Parables of Jesus


Parables of life

The two debtors.

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The two debtors

From the Gospel of Luke Chapter 7, Verses 41.43
And Jesus said to him: "A creditor had two debtors; the one owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Not having them to pay, he forgave the debt to both. In your opinion, which of them will love him most?". And Simon, answering, said: "I suppose he is the one to whom He has forgiven the most". And Jesus said to him: "You have judged rightly".

Parable exegesis

This text represents a small masterpiece of narrative art, at the service of a topic very dear to the evangelist Luke: Jesus welcomes and forgives sinners. The episode reported before this passage has as its protagonist a woman, a sinner introduced herself in Simon's banquet. The unknown woman surely knew Jesus, she had listened to those words that invited change, she had believed in a new existence, and now she had presented herself to her redeemer to express her repentance and her gratitude. She kneels and bends to the feet of Jesus, while large tears fall from her eyes and go to wet the feet of the Lord. It is an act of repentance, of intimate, profound pain.

The woman, still unable to repress her love any longer, takes the Lord's feet in her hands and dries them slowly with her hair. Then, from the alabaster vase she had brought, she sprinkled perfumed oil on her feet, which had just dried from the tears of her repentance, and continued to kiss them.

In the eyes of the Pharisee and his guests, this attitude is not only disconcerting, but even ambiguous: everyone is worried about Jesus' contact with a sinful woman, who discredits their category of "pure": "If He were a prophet he would know who this woman is that touches him: she is a sinner"
[Lk 7:39].

But what is even more serious in their eyes is that Jesus is silent and lets things go, compromising his reputation as a man of God, a prophet recognized by the people.

Simon's thought is one of reprobation, which certainly does not go unnoticed by Jesus: "Simon, I have something to tell you". And at this point, Jesus narrates the short parable of the two debtors who were forgiven. The debtor who loves little is allusively Simon, to whom Jesus turns again: "Do you see this woman? I entered your house and you did not pour water on my feet; instead she bathed my feet with her tears and she wiped them with his hair. You did not give me the kiss, but since I entered she has not stopped kissing my feet.

You have not sprinkled my head with perfumed oil; instead she spilled my feet with perfume. This is why I tell you: her many sins have been forgiven since she showed such great love" [Lk 7,44-47]. The word of Jesus, a word of absolution, makes explicit what was already present in the the acceptance and in defense of the sinner: it shows the deep root of forgiveness.

In this parable the creditor represents Jesus Christ, the situation of the two debtors also indicates that before God, some more and some less, we are all in debt as all sinners. A money was a silver coin of the Roman government that was equivalent to the daily pay of a generic worker, so five hundred denarii represented the pay of a year and a half. The other, a debtor of fifty denarii, had to recognize the correspondent of about two months of salary, excluding the Saturdays.

Therefore the former had a debt ten times greater than the latter, but both could not pay. The creditor, however, makes no difference with respect to the amount of the debt, nor with respect to the fact that both could not pay it: he remits to his debtors the entire amount of money for which they were in default, in the knowledge that in any case they could not heal their debt. Even for us who, to a lesser or greater extent, are all sinners before God, our sin will still be too great for us to save ourselves. The Psalmist says: "Certainly, no one can ever redeem himself, no one can ever give God the price of his ransom" (Ps 49: 6-7).

Now, the creditor of the parable brought back by Luke, rather than forcing the debtors to pay, causing them to contract a debt perhaps even larger with someone else to remedy that to him, condones them the due: it is a generous behavior, extraordinary for who lends money and unexpected for the debtor. At that time, those who were unable to pay debts were made slaves, and every seven years, in the year of remission, every creditor had to suspend all rights relating to the loan: according to the Eastern custom, to whom it is forgiven more, it will make more clamor and wider public demonstrations of affection for the creditor than another will do.

The parable therefore shows two parallels: the creditor depicts God and the debt is sin; the two debtors depict different levels of sinner and love: he who is forgiven less loves less, and is the Pharisee Simon, and he to whom he is forgiven the most loves the most, and is the unknown sinner. With this parable, Jesus wants to point out the concept of the Mercy of God, which forgives both the small and the great debts: "which of them therefore will love him more? Simon replied: "I think he is the one to whom you have forgiven more".

It is a bitter admission, made reluctantly and with gritted teeth, because at that moment Simone realizes where Jesus wants to arrive, making him acknowledge his lack of gratitude "you have judged rightly". Jesus highlights that the more one is forgiven, the more gratitude, love and devotion will be felt, while Simon had not yet understood the power of God's Mercy: God's forgiveness is greater than human norms or understanding can understand, and who he experiences it is similar to the one to whom a great debt has been forgiven.

If we have received the forgiveness of sins, we must love the Lord, be grateful and devoted to Him. Repentant and suffering sinners seem more capable of recognizing the Lord, of receiving Him with faith and love: repentance goes beyond moral overthrow, anguish, remorse, regret and the knowledge that they have done something infamous. Repentance is becoming aware of having profaned God's love. Repentance requires faith.

In repentance there must be implicit recognition of our smallness, but also trust in forgiveness, certainty in the Mercy of God, a profound desire to be reconciled through His love that knows how to pass over the measure of any debt as long as, returned to Him, we recognize our sin by huddling at his feet and sprinkling him with tears of sincere repentance.