes? Are we really supposed to believe he did miracles? How can we know that the biblical accounts of his life are true? Why did he have to die? What really happened after his death? And so forth, and so on.
So, I believe that those who are just being introduced to Jesus should feel free, even encouraged, to ask all the questions they’d like to ask. But I also believe that we who already know Jesus should feel free and even encouraged to ask all the questions we’d like to ask. Why do I say this? First, there’s the fact that there is always more to be understood about Jesus than we currently understand. Asking questions is a way to learn more, to go deeper. If you think you really have completely figured Jesus out, go think again. In our relationship with him, we need always to be in the posture of a learner.
Unfortunately, in many Christian communities asking questions is frowned upon. We’re supposed to believe. Right? We’re supposed to have the answers. Yes? Many Christians learn, often from their early years in Sunday School, that real questions, hard questions, searching questions, the questions that burn in our hearts, those sorts of questions really aren’t welcome. The result is faith that stops growing, or maybe even doubt that festers on the way to unbelief. Moreover, when we don’t ask the questions we need to ask about Jesus or to Jesus, our relationship with him can become shallow or stale.
So, let me encourage you to ask questions as we continue to make our way through Luke’s gospel. Wonder about what you don’t understand! Admit what you don’t like! Find a community where you can really grapple with the honest questions of faith. Don’t be afraid. Jesus isn’t.
Putting yourself in the position of the guests at Simon’s dinner party, what questions might you have had about Jesus?
Do you have your own questions about Jesus today? How free are you to express these to yourself? To others? To Jesus?
Do you have a community in which your questions about Jesus would be welcome?
If you have a small group that welcomes genuine questions about Jesus, see if the group would be willing to share the questions they have today. If you don’t have a small group like this, perhaps you can connect with a wise Christian friend. The point is to be in a place where you know it’s safe to ask the questions that really matter to you.
Lord Jesus, as I think about the experience of the people at Simon’s dinner party, I can begin to imagine their shock and wonder. What they were seeing was so unprecedented and unsettling. It makes sense that they would wonder who you were. You certainly weren’t anything like the ordinary Jewish holy man, that was for sure.
Lord, I sometimes have questions about you, things I don’t understand. Occasionally I might actually consider these questions, maybe even share them with someone else. But there is something in me that resists. I don’t want my questions to dishonor you. I don’t want my questions to lead me away from my faith in you. Maybe I worry that my questions don’t have satisfactory answers. Or perhaps I’m afraid you won’t like them . . . won’t like me.
Help me, I pray, to discover the freedom I have with you to be fully honest. May I hear once again your invitation to come before your throne of grace with boldness, saying all that I need to say. As I ask my questions, help me to learn what is true. Guide my exploring and my thinking. Please bring others alongside to join me in this learning process.
I ask also for my Christian community, my church or small group, that we might be open to genuine questions, questions from each other and questions from those who don’t yet know you. May welcome all who come looking for you. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Hope for Doubters