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The Contrast of Thanksgiving

Contrast is important in developing an attitude of gratitude in our lives.


It seems to me that appreciation is often related to contrasts. We are told the beauty of art is not just in color, but it's in contrast. That's part of what makes art beautiful.

Have you ever noticed that often you don't appreciate something until you don't have it anymore? Like our door-closer. We took for granted the front door of our house would close when we walked out. But one day the door-closer popped off, and from then on we had to stop to close the door. We had taken it for granted all that time.

There are a lot of things we appreciate when we experience the contrast of a thing. We have it and then we don't have it.

Contrast is important in developing an attitude of gratitude in our lives. College students who visit home understand contrast. They've been looking forward to home cooking for three months. Institutional food helps you to appreciate home cooking, and that's why Thanksgiving can be such a delightful time in some of our homes, I guess. You see, contrasts are often important in order for us to develop gratitude in our lives. When we observe the contrasts in our lives, the result will be an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving. That is why some of us are not very grateful: There aren't a whole lot of contrasts in our lives.

The story of Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman is a lesson in contrasts

Here is a lesson in contrasts, beginning in Luke 7:36.

First of all there is the Pharisee. We know his name because he's prominent. His name is Simon. Evidently he is a well-respected man who probably is well-to-do, because he is having a banquet to which he has invited Jesus. It seems Simon is concerned about appearances, because when you read these verses you get the feeling part of his motivation for inviting Jesus was because Jesus was a well-known evangelist. Simon thought, It would really help my image to invite this well-known itinerant preacher into my home and to entertain him.

Simon's attitude is anything but beautiful. He is critical; he second-guesses Jesus when he accepts the gratitude of this sinful woman. He is super spiritual; he says, "If Jesus were a prophet, he could have discerned the kind of woman that she is." He is also proud; he says, "She is a sinner."

On the other hand, there is the woman whose name we do not know. Some people speculate this is Mary Magdalene. We don't have any proof it's Mary Magdalene. We know she is a sinful woman and she has lived a sinful life. It is probable she is a prostitute and a prominent person in the sense that her lifestyle is well-known around town.

So when she appears, you can understand the horror of Simon the Pharisee. He didn't even want her on his property. But her attitude is one of humility. It says that she came up behind Jesus and, weeping, began to wash his feet. She didn't even feel she could come around front.

Imagine that, contrasted to the lifestyle she has lived. A prostitute is an aggressive person, taking initiative, offering her body to someone else. Here, she replaces that aggressiveness with humility. Notice the way she honors Jesus. She wipes his feet with her hair. She kisses his feet. This woman who was used to blatancy and doing brazen things, now expresses an attitude of honor. Notice also, if you will, her spiritual extravagance. In gratitude, she pours the perfume on the feet of Jesus. She's giving.

Do you see the contrast in her life? Do you see the lack of contrast in Simon's life? Simon's always been a good person. He's always had what he needed. Things have always gone well in his life. He's always been considered a well-respected person in the community. Not so with the woman who was sinful. There was a lot of contrast in her life. Simon resents her breaking into the middle of this special dinner he is giving to Jesus and to others who had accompanied him. But Jesus stops and says, "Simon, I want to teach you a lesson. You need to learn the lesson of contrast. Simon, your problem is there's not a whole lot of contrast in your life. The reason this woman is so grateful is because there's a lot of contrast in her life."

The first lesson is the importance of understanding, or revelation

There are some important lessons in this event that I would like to observe with you this morning.

The first is the importance of understanding or revelation. If you spend money but don't keep records, you can easily develop a false sense of security. For some of us, that's the way we like to handle life. We like to not have to face the facts. That's why credit cards are so popular. You really don't have to face reality with credit cards. You don't have to deal with it right now. But there's always a day of reckoning when you do that. To live without a true understanding of the state of your life is a dangerous place to be. We need to have an understanding about ourselves.

