The Law Is a Mirror, Not a Magnifying Glass

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“Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’ Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Samuel 12:5-7).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Psychologists say you’re only as sick as your worst secret. No wonder King David isn’t feeling so hot. He has a doozy of a secret; but he’s managed somehow to keep it under wraps for about nine months. At least he thinks so. But it’s taking a toll on him spiritually, mentally, and physically. Later, he will describe the experience in one of his psalms: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3–4). But for now he is in a state of denial—the most common defense for those walk the tightrope between the fear of being found out and the unspoken wish that someone will shine the light into the corner of the closet where you’ve stuffed your skeleton.
Then one day, Nathan, David’s friend, counselor, and pastor takes him aside. He tells him a story meant to strike the chords of this shepherd-poet’s heart. It seems there were two unnamed men in a certain city. One was rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and the herds, but the poor man had only one little ewe lamb that he loved and treated like one of the family. When a traveler came to visit the rich man, he was unwilling to take one of his own flock, but he took the poor man’s lamb and had it prepared for dinner for his guest.
Nathan tells this story so skillfully that he almost overdoes it. David, who had been a shepherd, understands how this poor man felt. In anger, he declares by the Lord that this heartless rich man deserves to die. Can you believe that?
Of course you can! It’s always easier to become more outraged at someone else’s sin than your own. But the Law is intended to be used as a mirror to show you your sin, not as a magnifying glass to examine others for sin. So Nathan makes the story personal when he says to David, “You are the man!” Imagine the king’s shame. How could he have missed the point? He has been so preoccupied focusing on “the rich man’s” sin, that he has failed to realize that he is the rich man. Once convicted, David no longer attempts to hide his shameful moral lapse, but openly confesses: “I have sinned against the Lord.” God waits for each of us to confess and acknowledge our sins in this same way.
It should also be noted that God waits to forgive and to heal and restore the hearts of all who turn to Him in repentance. For no sooner does David confess his sin than Nathan announces: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” What a relief! Like a cool, refreshing shower on a hot day, God’s mercy in Jesus Christ washes away the sin and silences David’s screaming conscience. With that, the main part of Nathan’s assignment is completed. He has spoken words of absolution. He need not say more.
Perhaps at this point David writes Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions… Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me” (v. 1, 4, 10, 11). Notice how David says nothing to excuse his wrongdoing or minimize his guilt. His is nothing other than a frank admission of responsibility and an earnest plea for mercy. “Lord,” he prays, “have mercy on me, cleanse me, renew me, and forgive me.” And the Lord does. David is back where he belongs.
That’s not to say there will be no temporal consequences.
It is a mistake to think that with grace and forgiveness in Christ everything in our life is immediately reset. God has never promised there will be no consequences. We reap what we sow, forgiveness notwithstanding. In fact, we may spend the rest of our days living under the painful consequences of those sinful acts. The following chapters of 2 Samuel recount the painful unfolding of those consequences for David. In wisdom God fits the consequence of the sin to the person. And in love He doesn’t withhold the pain. As Solomon writes: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).
But Nathan wasn’t the only one who could tell a good story. So does Luke in our Gospel. Skilled narrator that he is, Luke at first tells very little about this man who invites Jesus to his place, not even his name. He is characterized neither as positively or negatively inclined to Jesus’ teaching. Little by little, however, as this story unfolds, Luke’s narrative reveals this man’s attitudes.
Like most pastors that I know, it seems that Jesus did not turn down many invitations to a meal. In fact, one of the harshest criticisms His opponents had was that He ate with tax collectors and sinners. So, it’s not real surprising that Jesus is willing to have dinner at the house of a Pharisee. What is more surprising is that this Pharisee would extend such an invitation. Judging from his treatment of Jesus it is not out of love for Jesus or with the desire to learn from Him, but for some more nefarious purpose.
On the other hand, the woman is determined to meet Jesus. She not only hunts Him down at a social engagement with the religious types—she crashes the party! This is the measure of how badly she wants to meet Jesus: She’s willing to endure the public scorn and shame of those who would be her harshest critics. Her actions are no less bold. She wets His feet with her tears and then wipes them off with her hair. She kisses His feet and pours expensive perfume on them.
We note the gracious way in which Jesus receives this unusual sign of love and affection. The Pharisee also takes note and he is offended. He says nothing aloud, but his thoughts are filled with disgust. If Jesus were really a prophet like many in the crowds claim, He would know this is a sinful woman and He’d never allow her to touch Him, but ask her to be expelled.
Knowing the Pharisee’s thoughts, Jesus addresses him directly: “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answers, “Say it, Teacher.” Jesus tells him a parable. Two men owed a fair sum of money to a certain moneylender—one about 50 days’ wages and the other about 500 days’ wages. Neither man was able to repay. Remember, Jewish law forbade usury (loaning money on interest), so this character is more like a loan shark than a banker. He’s not the kind of guy who would be very likely to forgive a debt. That would set a dangerous precedent. Yet, remarkably, that’s just what happens—he cancels the debts of both men.
