Luke 7:42

ESV When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
NIV 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?'
NASB When they were unable to repay, he canceled the debts of both. So which of them will love him more?'
CSB Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more? "
NLT But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?'
KJV And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

What does Luke 7:42 mean?

Jesus is telling a parable to a Pharisee named Simon. This explains why He appreciated a chaste but extravagant display of gratitude by a sinful woman (Luke 7:36–39). In the story, one man owes roughly two months' wages while another owes almost two years' wages (Luke 7:41). The moneylender cancels both their debts. Jesus wants Simon to explain which debtor will love the moneylender more.

The parable is related to the present interaction. Jesus is the moneylender. Instead of money, however, the debt is recompense for sin. The Pharisee is the man who owes less because he sins less. His religious sect ensures he follows the Mosaic law to the letter, as well as the Oral Law which scribes added just in case. For their poor reputation in the modern world, it's often forgotten that Pharisees were morally minded and well respected in their culture. Even Jesus acknowledged the Pharisees' righteousness (Matthew 5:20).

The man who owes more is represented by the woman. She entered Simon's home, the door being open as was tradition for a banquet. As Jesus reclines for the meal, she only has access to His feet. In her gratitude, she weeps, her tears falling on His feet. She uses her hair to clean away the tears and dirt, then anoints them with costly perfume (Luke 7:36–38). We don't know what sins she has committed, but Simon considers her a "sinner" (Luke 7:39), and Jesus admits her sins "are many" (Luke 7:47).

Jesus offers both Simon and the woman forgiveness of their sins. The woman knows her sin, accepts His forgiveness and, in gratitude, loves Jesus for it. Simon's proper, culturally appropriate interactions with Jesus reveal a lack of love. In his self-righteousness, he likely doesn't consider himself in need of forgiveness.

Simon isn't thinking of Jesus as God and the Messiah who forgives the sins of the world, however; he barely thinks Jesus may be a prophet (Luke 7:39). He knows the greatest commandment is to love God, but he thinks love is only following the Law. It would never occur to him that a "sinful woman" could love God more than he.
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