The story that Jesus tells is about two people who had a debt, both to the same person. They were not able to pay it. One debt was much larger than the other and the man forgave both debts. Jesus said, "Who do you think is going to appreciate it most?"

Simon said, "That's easy. I went to math and learned those kinds of equations. I know the person who is forgiven much will appreciate it much. He will be grateful."

Jesus said, "Simon, here's what you need to learn. Both of those people had a debt, and neither could pay it. Your problem, Simon, is that while this woman has a debt, you also have a debt. She knows it, and you don't. That's your problem. You, Simon, are saying, 'I'm a good person. After all, things are all right in my life. I'm walking with God. Things are going normally in my family. We're doing OK.' But Simon, what you don't realize is that you're in debt."

I believe in America we are in danger of having a false sense of security. The failing economy is not our biggest danger. We have this feeling that nothing can ever destroy us. That's a dangerous place to be, and it's a dangerous place to be spiritually, to feel like you don't have any debt, because the result is that then sin does not look nearly as awful as it used to.

Right now we are aware of Operation Greylord in the Chicago area, in which some judges stole money—at most, $50 and $100 at a time. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with working in a system that said there's nothing wrong with this? The tragedy of the whole thing is many of them don't really think it's all that bad. The tragedy of our lives is that sin loses its awfulness and repulsion. We are not repulsed by it any longer, and sin is not shunned. After all, I want to have my way.

My life would stand as a testimony to that kind of thing. Saved at a very young age, I never really did anything that terrible in my life. The danger for me has been in my struggle with feelings of self-righteousness and pride. There hasn't been a whole lot of contrast in my life. That's a dangerous thing.

Now, I'm not saying the answer is to go out and live an awful life so you can have contrast. I am saying the answer is to see that self-righteousness stinks as badly as murder. The problem is not that we need to go out and do something to create contrast; the problem is we really have the contrast and we just don't know it. We need to recognize that apart from Jesus Christ we are nothing. I believe that gratitude grows out of an attitude of being unworthy and undeserving.

You may say, "That's a bad thing to preach, Pastor, because everybody's already been beaten down. Everybody's got a poor self-image." Listen, the only thing that will adequately deal with a poor self-image is recognizing that a poor self-image is the result of sinful effects in my life and the only person who can restore that is Jesus Christ pouring his love into my life.

This woman had that attitude. She knew she had a debt. Jesus is saying, "Both of you have an obligation. Only one of you has accepted it," and he illustrates it for Simon. He says, " Simon, let me explain this to you. What happened when I came into your house? Nothing. What has this woman done? When you didn't pour water on my feet, she wet my feet with her tears. When you didn't wipe my feet, she wiped my feet with her hair. When you didn't greet me with a kiss, the kiss of greeting, she has kissed my feet. When you didn't pour oil on my head, she poured perfume on my feet.

"Now, Simon, think about this: This woman is not used to crying. She's a hardened person in her past. This woman is not used to kissing feet. She's used to other kinds of kisses. This woman has a past that doesn't relate to the things she's doing right now. But, Simon, she's done all the things you should have done as my host, and you didn't do one of them. She had an obligation, and she recognized and accepted it. Simon, you had an obligation, and you did not accept it. That's the tragedy."

The tragedy is that so many times we fail to recognize the contrasts in our lives. All Simon could see was this woman's past; he could not detect the present contrast. He could not see the stench of his own self-righteousness and the beauty of her humility. All he could see was her awful past and his glorious one.

If you and I are going to be grateful today, we are going to have to recognize not only what we do not deserve, but also the fact that we have failed to accept our obligation, and God in his mercy took us into himself when we had failed in all of those things. When we see that contrast, then we will begin to be grateful.

The second lesson is the importance of perspective and wisdom

Let me go on with you, if I may, in this lesson, because not only does Jesus talk about the importance of understanding, he talks about the importance of perspective; not only revelation but also wisdom. Gratitude grows out of our view of things. That's obvious in the lesson of Simon and the woman.