Then Jesus asks the pertinent question: “Now which of them will love him more?” Even though Simon answers with some reservation, he come to the only logical conclusion: “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”  
Then Jesus applies His parable to Simon and the woman. Jesus says to Simon: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water to wash My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).  
Simon has been so focused on the “sinful woman,” that he doesn’t seem to recognize his own sin and lack of love. Or at least he considers his need for debt forgiveness to be only a fraction of the woman’s. Like the rest of the Pharisees, he seems to believe that he has made up for his sin by the pious life that he leads.
Unlike David, the sinful woman has no delusions of secret sins. Not only does God know she’s broken His commandments, everyone else in town does, too. Even Jesus says she has many sins. Shunned by all, she lives a life of shame. But perhaps that is actually a blessing in disguise. After all, she is daily and relentlessly reminded that she is sinful, that her debt to God is huge and unpayable. There’s no chance she’s ever going to believe she’s okay with God on her own. She comes like all sinners must—as a beggar before God. And she falls down at His feet, offering the highest worship possible—seeking the forgiveness of sins in Jesus.
To Simon, Jesus has words of admonition. If he wants to get what he deserves, he will. To this penitent sinner, the Savior speaks sweet words of absolution: “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” How can Jesus say her sins are forgiven? For one thing, He is the Lord God Himself, the only one who can forgive sinners. For another, Jesus is going to pay for all her sins, for that matter—for all the sins of the world, offering on the cross His obedience and righteousness in exchange for her sin and disobedience.
You see, as great a sinner as was David, Simon, and the sinful woman, there’s a much greater sinner at work here, as Chad Bird writes:
“a much greater sinner than those human monsters whose names live in infamy, a greater sinner even than you. This man became the worst adulterer, the worst murderer, the worst liar and cheat and gossip and thief who has ever lived. O Jesus, You are the man! You are the man who, though without sin of Your own, became sin for us, that in You we might become God’s righteous children. You redeemed us from the curse of God’s law by becoming a curse for us. Upon the cross, hung the chief of sinners, indeed, all sinners compressed into one sinner, all humanity inside the skin of one man. Jesus became sin itself, the curse itself, the one and only object of divine wrath. Heaven emptied itself of righteous wrath the day He died. Hell’s hottest flames were extinguished by His holy blood. When the sinless Son of God became the sinner, the accursed One, a global proclamation was issued by the Father, declaring the rest of humanity not guilty. No debt of yours remains unpaid. No sin of yours remained unpunished. Jesus became all the bad that you are that you might become all the good He is. When He said, ‘It is finished,’ something new began: a new you. For if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away, and the new things have come.”[i]  
What Good News!
But this is only Good News for real sinners with real sins. Not that your sin needs to have snowballed like David’s secret sins, or be as notorious as the sinful woman’s sin to count as sin. No, a real sinner is someone who humbly confesses his or her sin own sinfulness. It’s easy to criticize the other person, to see the speck in someone else’s eye, while a beam sticks out of your own, to rail on “those sinners over there,” wherever “there” might be. David did it in our Old Testament lesson. Simon, in our Gospel. But the Law is intended to be used as a mirror to show you your sin, not as a magnifying glass to examine others for sin.
There’s a Latin phrase that best expresses the proper posture to take when confessing sins: Mea culpa. Most of you have probably heard the expression. It’s used nowadays as a synonym for an apology, but only in the sense of “my bad.” But it is rooted much deeper than that. It comes from part of the ancient liturgy in which the penitent sinner struck his breast three times, as he recited in Latin: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Best translated “through my fault, through my fault, through my own grievous fault,” this phrase is a blunt confession of sin in which the penitent sinner does not try to excuse himself or shift the blame to someone else, but bows before the Lord as a beggar in need of mercy.
Like David, who confesses before Nathan: “I’ve sinned against the Lord.” Like the woman who kneels at Jesus’ feet and washes them with her tears. Like, the troubled sinner who comes to his pastor pleading, “Dear confessor, I ask you please to hear my confession and to pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.” Or when you join with your brothers and sisters, saying, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.”
It doesn’t matter the sin. It might be a public sin that everyone knows about, or a secret sin that hasn’t yet come to light. It could be the time you sassed back to your mother and refused to apologize… it may be an abortion that plagues your conscience… that time you walked out of the store with a candy bar and didn’t pay for it… an addiction to pornography that fills you with shame… that bitter grudge you can’t let go… the latest tidbit of gossip you passed on about your neighbor… the tongue you can’t seem to tame… the temper you can’t control… the idol you consistently turn to for comfort and peace instead of the one true God… whatever the sin, bring it to the Lord. Confess that sin, trusting that God, who is faithful and just, will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
To such a penitent one, the Lord says: “You are the man! You are the woman! You are the one I love. I’ve paid the debt. Your faith has saved you; go in peace. You are forgiven for all of your sin.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Bird, Chad L. Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. Copyright © 2014 Chad L. Bird, p.31  


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