Parable of the Two Debtors (with Study Questions)

The Parable of the Two Debtors is a powerful illustration of God’s mercy.  It is also a cautionary parable about not judging the sins of others.  

Studying this parable can help us grow in our love for God while also expanding our capacities to love others.

This parable is found in the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel.  Like other New Testament parables, Jesus uses this story to convey an important spiritual truth.  

It conveys God’s desired response to his forgiveness.  It also reminds us not to compare ourselves to others in matters of holiness.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this parable can lead us to search our hearts and confess our sins.  It can also help us avoid critical and judgmental thoughts about others.

Let’s take a closer look at the parable together today.  We’ll begin by reviewing the details of the story.  

We will then study the meaning of the parable and glean several lessons that apply to our lives today. (Study questions at end of post!)

a man that looks like Jesus sitting on the group teaching a group of people

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Parable of the Two Debtors Story

To understand The Parable of the Two Debtors, we need to study the context in which Jesus shared the story.

Jesus shared this parable after a Pharisee named Simon invited him to eat at his house.  

Upon entering the Pharisee’s house, a woman of the city (who was notoriously sinful) came up behind Jesus and began to wipe his feet with her tears.  

She poured oil from an expensive alabaster jar of perfume onto him and wiped Jesus’ feet with the hair of her head.

Simon, the Pharisee, rebuked Jesus, saying,

“If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39, NASB).

In response, Jesus began telling a story about a moneylender who had two debtors.  One of the indebted men owed him 50 denarii, and the other owed 500.  The moneylender graciously canceled both debts.

Jesus then asked Simon, “Which of them will love him more?” (verse 42).

Simon answered, “I assume the one for whom he canceled the greater debt” (verse 43).

Jesus affirmed Simon’s answer.  He then compared the two debtors to the sinful woman and Simon.  When Jesus entered Simon’s house, Simon did not cleanse Jesus’ feet or anoint him with oil.  

However, because the sinful woman had been forgiven of much, she had a great love for Jesus.

She did not spare her expensive alabaster jar of ointment.  She was so grateful for God’s mercy that she didn’t hesitate to pour the ointment on the feet of Jesus.

woman rubbing her hair on a man's feet

Parable of the Two Debtors Meaning

The Parable of the Debtor is a wonderful example of the great love and mercy of God.  The good news of this parable is that no sin is too great to be forgiven.  

This parable is also a word of caution for those who compare themselves to others and decide that they are more righteous than others.  In Simon’s mind, he was a righteous man.  

A leader of the Jewish people, he was the sort of person who did not associate with notoriously sinful people.

Simon was offended when the sinful woman showed up at his dinner table.  He believed that the woman’s sins disqualified her from keeping company with righteous people such as himself.

Sadly, Simon’s lack of understanding cost him.   Jesus was moved by the woman’s act of love.  

Jesus explained that the woman was like the second debtor.  She owed more money, and, therefore, she loved the moneylender more. The woman had led a sinful life, and she knew that she owed a larger debt to Jesus. 

As a result, she was willing to demonstrate her love in a beautiful way.  She was the sort of woman who wasn’t afraid to make her love known.  Jesus treasured her love. 

the word parable spelled out in tiles on a dark background

Parable of the Two Debtors Lessons

We can learn many lessons from the Parable of the Two Debtors:

This parable is an example of Jesus’ great mercy toward us; we also learn that a greater debt yields greater love.

Jesus’ response to the woman shows us that he is delighted when we show him our affection. We should not compare our holiness to others’ holiness; and we should confess our sins regularly.

Let’s explore these lessons together today.

Offer Unbiased Mercy

First, this parable reveals Jesus’ unbiased mercy.   We cannot be sure what the woman had done that made her especially sinful in her community.  

However, it was clear that everyone knew that she was a sinful person.

Despite these stigmas, Jesus was not offended by the woman’s presence.  On the other hand, Simon, the Pharisee, had no mercy toward her.  He did not welcome her into his home.

Meanwhile, Jesus welcomed her into his presence and allowed her to express her affection.  He did not send her away or tell her that she was unwelcome.

Jesus’ receptivity reminds us that the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness are not limited. He welcomes all who come to him with sincere and humble hearts.  He is ready to extend forgiveness to those who are willing to receive it.

