It was brought to light last week that there are two sides, or more, to every story. Last week, we heard from Simon the Pharisee, and what happened on the day that Jesus came to have dinner at his house; a strange woman interrupting his lavish meal and setting in motion a chain of events that would change his rigid, pious life forever.
This morning we look at the same story from a different angle – through the eyes of the woman herself; the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. And as we do this, we are tempted to ask questions for which there are little to no answers: Who was this woman? What motivated her to do what she did? And what happened to her afterwards?
As we find so often within the pages of our Bible, our story has a way of paralleling with the lives of those we read and hear about – to the point where their story becomes our story. So let us now listen with our ears and with our hearts to the word of God: (read Luke 7:36-50)
I have no name. You can check it out for yourself in the Bible, if you want. It’s not there. Of all the main people in this story, I’m the only one who is nameless. You know the person who hosted this dinner at his house was named Simon. You of course know his honored guest that evening was a man named Jesus. But no one knows who I am. Because I have no name.
And you know what that means. I could be anyone, really. I could be someone living in the high rise, or someone living on the streets. I could be some famous person everyone follows on Twitter – you don’t know. Because I don’t have a name. I could be a neighbor of yours, or a member of your summer swim club, or the person that you pass by every day on your morning walk. I could even be sitting beside you right now, for that matter. See, since no one knows who I am, I could be anybody. I could even be you.
And that is why I believe with all of my heart that my story is, in fact, your story. Not because I claim to know anything about you, or assume that the path you’ve chosen in life is the same as mine. For the record, I hope it isn’t. But as I look back on what happened that day with Jesus, I’ve come to understand that none of it was just about me. It’s about all of us, all who feel like something is missing from their lives and spend most of life trying to find it. It’s the story of you and it’s the story of me.
So, no, I don’t have a name. But here’s who I am: I’m just your average Galilean. I don’t any family; I pretty much keep to myself. I don’t talk to people much, either. I learned a long time ago that words can be misconstrued and misunderstood way too easily. But no one can misunderstand your actions – that I know for sure. I think you have an expression in your time: “actions speak louder than words.” That’s pretty much been my way of life.
In the past my actions have been, how should I put this, less than desirable. Let’s just leave it at that. It’s amazing how easy it is to slip into self-defeating routines. You think you’re still in control; you think you can handle it. You think you have people around you who have your best interests at heart and be there for you. Then you discover two hard truths: first, breaking those routines is not as easy as you thought it’d be; and second, the people you thought were there for you are suddenly nowhere to be found.
So before I knew it, I was in a terrible place. I had become someone I wasn’t proud of. I tried turning to others for help, only to realize they weren’t concerned about me – just what they could get from me. That’s when the hopelessness starts to settle in, that’s when despair begins taking over. I gave up trying to correct my course and sort of accepted who I’d become. On the outside, I put on a brave face and pretended I was actually happy with what my life had turned into. But on the inside, I was a wandering spiritless, no-name person.
I spent a lot of time in that difficult place. Redemption never comes as quickly and easily as we want it to. But it came, eventually. It came when I was out one night, wandering the streets as I always did, and overheard a group of folks talking as they passed by – talking about this Jesus of Nazareth. Now I had heard of Jesus before; everyone had. But to be honest I wasn’t all that interested. I had never been much of a follower of the Hebrew faith I was born into.
But as I listened to these people talk, I heard something ….. different. This man said that he had seen Jesus perform a miracle – something about healing a man who hadn’t been able to walk for years. That sounded pretty amazing to me – but not as amazing as what he said next. This man went on to say that Jesus forgave him of his sins. Now that got my attention. I mean, healing the body is pretty amazing. But healing the soul – I mean, could he really do that? And if he could, if it was the God’s honest truth that he healed that man’s soul, could he heal mine? My worn and weary, broken into a million pieces, aching soul – could he heal me? My heart jumped as I imagined what it would feel like to be forgiven – to be rid of all those burdens I had heaped upon myself. To wake up in the morning and actually look forward to the day; and to go to bed at night knowing I had lived well.
I was so excited, just hearing this! But I was also terrified, too. Because I knew – I knew if I were to seek this Jesus out and receive his forgiveness, I would have to do something much harder first. I would have to forgive myself. And that was not going to be easy. It never is, is it? See, I had gotten comfortable in my apathy. I had grown callous and indifferent. And if I were going to turn my life around – or, more appropriately, let Jesus turn it around for me – then it would mean making myself more vulnerable than I ever had been before. And frankly, I was tired of being vulnerable.
I was mulling all of this over in my mind when I heard those folks mention that Jesus was going to dine with a local Pharisee named Simon later that evening. I could hardly believe my luck! I high-tailed it over to the Pharisee’s house. I knew where he lived; I had seen him walking around town before. I’m pretty sure he had seen me too; no telling what he thought of me. But none of that mattered now. Because I knew – I knew that I needed to do whatever I had to do to see Jesus, face to face.
