The Parable of the Two Debtors

The Parable of the Two Debtors

The Parable of the Two Debtors.

Please read Luke 7:36-50

THE CONTEXT. a. After preaching and teaching in a city, Jesus was invited to a banquet hosted by Simon the Pharisee. The meal was in Simon’s home. As with most dinners at this time, the doors to the home were open, and people could wander in and out and remain in the background observing all that went on. One of the bystanders was the local harlot, ritually impure and an outcast. Jesus welcomed her to him, and she proceeded to minister to Jesus in somewhat scandalous ways. She obviously knew Jesus from his time in the public setting, and she wanted to show Jesus what he meant to her.

b. Jesus seems to have a soft spot for sexual offenders that religious society deemed worthless, impure, unworthy. For example, he had gracious interactions with the woman at the well (John 4), and with the adulteress about to be stoned (John 8). He was well-versed in the story of Hosea, about his whoring wife, through whom God taught Israel’s infidelity and His infinite compassion. And Jesus knew that he had a lady of the night in his family tree, Rahab the harlot in Jericho, an Old Testament heroine who is mentioned with the likes of Abraham, Isaac and Moses in the epistles of Hebrews and James. He didn’t shun that woman caught in adultery, either. He sweetly forgave her and told her to “sin no more.” Jesus didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable with the prostitute’s attentions at Simon’s house. He seemed to love interacting with the untouchables, and the too-touchables, in his ministry. Could it be that those who live with passionate hearts of flesh may be closer to the kingdom than those religious folk who grimly plod on with hearts of stone? Didn’t Jesus say often enough that great sinners are more likely to see their need for grace than those who view themselves as little sinners who have no need for grace? Maybe that’s why Jesus told the chief priests and elders that the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them (Matthew 21).

THE WOMAN. She was never named in this scene. We do know that she was “a great sinner,” a prostitute in the city. As such she was ritually impure, spiritually unclean. Anyone who touched her would be defiled, and would have to go through a specific, time-consuming process to be restored to purity. She risked a lot of blatant rejection by appearing at a Pharisee’s house, but she courageously decided to do so. We assume that she had heard Jesus earlier while he was teaching in the city, otherwise she wouldn’t have sought him out. She knew what Jesus was all about, and already responded to his teaching in her heart.

SIMON THE PHARISEE. a. He no doubt heard Jesus in the city as well, and proceeded to invite Jesus to his house for a meal. This is common in the life of a traveling rabbi like Jesus. One isn’t sure what Simon’s motivation was in the invitation. Curiosity? To confirm his worst suspicions about Jesus? To certify that Jesus is not a prophet as advertised?

b. Right from the start, Simon appears disrespectful and inhospitable. He didn’t offer Jesus the common courtesies to a guest. He didn’t offer water to rinse Jesus’ feet, he didn’t welcome Jesus with the customary kiss on the cheek or hands, and he didn’t offer some olive oil to anoint Jesus’ head. He did none of that. Simon’s behavior would be considered highly insulting to a guest. Simon offered no special care or affection to his guest. It appears that Simon thought Jesus to be in an inferior class, a part of the riff-raff, that didn’t even deserve basic politeness and respect. Throughout the situation, Simon never offered an apology or sense of regret at the way he treated Jesus.

THE WOMAN. a. She was silent throughout. She decided to let her actions speak for her. Upon entering the Pharisee’s home, she went right to Jesus and stood behind him. Her sense of shame for her past life kept her from approaching his face. She proceeds to kneel at Jesus’ feet, wet them with her tears of repentance and gratitude, unloosed her hair and dried his feet with her hair, smothered and caressed his feet with kisses, again and again, and anointed his feet with expensive perfume she had brought with her. She displayed what Kenneth Bailey said was “an expression of devotion in a sacrament of thanksgiving.”

b. This was a scandalous scene. For a prostitute to even enter the home was one thing, but to do what she had done would have caused a scandal of monumental proportions.

c. The costly perfume she used with Jesus was a prostitute’s best friend, used to sweeten the breath and perfume the body. Where was this container of perfume used before this scene? In here eyes, nothing was too good for the Teacher.

d. Kissing the feet, especially in this overly familiar way, was highly erotic, highly sensual. Very inappropriate in any public place, no less with Pharisees in full view.

e. Letting her hair down was an intimate gesture that a woman was expected to do only with her husband. Highly inappropriate. A woman could literally be divorced if she let her hair down with another man. This must have shocked all the observers, because it simply wasn’t done, period. It was seen as sexually provocative.

JESUS. He was not put off in the least by the woman’s attentions. It didn’t matter to him that this contact would make him ritually impure. It didn’t bother him that her actions may bring unchaste thoughts to the observers. He accepted her acts of repentance and gratitude with open arms, so to speak.