Perhaps you feel as though you have fallen too far from the holiness of God.  Maybe you feel like you’ve made too many mistakes to draw near to Christ and seek his healing forgiveness.  

You might be worried that since you have rejected God, he will reject you in return.

Let the woman in this story offer you hope.  There is no sin so great that Jesus will not extend forgiveness.  Turn to him with a humble heart, recognize that you need his mercy, and ask him to forgive you.

Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for your sins.  Instead of punishing you, God the Father punished Jesus.  

Jesus paid the price for every sin you have ever committed when he died on the cross and received God’s wrath in your place.

His grace, mercy, and forgiveness are free gifts to you.

You don’t need to do anything to earn God’s forgiveness.  You receive the gift of forgiveness by admitting that you have sinned, believing that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, asking him to forgive you, and receiving the gift of eternal life.  

When you receive the gift of eternal life, you decide to stop living for yourself and start living for Jesus.  

You won’t live this Jesus-following life perfectly, but Jesus will continue to forgive you for every sin you commit and every mistake you make along the journey.

Eternal life is more than a ticket to heaven.   Eternal life begins the moment you receive God’s forgiveness at the cross and it consists of continuing to get to know Jesus more and more throughout your life on Earth.

The woman in today’s parable received this gift, and you can receive it, too.  

A Greater Debt Can Yield Greater Love

Second, in addition to revealing Jesus’ mercy, this parable also teaches us that a greater debt yields greater love.  

Often, people who lead extremely sinful lives before receiving Christ’s forgiveness are people who love Christ with an especially fervent kind of love after receiving his forgiveness.  

The sinful woman in this story is an example.   She had made many mistakes.  As a result, when Christ forgave her of her sins, her love for him was exceptionally abundant.

She recognized the debt from which she had been delivered.  She knew that she had fallen so far that she could not save herself.  

On the other hand, Simon, the Pharisee, thought that he was righteous.  Therefore, his love was shallow.  Most likely, he thought that his holiness had granted him access to Jesus' presence.

Simon did not understand or perceive the depth of his depravity.  He was proud.   These attitudes hindered his ability to love Jesus.

Additionally, the woman was not concerned with what other people thought about her when she approached Christ and wiped his feet with her hair.  

Moved with love for him, she didn’t allow the critical gazes of the religious leaders to stop her from demonstrating her love for Christ.

Most likely, the religious leaders watched her and thought, She should get up off the floor and stop using her hair to wipe Jesus' feet.  

And look at that ointment she is using to anoint him.  That is worth many days' wages.  That money could have been given to the poor.

Meanwhile, the woman’s gestures teach us that those who recognize the depth of Christ’s forgiveness are moved by their love for him.   A bigger debt yields more abundant love.   

Are you willing to humble yourself and demonstrate your love for Christ in radical ways?  Or are you too concerned about what others might think of you?

These are questions for us all to consider when it comes to showing Jesus our great love for him.

God Wants Us to Demonstrate Our Love for Him

This leads to a third lesson we can learn from the parable.

Just as Jesus was pleased with the woman’s expression of love, he is delighted when we stop worrying about our appearances and show him our love and affection.

This might look like worshiping him in a way that makes you stand out among a solemn group of worshipers.  It might include enthusiastically telling friends about Jesus’ love because you simply cannot hold back.

It might even include worshiping facedown on the floor in your home—and not worrying about what your family members might think of you.

Many Christians routinely go through the religious motions surrounding their faith.  They go to church most Sundays, read their Bibles, and pursue spiritual activities.

Meanwhile, Jesus wants our hearts to burn with love for him.  He wants us to be so desperate for him that tears fill our eyes when we worship him.

Jesus is pleased when we pour our lives out as living offerings at his feet.  When we offer our lives as our spiritual acts of worship, Jesus is glorified.  

We can demonstrate our love for God and worship him with our lives in many practical ways.  

We demonstrate our love for God when we set aside time to talk to him and learn to commune with him deeply.

This might take place in the quiet moments after waking up, just before bed, or during our lunch breaks.  For parents of young children or full-time caretakers, these moments might happen behind locked bathroom doors in the rare quiet moments of their days.  

As Jesus commanded, we go to quiet places, close the door, and seek our Father in heaven.  

These quiet moments can refresh us and fill us with the love of God like nothing else.

We also demonstrate our love for God when we talk to him as we go about our daily lives.  This way of living might be thought of as living on two levels. On one level, we are doing our daily work, having conversations with others, and completing the many tasks that fill our days.  