I had it all planned out, exactly what I would say and do. Even rehearsed a little speech in my head. From the corner on the street I watched the dinner take place. And then I saw my chance – the guests were enjoying all the food and Simon and Jesus were talking up a storm. So I stood up and walked right through the front door of Simon’s house.
I burst into the open area and stood right before Jesus. He sat there, looking up at me. All the other guests were mortified at me, I could feel their eyes burning on my back. But Jesus just sat there and looked at me as if he had been expecting me all along. It was the strangest thing. I knelt at his side. Time for the speech, I told myself. Time to lay it all out on the table.
But the words never came. I think I said before I’m not much of a talker. I guess the emotion of the moment got the best of me, and all those fancy words just vanished. All I could do was just look into his eyes. And when I did, it was as if he already knew – there wasn’t a need for me to say a thing. Maybe I didn’t need words after all. Maybe my being there said enough.
And that’s when I lost it. I bowed my head at his feet and cried like crazy. My tears fell all over his feet like a gushing waterfall, washing away the dust from his long day’s journey. I could hear the gasps from Simon and his guests and could only wonder what they were thinking. But I didn’t care. I mean, that was the thing – I didn’t care! I had always cared about what people thought of me – in fact, I drew my entire self-worth from that very thing. But now, I didn’t care one bit. It was the most wonderful feeling! I just knelt there, letting my emotions out, letting those tears fall on his open feet, drying his feet with my hair.
I was so wrapped up in the moment that I didn’t even notice that Simon’s dinner guests started heading for the doors. (laugh) Imagine, for the first time in my life: me, the party-pooper! I don’t remember much after that. Except I do remember talking with Jesus later. I know, me being “the talker!” I remember Jesus just sat there and listened, hardly said a word. I told him all about my life and what had become of it. I told him how miserable I was and how I longed to break free from the chains that had bound me for so long. He nodded his head and he smiled.
And then he offered me the greatest gift anyone had ever given me in my life. A gift I certainly did nothing to deserve. Seven words that would forever change my life: Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.” And at that very moment I felt this huge burden lifted off me, as if gravity itself had suddenly changed. And the peace – this sweet, sweet peace moved through me like a breath of the freshest air. I inhaled every bit of it. And even after Jesus and I parted ways, I continued to feel that peace. I still do! And to this day, I’ve never, ever forgotten what forgiveness feels like when it fills up your lungs with every breath you take in.
And I guess that’s what has brought me here – standing before you and sharing my story, just as I’ve shared it with a thousand people a thousand times before. You know why I do this? You know why I share my story? I share it because, plain and simple, I want everyone to know about the day that I met Jesus. Everyone. Because it’s like I said before – my story is your story. I am certain of that. I see all the burdens each of you carry every day of your lives. They may not be the same burdens I have, but I know they are still heavy for you. I know they can weigh you down like gravity.
They are the burdens of anyone who falls short of who God wants them to be in life. They are the burdens of those who sacrifice time with their family for success in the workplace. They are the burdens of those who sneak a drink when they’ve told everyone they’re still sober. They are the burdens of those who haven’t done anything wrong but still bear heavy burdens because they are victims of abuse. They are the burdens of those who feel anger and guilt for past mistakes and have yet to let go of the weight those still carry.
See, I’m convinced that it comes down to the guilt, and that the guilt is as real and as raw as the sins we live with. But I also believe that letting the guilt weigh us down is a choice we make – a choice to do nothing. And I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. If there is one thing you remember from me, remember that: it doesn’t have to be that way. The most important thing I learned when I met Jesus is that even someone like me can be forgiven – all it takes is just turning to God and asking God to change who you are, from the inside out.
And what does that feel like, you ask? Let me tell you what it’s like to be forgiven. It means waking up in the morning and actually being excited about the day, no matter what lies ahead. It means going to bed at night feeling good about who you are, because you know that your worth and value as a human being is not determined by the mistakes you make. It means that, for the first time, maybe, really learning to love yourself – and from that, really loving those around you. It’s the kind of world where God’s love, and not your own wishes or desires, but God’s love becomes the controlling and guiding force in your life. That’s what it’s like to be forgiven.
So, like I said, I have no name. But I am someone – someone whose life was changed the day I met Jesus. And I know that Jesus doesn’t walk the earth in this day and age, like he did in my time. But believe me when I say that he is still here, and he wants so much to look you in your eyes and say those exact same words: Your sins are forgiven – go in peace. I’m telling you, you’re going to be amazed at what life is like when you let God’s grace take over your heart and gives you the only name that matters: Child of God. Beloved.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and may all of God’s people say, AMEN.