She had the right perspective on herself. She saw the true nature of sin in her life. Simon did not. She recognized the awfulness of the things that she had done and that had been imposed upon her. This woman saw the true nature of sin. Simon did not because his self-righteousness blinded him to the contrast of himself to Jesus. He saw himself as an equal or a superior to Jesus. She did not. And that kept Simon from really having gratitude in his heart. We must recognize that sin is sin, that self-righteous sin is as terrible as wicked sin, that we are all bankrupt.

I'm going to ask you a question. What is worse: a tornado that wipes out a town or poison in the water, like at Times Beach, Missouri, that slowly destroys the population? What is worse? We are more awestruck, more terror-stricken by the tornado. But is it really any worse? Not really.

I ask you today, what is worse: the awful, wicked deeds of the world or the cancerous self-righteousness that eats away at the hearts of so many people and is sending them to eternal destruction? Our problem is our failure to see the contrasts in our lives—what God has brought us out of, and what he wants to do in our lives.

This woman saw the fruit of her sin. When we get a real view of our true condition, our true state, then we will become grateful, because we will see what Christ has lifted us out of. If there aren't big contrasts in your life, where you committed an awful sin and then became this beautiful saint, that doesn't mean you can't have gratitude toward God. If we understand the true nature of sin and the fruit of sin, how can you and I help but rise in our spirits and say, "Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul"? Anyone who's been saved by the grace of God has tremendous contrasts in his life.

Another thing about this woman is not only her penitence, but also her passion. She saw not only the devastating results of sin; she saw the beautiful healing power of God's grace. She saw not only the true nature of sin; she saw the true nature of Christ's love. This woman had loved many men. She had spent a whole life looking for love, but for the first time she found real love in Jesus Christ. She never sensually touched him and she never experienced all of those things she had always had to experience in the past, because for the first time in her life she found what real love is. She understood the contrast.

The problem is that Simon did not, for he had never paid any attention to love. He was too busy using people and manipulating people to serve his own purposes to really bother to think about love. So for Simon to understand love was a difficult thing.

But here was a woman who had been rejected, but now she is accepted. Here is a woman who had been discouraged and beaten down and told she was nothing, and now she has been raised up and encouraged and lifted up by this person Jesus Christ. How can she help but be thankful? A bottle of perfume is not enough for her. It's just all she's got.

Gratitude comes in our lives when we get not only a view of the true nature of sin in our lives but we get a proper view of the true nature of God's love. She saw the fruit of Christ's love. She had spent many sleepless nights and lonely days. She knew the emptiness and void and frustration and bitterness of sin, but Simon didn't know those things. She knew what it was to be forgiven. Jesus said, " I forgive you." For the first time in her life, that craving inside her had been satisfied.

Can you understand the contrasts in her life that would make her grateful? For the first time she had faith. She was able to believe in somebody. When you and I get a true view of Christ's love, of his acceptance of us, of his mercy toward us, of what he has done for us when we understand what he has brought us out of and what he has brought us into, how can we help but rise in gratitude to the living God and say, "O Lord, we bless your name"?


I close with Ephesians chapter 1, verse 17: "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."

Paul said, "I pray that you may have the spirit of wisdom and revelation." That's what the woman experienced. That's why she came and wept at the feet of Jesus and washed his feet with her hair and anointed him with perfume; she saw the contrast. By wisdom and revelation her eyes were enlightened and she saw the contrasts in her life. As you and I look at the contrast in our lives, we cannot help but thank God for his goodness.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

The late Robert Schmidgall was pastor of Calvary Temple in Naperville, Illinois. He also served on the board of Teen Challenge and on the executive presbytery of the Assemblies of God.

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Sermon Outline:


I. The story of Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman is a lesson in contrasts

II. The first lesson is the importance of understanding, or revelation

III. The second lesson is the importance of perspective and wisdom