Meanwhile, on a deeper level, we are always aware that God is with us.  We are listening for his whispers and seeking his direction.  We are thanking him for his goodness and enjoying the gift of his presence with us.

We can also demonstrate our love for God by loving others.  This includes going out of our way to help strangers or speaking kind words to the people we pass throughout our everyday lives.  

It includes serving our families with selfless hearts, caring for our neighbors, encouraging our colleagues, checking in with distant relatives, and more.

Jesus reminded us that whatever we do for others, we do for him (see Matthew 25:40).  Therefore, by demonstrating love for others, we are demonstrating love for Jesus.

We Have All Fallen Short of God’s Perfection

The fourth lesson we can learn from this parable is that we should be careful about comparing ourselves to others or deciding that our good works make us superior to others.  

The Pharisee in this story compared himself to the sinful woman and decided that he was a better, more righteous person.   Sadly, he was mistaken.

When we compare ourselves with others and decide that we are holier, our sin of pride is detestable to God.  God humbles the proud and exalts the humble.

Perhaps you feel tempted to compare your sins to the sins of other people.  Maybe your sins are subtle in this season of your life: attitudes and ways of thinking that aren’t obvious to others.  

Like Simon, you might look at those whose sins are more obvious and decide that you are spiritually superior.  Perhaps you even refuse to associate with certain people who lead sinful lives because you have a sense that you are better than them.

Most of us fall into this trap at certain times in our lives.  If you sense the Lord showing you that you have an aura of spiritual superiority, humble yourself.  

Remind yourself that your heart of flesh was inherently sinful until Christ redeemed you and gave you a new heart.

Repent and remember the height from which you have fallen.  

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, ask the Lord to give you a humble view of yourself.  Pray that you will never lose sight of the work Jesus did for you when he died in your place.  

We Must Continually Purify Our Hearts

Closely related to these principles, the fifth lesson we can learn from this parable is the importance of regularly searching our hearts and confessing our sins.

King David prayed,

“Search me, God, and know my heart; put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

God's Word reminds us to regularly confess our sins as we aim to live with clear consciousnesses in God's sight.  When we regularly ask God to search our hearts and reveal our sins, we live with an ongoing awareness of our need for Jesus.

Like the woman in this parable, we are repeatedly reminded that Jesus has redeemed us and saved us from ourselves.  

These ongoing reminders are not meant to shame us; instead, they spur us on to live in gratitude as our love for the Lord grows.

At the end of each, pray David’s prayer and ask God to search your heart and show you any ways you might have sinned against him throughout the day.  Then, reflect on your day.  Relive the day as if you are walking through it again.  

If studying the Bible better is on your list of things to do this year, be sure to visit our Bible Study Resources page where you'll find everything you need to make Bible study a regular part of your daily routine.

Start in the morning and imagine returning to the places you went.  Recall the conversations you had.  Think about the ways you treated others, the words you spoke, and the attitudes of your heart.

Ask God to reveal moments when you spoke hurtful words to others.  Ask him to show you times when your attitude was not glorifying to him.  Pray that he will reveal any sinful moments.

After you have reviewed the day and identified any sinful moments, confess these sins to God.  Tell him you are sorry for sinning against him and then move into a posture of repentance.

Parable of the Two Debtors Bible Study
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Repentance is the act of turning away from sin and turning toward God.  

Imagine yourself turning away from sinful behaviors, attitudes, and words as you turn toward God.  Ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to change your ways.

The Holy Spirit will align your heart with God’s heart so that you embrace what God embraces and despise what God despises.  

Ask him to help you abhor the sins that separate you from God as he fills you with his power for change.  

This is a powerful practice to incorporate into your days as you aim to stir your affection for Christ and apply the lessons learned from the Parable of the Two Debtors.

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This parable is an important reminder of God’s mercy as well as the importance of remaining humble, open, and repentant.  Let Simon, the Pharisee, serve as a reminder not to compare yourself to others.

Allow the woman to remind you to pour your love upon Jesus.  He loves you more than you can fathom, and he is pleased when you offer him the gift of your love in return.

The Parables of Jesus offer us so many important lessons for living a life more like Jesus and cultivating a heart of love for others.

Want to learn more about the Parables of Jesus? Visit our Parables Study Listing!

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