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Put Paid to It

7/7/19

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To put paid to' is a British idiom which really means to finish or destroy something" (Cambridge Dictionary). It's origin seems to be in the early 20th century and comes from the realm of bookkeeping (phrases.org.uk). Americans use put paid to' when we want to be emphatic about something having been paid off or will be paid off. And this fits the text.

Put paid to a debt of money. Most adults knows what it means and feels to be indebted. There is more than obligation; there is weight, and it's being under that weight. In the 90s, they gave out credit cards like candy. The head of Sears said in the 80s that he would rather sell things on credit than for cash. A credit card is an unsecured personal loan and carries higher than market rate interest. And as long as you pay the minimum, you are on time. I knew a wealthy woman who carried a 5,000-dollar balance on her card. I pointed out that if she just paid the minimum and made no more charges that 5,000-dollar debt would cost her 25,000 over time.

Even if you're very responsible with indebtedness, you can still find yourself in the place of not being able to pay. Of course, you can't get blood out of a stone as the English say or out of a turnip as Americans say (Ibid.). In our day, the worst that can happen is someone takes you to court to get a judgment against you and gets the authority to garnish your wages and/or bank accounts. This wasn't always the case. In Bible times you and your family could be sold as slaves or kept in prison. In America the last of the debtors' prisons and poorhouses went by the wayside in the 19th century. But a house mortgage will probably dog you for 30 years, a car loan (if you're not careful) for 7, and a student loan can hound you for a lifetime being difficult and sometimes impossible to discharge even in bankruptcy.

So imagine this. You're at your commencement. You're graduating not only with a 4-year degree but with 80,000 dollars of indebtedness. The commencement speaker is droning on. What's that? "'My family,' says the speaker, is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans!'" What? He's going to pay off the student loans of the entire graduating class! That is what billionaire Robert Smith told the graduating class of Morehouse College in his commencement address on May 19 this year. That gift of pure grace totally changed the future. One student said, "'I started to clap but I had a blank stare on my face because I couldn't believe he said that, I was at a loss for words. I'm still in shock.' Then [he] Armstead Jr. realized that his $80,000 in student loans would no longer be a burden he needed to carry" (https://people.com/human-interest/morehouse-grad-grateful-robert-f-smith-paying-off-student-loans/).

You know how it feels to put paid to a debt of money. If you're old enough you remember when they gave you a book of payments that you ripped off and sent in with your check. Down, down, smaller and smaller one chit at a time went that stack until your debt would be put paid to. Jesus is using the common feeling of indebtedness and the not so common one of a loan being forgiven to teach you about forgiveness, for you to put paid to your debt of sin. Jesus in teaching us how to pray tells us to think of our sins against God and the sins of others against us in terms of debt. "In this manner, therefore, pray: And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors."

Have you ever been in the position to say, "Just tell me what I owe?" If you know you legitimately owe something but not how much, that wears on you in a double way. Well, not one of us knows our true indebtedness to God. With David in Ps. 19 we say, "Who can discern his errors?" But with Simon the Pharisee of this much we are sure: The indebtedness of us churchgoers to God is on the low side while the indebtedness to God of obvious sinners is on the high. But when we do this we fall under Paul's verdict in 2 Cor. 10: "When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." It's only God's holy Law that can show us the truth, and bring us to another confession of David, "For innumerable evils have surrounded me; My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; They are more than the hairs of my head" (Ps. 40:12). Isaiah too tells us how bad it is: "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Is. 59:2).

Put paid to that debt of sin that you cannot know and can never ever pay off and that compounds daily with every breath you take. You think I'm referencing the 1983 song by that name but I'm really referencing a 16th century Reformation hymn that says, "Through all man's powers corruption creeps/ And him in dreadful bondage keeps;/ In guilt he draws his infant breath/ And reaps its fruits of woe and death" ("All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall", TLH 369:2). As long as you're breathing, you're sinning. In this regard, I thought the Metaxas biography of Luther was helpful. He points out that Luther's discovery of the Gospel was that the Christian couldn't have as his goal to be sinless in this life, but to be forgiven. Simon thought that he had this all sewn up, but earlier in the chapter we read, "The Phariseesrejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by John" (Lk. 7:30).

God's will for them, for all, people, is that none perish but all repent and come to a knowledge of the truth. God's will is that all realize there is none righteous, no not one, but that all of gone astray, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and must go to hell forever. God's will is that all come to see that Jesus kept the law in their place and died on the cross the damned, God-forsaken death they deserve to because of even just their Original Sin. The only way to put paid to that original debt is by the holy precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus. Simon thought he had or could put paid to that debt. The sinful woman knew she hadn't, couldn't. Which one are you? You can tell you know. It's in the equation Jesus gives here: "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgivenas her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."

Think of what it means to put paid to a debt of money and how much more it means to put paid to a debt of sin. Then wrestle with putting paid to a debt of love. You can wrestle with St. Augustine here. Read his sermon on this text. It's number 49. It's online. Or you can wrestle with St. Paul in Romans 13: "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law." Love is the debt that can never be paid off, never discharged, never forgiven, but loving only comes from being forgiven. What's the one Bible verse almost everyone knows? "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." And Paul fleshes out, in the second most popular verse among Lutherans, how this saving faith is created in us in Eph. 2:8, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Here's where the scales should fall off. The part the insert translates: "He canceled the debts of both" is literally, "he graced" them. It gets better. When Jesus turns and looks at the brokenhearted, grateful, forgiven sinner He says to Simon, "For grace I say to you her sins, which are many have been forgiven." The woman believed this though society, Simon, and the Devil did not. She braved their scorn, judgment, and humiliations by worshipping at the feet of Jesus. She's at the Communion rail, the Communion Altar is God's footstool on earth, and she is overcome with gratitude for who He is God in her flesh and blood. And she is overcome with gratitude for what He came to do: Keep the Law that pounded, accused, cursed, and damned her, and pay off her unpayable debt of sins and sinfulness.

She doesn't mean to cry; how many times have I seen tears at the Lord's Table? I don't think any of them, not all women by the way, thought, "I'm going to kneel there and have a good cry." But cry she does, and as her warm tears hit Jesus' feet, she used the only thing she had to dry them: her hair. They told us in seminary that you can tell when a hospitalized woman starts to feel better. She will do something with her hair. In Jesus' day, to let your hair down in public was immodest. Loose women did that. The kind of woman Simon and all the rest knew her to be. Though we don't actually know what her public sin was, it was crass to let her hair down; the equivalent today of a woman removing her blouse but having a sport's bra underneath. That would be shocking to see at the Communion rail; only someone not thinking of themselves or others would do that. Only someone not ashamed to be shamed even more, so humbled she no longer thought in terms of humiliation. So forgiven she was only focused on the one who forgave her, not on whether or not others would add to her debt of sin. Love got a hold of her as it does all the forgiven.

Our Lutheran Confessions don't use these words but they speak of this concept when they say a forgiven sinner doesn't have a wrathful God, and if you still have a wrathful God stalking you, haunting you, panicking you, you're forgiveness is at best incomplete or doubtful or worse nonexistent. Don't flip this around and think: O I'm only forgiven as much as I love. That makes love the source of forgiveness. No, think of it more like a measure of how you see God's heavenly spreadsheet. Love for God and others springs from seeing just how many of your debts the blood of Jesus Christ has put paid to. You cannot but love God and others as you see every one of your lines put paid to by God on Easter after Jesus finished, destroyed your debt of sin on Good Friday. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (20190707); Luke 7: 36-50