“Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes – How About Love?”
I don’t know how many of you watch late night television. I like to sleep, so I don’t. But I do catch up on it the following day, because I find the late night show hosts to be very interesting people, who are, in their own way, challenging the norms of the people and the world around them.
I find that the show hosts I appreciate the most are all connected through a shared experience on one particular show, and who are now all branching out to lead their own programs. These hosts openly engage people with their own passions, issues, and problems. They listen and challenge in equal measure.
I have a particular fondness for Stephen Colbert. Not just because he’s funny, but because he is a man of deep faith who brings religion to work with him. But, this week, one of his late night show host colleagues caught my eye.
John Oliver is an Englishman living in the United States, who hosts a late show on HBO. He is known for his witticisms and open critique of all that is wrong with the USA.
This is what happened. The show he hosts did a journalism investigation of America’s debt collection business. As an experiment, the show created a company called “Central Asset Recovery Professionals,” or CARP, after the bottom feeding fish – which already paints a picture of what this show think of the business of debt collection. They then proceeded to purchase millions of dollars of old, unsettled medical debt for fractions of a penny on the dollar—nearly $15 million of debt for about $60,000 – the collective debt of about 9,000 people.
And then John Oliver did something that has made a number of people go absolutely crazy. He forgave all the debt. He explained the decision with these words: “Why not forgive it? Because on one hand, it’s obviously the right thing to do. But much more importantly, we’d be staging the largest one-time giveaway in television show history.”
A certain lender had two debtors. One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work. The other owed enough money for fifty. When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both.
The harsh realities of life examined through a moment of love. Why not forgive it? Because it is obviously the right thing to do.
Who is worthy and who isn’t?
Humanity has a tendency to categorize people on sight under the banner of worthiness. We use it as a measurement for a person’s life. Who is worthy and who isn’t, and I think Jesus knows that, and acts to help us see it in ourselves.
Do you see this woman?
Simon sees her. And we see her too.
Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house.
Despite the fact that we all know how this story goes, and we all claim to know what this Jesus guy is all about, I think we, like Simon, categorically judge this unnamed woman as unworthy. Sinfulness tends to equal unworthiness, doesn’t it?
This sinful woman is not worthy to be in Jesus’ presence.
This sinful woman is not worthy to touch Jesus.
And Simon the Pharisee thinks to himself:
If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.
Simon is judge, appearing before the sinner, much like the prophet Nathan before David. Righteous, an authority who goes with God’s direction, proclaiming the unworthiness of all who fall short of salvation based on good behaviour or adherence to the Law.
Paul’s writing in Galatians helps us to understand Gospel in the midst of generations upon generations hoisting this so-called banner of worthiness, this measure of one’s life.
Though good behaviour and adherence to God’s commands are not unimportant to our lives, we cannot be saved by them. It is grace that saves. You cannot determine your worth to Jesus by a calculation of your sins. That is not how God works. Faith taps into that human measurement of worthiness and proclaims that you are worthy of salvation. God’s grace breaks through the division of worthiness and unworthiness and equalizes us all: we are both/and.
Both sinful, and forgiven.
Both broken, and healed.
So, Jesus asks: Do you see this woman?
The conversation between Simon and Jesus is a lot like the conversation between Nathan and David. Both can see plainly the answer that their teacher and leader is looking for. David can see that the rich man is guilty of transgressing the poor man, but does not see his own guilt in raping Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah. Likewise, Simon can see which debt-relieved person would love more, but cannot see how much more sin-forgiveness makes the sinful woman’s love greater still.
I think it’s also telling that Simon doesn’t see the differences of welcome in both the woman’s and his own stories. Jesus has to point it out to Simon and all those gathered around this meal table.
And we get a lesson in seeing all people before us in measures of love. Incredible inclusive love to all who come to Jesus. No distinction, no discrimination.
We all get seen. And we are all called to remember that love.
We are called to recognize not only how we can help others, but how much we are in deep need of forgiveness ourselves. We are not a church of saints welcoming sinners. We are both and. We are saints and sinners, simultaneously, welcoming the saints and sinners of the world around us. Brothers and sisters of Christ gathered in love.
So, in the words of a very good musical, I ask you to:
Remember the love
Oh, you got to remember the love
Remember the love
You know that love is a gift from up above
Remember the love
Share love, give love, spread love
Measure in love
Measure your life in love
“Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus said says, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Why not forgive? Because it is obviously the right thing to do. Amen.
- Mark Davis. “Do You See This Woman?” Left Behind and Loving It.
- Bruce Epperly. “The Adventurous Lectionary – The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 12, 2016.” Living a Holy Adventure.
- Rob A. McCoy & Eric Fistler. “171: Proper 6C (June 12, 2016) Show Notes.” Pulpit Fiction Podcast.
- Karoline Lewis. “Your Faith Has Saved You.” Dear Working Preacher, Workingpreacher.org
- Jean Rodenbough. “Commentary on Luke 7:36-8:3.” Gender Equality – Proper 6. North Carolina Council of Churches.
- “John Oliver Forgave Nearly $15 Million of Debt on TV Last Night.” Relevant Magazine, Culture, Jun 06, 2016.
 “John Oliver Forgave Nearly $15 Million of Debt on TV Last Night.” Relevant Magazine, Culture, Jun 06, 2016. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/john-oliver-forgave-nearly-15-million-debt-tv-last-night#YmZl0AMoWKFgwHfJ.01
 “Seasons of Love Lyrics.” Metro Lyrics. http://www.metrolyrics.com/seasons-of-love-lyrics-rent.html