"Simon, I have something to tell you. Two people owed money ..." (Luke 7:40-48)

"Simon, I have something to tell you. Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little." Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (Luke 7:40-48)

What does Jesus' parable mean?

This event and Jesus' parable about the debt is only understood when Jesus' role, purpose, and relationship with the Supreme Being are understood.

First, we must ask: Who was this woman who was washing Jesus' feet?

We find the following verses describing the same woman in the Book of John:
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) (John 11:1-2)
So we find that this woman who was washing Jesus' feet was none other than Mary Magdalene, the sister of Martha. We can see by the verses in John that Mary and Martha were beloved students and disciples of Jesus, and they referred to Jesus as "Lord" and "Rabbi" - as disciples were accustomed to. We also find that Mary also sometimes traveled with Jesus' entourage as he preached from town to town:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out - (Luke 8:1-2)
Later we find that of all of Jesus' disciples, Mary was the only one who stayed by Jesus' side when he was gruesomely persecuted on the cross. She sat at the bottom of the cross, and also checked on the tomb of his body afterward. It was Mary who is said to have seen Jesus first when he re-appeared after having left his physical body at the time of death.

We also find in the Gospel of Mary that Mary was a close student of Jesus, and Jesus shared with her confidential teachings, which she shared with Peter and some of the other disciples.

The bottom line is that it is obvious that Mary became a dedicated and glorious disciple of Jesus. And she was not deserving of some of the depictions given her by early church institution teachers.

What about Mary's 'demons'?

But it is clear from Luke that prior to Jesus' cleansing of her, she had "demons" ("evil spirits and diseases").

Just what are "evil spirits" and what was the nature of Mary's affliction?

The concept of "demons" and "evil spirits" is largely misunderstood. Why? Because it requires an understanding of our spiritual identity.

The fundamental understanding required is that we are not these physical bodies. The physical body is a temporary vehicle the spirit-person occupies. And each of us is spirit-persons: We are spiritual in nature, not physical, and we each occupy - possess - a physical body for a temporary period of time.

This has already been determined scientifically. Biologists know that the physical body is constantly recycling atoms and molecules, and it has been calculated that within five years, the entire body will be recycled and will contain new atoms and molecules. This means that the body is not constant.

We might compare this to a waterfall. The water in the waterfall is always changing. If we turn away and look again at a waterfall, it will be a completely different waterfall because new water is always flowing through the waterfall.

In the same way, if we look at a picture of our baby body, we know that the baby body is gone now, and we are now wearing an adult body. Every atom and molecule is different. This means we have functionally changed bodies.

Yet we know I am the same person that occupied the younger body. We know that I existed then and now, yet the molecules that made up that young body are now gone. I have functionally changed bodies but I am still the same person. This person - the real me - is spiritual, not physical.

And this is why clinical death research has proven that when a person dies, we leave the physical body and can even look down upon the body. Who is looking at the body? This is the spirit-person. This is who each of us is.

Understanding this, we can now begin to relate better with the concept of "evil spirits and diseases." The reality is, a "demon" or "evil spirit" can take many forms. It does not functionally need to be an actual entity - but it can be. As understood during Jesus' times, "demons" may also include bad habits, afflictions or addictions. Even to this day, an expression for a person who struggled with bad habits/addictions will often be something to like: "He wrestled with his demons."

Therefore, in this case, a cleansing would be the removal of these bad habits or addictions.

An addiction or bad habit may also be influenced by an outside party, be they an associate or even a ghost.

Such influence doesn't necessarily mean occupation, but that is certainly possible. It may simply be that the person is under the influence of a person they respect or have to serve. This may cloud the consciousness of a person's mind.

What about cleansing habits?

When we become attached to materialistic life, we will develop particular desires, which lead to habits. These can be cleansed by God's representative, as illustrated by Jesus.

The cleansing of desires and habits can be accomplished by changing our heart. This is accomplished by giving us knowledge and introducing us to the loving nature of the Supreme Being.

This is precisely what Jesus did in the case of Mary.

This is how Jesus was able to cleanse many others. By introducing them to the Supreme Being: By teaching about God, and changing their hearts from being self-centered to wanting to love and serve the Supreme Being.

Such a cleansing does not simply cleanse one or two habits. The teachings of God's representative can change our heart and this may cleanse many habits at once. Or, most likely, they may provoke a gradual change of heart, producing a gradual cleansing of desires and habits.

Just consider a person who might be struggling with depression, perhaps who frequently gets drunk and takes drugs and sometimes hurts those around them as a result.

This person may have multiple addictions and bad habits - which could be referred to as "demons." But such a person may be surrounded by so-called social friends who through their influence, contribute to the person's getting drunk, doing drugs or doing other things. Shouldn't these so-called friends also be considered "demons"?

Certainly, their influencing the drinking and drug-taking of the depressed person would qualify them, in the context of their bad influence, to be described as "demons."

But should such a person be introduced to the Supreme Being, and develop the desire to love and serve God, such a change of heart would naturally result in these multiple "demons" going away. And the person would effectively replace those influencers and their habits with activities that please the Supreme Being.

This is precisely Jesus' role: To affect our influencers and provoke a change of lifestyle, and if we are sincere, over time we can have a change of heart.

What is cleansing?

It is often characterized that such "cleansings" were done by Jesus with a touch or simple command to a particular demon to go away.

While we know that Jesus - as God's representative - had this potential and command to cleanse attachments and desires, we also know that many of these cleansing events accompanied Jesus teaching or outwardly praising and proclaiming God's Name. We also know that Jesus was the ultimate influencer when it comes to teaching love of God.

The Gospels were written many decades after Jesus' persecution and rarely convey the entire scene and event. We know there are missing elements. Therefore, it only makes sense that we see the practical nature of how Jesus influenced those who were encumbered with bad habits and desires. He influenced people to have a change of heart.

In other words, what is missing from many of these "cleansings" and "healings" is that Jesus was preaching - introducing people to God. And as their heart was changed, they became cleansed of various bad habits - and whatever influential people or unembodied spirits that surrounded them were naturally repulsed by the worship of the Supreme Being.

This expansion is in fact portrayed in this case about Mary. Then we find later that this statement of forgiveness is later being described as "from whom wicked spirits had been cast out ."

In reality, they are the same event, but the "wicked spirits had been cast out " were inclusive of the bad habits (which may have included drunkenness) - as well as the repulsion of those around her who influenced those activities.

What does cleansing have to do with forgiving sins?

Some might ask what cleansing of demons has to do with Jesus' forgiving her sins.

It is called love, and this requires a loving relationship.

Let's use an example. Let's say that a rebellious teenager disobeys her parents and goes out partying - drinking and doing drugs - with her friends. Her parents then ground her as a consequence. At some point in her being grounded, she has a talk with her parents and they extend to her how much they love her and care about her, and this is why they grounded her.

And let's say that this sinks in and she realizes that her parents simply love her and care about her. She then sincerely apologizes for her behavior and they all hug. The parents, understanding the teenager has learned her lesson and also the love they exchanged, releases her from being grounded.

This compares favorably to being forgiven by the Supreme Being for our sins: It is not a mechanical thing - it is about love. In fact, love for God - which is part of asking for forgiveness - has a cleansing effect in itself because that love replaces self-centeredness, which traps the person within their desires. This is reflected in Jesus' statement:
"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little." [Then Jesus said to her,] "Your sins are forgiven."
Then we find later that this statement of forgiveness is later being described as "from whom seven demons had come out."

In reality, they are the same event, but the "seven demons" that "came out" were inclusive of the "evil spirits and diseases" - which included bad habits (which may have included drunkenness) - as well as the repulsion of those influencing or participating in those activities.

Some might ask what cleansing of demons has to do with Jesus' forgiving her sins. It is called love, and this requires a loving relationship.

Why is Jesus forgiving her sins?

Jesus is God's representative, and her love is what is yielding forgiveness.

We could again compare this to the story about the teenager. Let's say that after the parents and the teenager have their big hug, the teenager goes back to her room. Then, as her brother heard everything, the brother asks the parents to remove her curfew and grounding. An hour later, her brother comes in and tells her that she is no longer grounded.

In this case, the parents still made the decision. But the brother still made the request and is at least partially responsible. But who ultimately made the decision to lift the curfew? The parents.

This is what is effectively taking place between God, Jesus and Mary.

You see, Jesus and God enjoy a loving relationship. Jesus is God's loving servant and God reciprocates that relationship. When a person serves such a loving representative of God that person partakes of the relationship between God's representative of God, because by serving God's representative, God is pleased.

And because God's representative knows that God is pleased by this service, Jesus can immediately say what he said: That because of her loving service to Jesus, her sins are forgiven by God.

Jesus' statement indelibly connects forgiveness to love. In fact, the two are synchronous. Consider again the parents lifting the teenagers' grounding after the brother's plea. The process is based on love. Her brother loves her and her parents love her. And because she reciprocated that love, the mutual love resulted in forgiveness.

Does love lead to forgiveness?

"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown."
Jesus is speaking of loving service here. In the same way, if someone offended us and then later showed their love for us with loving service we would immediately forgive them even if they didn't apologize for their offense. We would forgive them because of their loving service to us. Their loving service to us effectively erases any issue we have with them.

This is our innate nature because we were created by God and this is God's nature. God is a loving person. He is a soft, gentle person. He can be rough on us (expressed through our physical bodies) when He sees we need to change. But on a personal basis, He is lovable and caring. Always.

Notice Jesus' next statement:
"But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."
Again, this statement connects love to forgiveness. While it might seem like a quid pro quo scenario of loving more because one was forgiven more, it actually reflects something deeper and more profound than this.

It is not as if the more sinful things we did and were forgiven for, the more love we will have. This would mean that being more sinful would equate to a better position in heaven later.

What Jesus is talking about is humility and gratitude. It is the depth of the love being given to God, not the amount of love being given to us by God.

In other words, two people may be forgiven for the same thing but one person appreciates the forgiveness and the other person may not. Were they forgiven the same? Yes, but the one who appreciated the forgiveness the most received more forgiveness. This is again because forgiveness relates directly to love.

This is confirmed in Jesus' parable:
"Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
The "moneylender" forgave the borrowers equally. There was no prejudice between them.

But Jesus is saying that the love coming back from the debtors to the moneylender would correlate with how much was forgiven.

This question of how much doesn't relate to the relative dollars: It relates to the value that the forgiven person put upon those dollars.

For example, who would be impacted the most: a person who has $50 to their name being forgiven a $100 debt, or a person who has $10,000 in the bank being forgiven $1,000? The person being forgiven the $1000 will have the most money forgiven, but that $1000 forgiveness doesn't affect him as much as the many who has $50?

Certainly, the man who has $50 will be impacted more and will likely appreciate being forgiven for $100 more than the person being forgiven $1,000 who has $10,000.

Jesus, however, was assuming in his parable a direct comparison - that each person had similar relative worth, reflected by the phrase, "Neither of them had the money to pay him back..."

Since we are talking about love here and not bank accounts, it is the amount of gratitude a person feels that relates to the depth of their love. A person who has been given so much by God yet appreciates it little or not at all while a person who may not have as much might appreciate every little bit of what he has been given.

So Jesus is speaking of the intensity of the appreciation and gratitude felt by Mary as she wept and washed Jesus' feet with oil mixed with her tears. She was feeling so much love and appreciation for what had been given to her.

And just what had Jesus given to her? Was it just forgiveness of her sins?

What does forgiveness mean?

The word "forgiven" comes from the Greek word ἀφίημι (aphiēmi), which means "to send away," "to bid going away or depart," "to disregard," and "to let go" according to the lexicon.

This means that what is taking place is that her past activities - or bad habits - are being disregarded or dismissed. How does this work?

Sins are actions taken on the basis of self-centeredness. They are selfish activities.

These types of activities become offensive because while we are mired in self-centered consciousness, we disregard our innate loving service relationship with God. While in that consciousness, we ignore God and His love and care for us.

It might be compared to a person ignoring their parents after they were raised by their parents and nurtured over the years until they grow up and leave the house. Their parents might try to call them by phone one day and they purposely do not pick up the phone. Then they purposely do not call back. This is offensive to the parents because the parents loved and cared for their child for so many years.

In the same way, by ignoring God and His representative - not responding when they call us back to Him - we offend God. When we ignore them because we'd rather go to a party or take drugs or something else, those activities become offensive to God.

But when we reach out to God and/or His representative and ask for forgiveness, and then feel gratitude for being taken back despite our having ignored God for so long, this rekindles our innate loving relationship with our Supreme Best Friend. With such an attitude, we can now begin to travel the path of regaining our innate loving service relationship with the Supreme Being.

This is what Jesus was trying to teach them. A relationship with God is about love and loving service. It is not a quid pro quo relationship. It has nothing to do with the number of things, money or any other physical objects. It is about loving with sincerity, humility, and gratitude. This is why Jesus's central teaching was:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)