Poor Horatio

I’ve always enjoyed The Andy Griffith Show. One of my favorite scenes is from Episode 8 of Season 1 entitled “Opie’s Charity.” Andy learns that his son Opie had contributed a “piddling amount of only 3 cents” toward his school’s Underprivileged Children’s Drive. In trying to help his son understand the importance of charity, Andy begins his instruction with some statistics to help him see how great the need is. The dialogue proceeds as follows:

Andy: Why, I was readin’ here just the other day where there’s somewhere like four hundred needy boys in this county alone, or… or-or one and a half boys per square mile.
Opie: There is?
Andy: There sho’ is.
Opie: I never seen one, Pa.
Andy: Never seen one, what?
Opie: A half a boy.
Andy: Well, it’s not really a half a boy. It’s a ratio.
Opie: Horatio who?
Andy: Not Horatio. A ratio. It’s mathematics – arithmetic. Look, now, Opie, just… forget… forget that part of it. F-f-forget the part about the half a boy.
Opie: It’s pretty hard to forget a thing like that, Pa.
Andy: Well, try.

Opie dutifully tries to forget about Horatio, the half a boy, but sadly shakes his head and says “Poor Horatio.”

Jesus taught a lesson using ratios too. In Luke 7, He is invited to dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee. At one point, a woman entered described simply as “a sinner” which I take to mean, people recognized her and she was well known for her lewd behavior, her rebellious nature, and her sinful, lawless lifestyle. She most likely had been ostracized by the religious leaders and prohibited from setting foot on temple grounds, though I doubt she ever had any interest in doing so. All “good” Jews were to avoid her, shunning her altogether. In fact, it was quite bold of her to enter the house of a known pharisee! Surely, she must have been expecting to be thrown out at some point.

She enters the house bringing a jar of ointment with her, goes directly to Jesus, and proceeds to anoint His feet with it, her tears also mingling in, as she wipes them with her hair. I don’t doubt for a second that if Simon had been hosting a dinner for some other dignitaries, the high priest perhaps, he would have cast this woman out immediately, making a bold and memorable display of his condemnation of her. His guests would have congratulated him, and it would have been the talk of the town for weeks. In this case, however, because Jesus was his guest, he decides to hold his tongue and watch how Jesus reacts to her and judge Him accordingly. There were others dining at the table with Jesus, and this encounter was sure to add some entertainment to their evening.

Much to his dismay, Simon watched as Jesus welcomed this unusual display. In spite of his intense scrutiny, he observed no reaction from Jesus to indicate her behavior was anything but perfectly proper and appropriate. I suspect Simon would very much have liked to witness Jesus treat this woman in a way similar to how he would have treated her, rebuking her and sending her away humiliated. In fact, nothing would have delighted him more than to hear Jesus rebuke himself for allowing such a woman to even set foot in his house! In his imagination, he probably delighted to think of himself making a show of apologizing to Jesus for being such a poor host in allowing this debacle to ruin their evening.

Disappointed with how the situation had unfolded, Simon mocks Jesus in his heart, thinking to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Jesus had failed his test, and in the eyes of Simon, this Jesus was no-one special, and certainly not a prophet sent from God as some on the street were saying. I suspect he had hoped to gain some reputation for having this Jesus as a guest in his house, but was now beginning to wonder how best to explain what he had observed to his fellow pharisees. He has a reputation to maintain after all.

Jesus answered Simon. Whoa, hold on a second. Simon never said or asked anything! He was just standing off to the side, quietly thinking these thoughts to himself. According to Jewish custom, the host did not recline at the table with his guests. He stood nearby, ready to refill their drinks and bring them their meats, vegetables, breads, and cakes. He took his duties very seriously for according to second century rabbinic tradition, an honorable host would expect to receive the following commendation from his guest upon the conclusion of the evening:

“Look how much this householder has done for me! He has brought me so much meat [i.e., fine, expensive food]! How many cakes he has set before me! And all that he has done, he has done just for my benefit!”

Shim’on Ben Zoma – Bereishit Rabbah 52

So when Jesus interrupts the conversation around the table to address their host in front of everyone saying “Simon, I have something to say to you,” they were all probably expecting to hear him say something along those lines. This was the point of the affair where the guest of honor would congratulate and praise his host on the excellencies of the meal and the service which had been performed. Departing from this custom, Jesus instead, in response to Simon’s thoughts, says the following:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Luke 7:41-42

Though likely caught off guard by the oddity of this question, I doubt Simon had too much difficulty in making up his mind as to the correct response and indeed he does, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” This was not a question designed to tax his intellect or to spark controversy. I’m sure everyone at the table nodded in agreement with his answer. The question itself was a simple matter. What was the point in even bringing it up? No doubt, all eyes in the room were upon Jesus.

Jesus then asks Simon:

“Do you see this woman?”

John 7:44

Surely, Jesus knew Simon had noticed her enter the room and had observed carefully all she was doing. But He was also fully aware of how Simon saw her. Simon saw a sinner, and had just been thinking of how Jesus did not see her rightly. Jesus’ response to Simon’s thoughts were in effect, “No Simon. I truly see this woman. It is you who does not see her.” Jesus saw a woman who has been forgiven a great debt. The expression of love they had all witnessed, provided the evidence of her forgiveness, and the great debt she had been forgiven, was all her sins.

When Jesus turned to the woman to tell her “Your sins are forgiven,” he was not returning the favor of the love and kindnesses she had shown him. The woman’s love for Him was not the condition for her forgiveness. It was the proof for it. Her sins had all been forgiven before she had even set foot into the house, because a love for Him was already in her heart. Regarding this passage, John Calvin writes:

The similitude ought to be applied in this way: You think this woman is a sinner; but you ought to have acknowledged her as not a sinner, in respect that her sins have been forgiven her. Her love ought to have been to you a proof of her having obtained forgiveness, that love being an expression of gratitude for the benefit received. It is an argument a posteriori, by which something is demonstrated by the results produced by it. Our Lord plainly attests the ground on which she had obtained forgiveness, when he says, “Thy faith has saved thee.” [Luke 7:50] By faith, therefore, we obtain forgiveness: by love we give thanks, and bear testimony to the loving-kindness of the Lord.

John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 4

My reflections on this encounter prompt me to ask myself, am I playing host to Jesus – serving Him with the expectation of honor and praise in return – or am I a debtor to Jesus who has been forgiven an overwhelming, soul-crushing debt? My love and gratitude toward Him, and even my worship of Him, will answer that question. Have we been forgiven much or have we been forgiven little? As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. We will love only a little when we think we have been forgiven but a little. Perhaps instead of making of show of love through service, we ought to truly reflect on the magnitude of the sins for which we have been forgiven.

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