SIMON. He thought he had Jesus pegged now. He can’t be a prophet, look at what he is allowing this notorious sinner to do! Simon, in his self-righteous judgment of her, didn’t accept her obvious repentance. He still calls her a sinner. Evidently he thought she was unforgivable. Simon is not thrilled that a sinful person has repented. Her repentance is not valid in Simon’s cold opinion.

JESUS. So Jesus decides to tell a little parable by way of illustration. He gets Simon’s attention by telling him, “I have something to tell you,” which in the communication of that time would mean, “I have a blunt little speech which you may not want to hear.”

PARABLE. a. There are two men indebted to a lender. They both owe money, they don’t have enough to repay the debt, and they both thus depend on the grace of the lender to forgive their debts. One man owed a lot, the other man owed a little. Both debts were generously forgiven.

b. Jesus uses the socratic method and asked a question of Simon, to help him reach the answer for himself. Which man loved the lender more? Simon says, the man who was forgiven much. Jesus says, Yes, you are right!

JESUS. a. He then once again does the unexpected. He shocks the observers by praising a sinful woman in the company of righteous men! Jesus made her the hero, the champion. And then he did the unthinkable once again… He complained to Simon about his lack of hospitality. A guest must never, it was said, complain to the host. It might insult or shame the host. So the guest took whatever came his way and was thankful for what he got. Simon was no doubt on his heels after Jesus’ rebuke. How uncouth for Jesus to do this!

b. Jesus then says that because she has been forgiven of much, she loves much. And those who think they have sinned little, will then love little. She has been forgiven of many, many sins, so she is very,very grateful. On the other hand, how can you know of grace if you don’t see yourself as a sinner? The more you have sinned, the deeper your love and gratitude for God’s forgiveness.

c. Jesus then says that she has indeed been forgiven, and that it was her faith that saved her. Her tender acts of devotion was out of thankfulness for being forgiven before she even entered the house.

OBSERVERS. Many were unimpressed by anything that just happened in front of their eyes. They doubted Jesus could forgive sins. Who did he think he was, anyway?

SIMON. The scene is left open-ended. We don’t know Simon’s response to all this. He had a lot to think about after being scandalized and rebuked with others around as witnesses, in his own house no less. Did he try to save face? Let’s hope he was suitably humbled.

FINAL THOUGHTS. a. It looks like Jesus intended his little parable to help the woman be welcomed back into an accepting community. He wants the others in the city, including the Pharisees, to accept her as Jesus has accepted her, a reformed sinner who needs the loving support of people surrounding her.

b. Jesus must have been quite irritated with Simon to rebuke him the way he did, especially concerning the lack of hospitality. Isn’t it nice to see Jesus, not as the placid one who always seems to take things in stride, but as the irritable one, just like you and me?

c. Jesus told quite the pointed parable. Two men in debt and in need of forgiveness, one more than the other. Two great sinners, the woman and the Pharisee, one outside the Law and one inside the Law, the woman who is forgiven much and loves much, and the Pharisee who is forgiven little and loves little. I’ll bet that Simon got the point eventually, and that his self-righteousness will somehow, through Jesus, dissipate.


  1. Put yourself in Simon’s house. You just wandered onto the porch, like so many other townies, just to see what was happening. You see the Pharisees and other religious leaders reclining at table and you see Jesus in their midst. Was Jesus comfortable? What was your reaction when you saw the town prostitute walk right by you into Simon’s house?
  2. When you first smelled the delicious aroma of the expensive perfume, what did you think was going to happen? What was your reaction to a harlot’s perfume being poured onto Jesus, the famous rabbi, in such a suggestive way?
  3. Why was the woman weeping so much, anointing Jesus’ feet with her tears? Were his feet dirty, or beautiful (Isaiah 52:7), or both?
  4. When the harlot let down her hair, how did the onlookers react? What was the look on the faces of the religious leaders?
  5. What was Jesus’ visible reaction to the scandalous attentions of the prostitute? Describe his facial expressions and the posture of his body.
  6. What was the tone of Jesus’ voice as he told the parable? During his comments afterwards, to the woman, and to Simon?
  7. The parable seemed to be rather pointedly spoken to Simon. Jesus didn’t mince words. What did Simon look like in response to the parable? Offended? Thoughtful? Did he take it personally?
  8. As the harlot walked away from Jesus and back through the crowd, describe her facial expression. How did the onlookers respond to her after the anointing? Rejection? Puzzlement? Compassion?
  9. After she left the house, did Jesus and Simon continue the conversation? What did they say?
  10. The harlot’s anointing expressed her love for Jesus. Did her actions with Jesus bring about her forgiveness, or was she already forgiven? Did she know Jesus well enough to anticipate her forgiveness?

Resources: A. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; K. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes; H. Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible; J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus.