Benedictine nun and writer, Sister Mary Lou Kownacki, once said, “Engrave this upon your heart: there isn’t anyone you can’t love once you hear their story.”
There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you hear their story.
I found myself thinking of these words as I read the Scripture this week. Simon struggles so much to love the unnamed woman who shows up at his house.
Why do you think it is so hard for him?
In the text, we are told that Simon throws a dinner party and invites Jesus and, as they enjoy their feast, a woman wanders into the house. Simon seems to recognize her because, as soon as he sees this her, his mind immediately jumps to the mistakes that she has made in life, whether it was cheating on her taxes, not paying for grapes at the market or even just working with a material that was considered unclean like animal hides. Either way, Simon takes one look at her and thinks, “I know exactly what kind of person this is …”
As he thinks this, Simon takes a step back, distancing himself. Simon isn’t interested in learning this person’s story or having compassion; instead, Simon is focused on portraying how pure, clean and well-put together he is and doesn’t want anything or anyone to mess that up. From a distance, Simon watches as the woman begins to weep, her tears falling on Jesus feet. As she bends down and wipes the tears from Jesus’ feet with her hair, Simon thinks: “If Jesus is really a prophet, he would know who it is that is washing his feet.”
Why is it so hard, I wonder, for Simon to love this person?
Engrave this on your heart, Sister Mary tells us, there isn’t anyone you can’t love once you hear their story.
I contemplated that phrase this week as I took in Simon’s story. I wondered: Is that really true? Is it possible to love someone, say, like Simon? To me, Simon comes off as a hard person to love because, not only does Simon distance himself from his teary-eyed house guest, but, by the end of the story, we discover that Simon has failed to offer Jesus a proper welcome and has not washed his feet, given him the kiss of peace or even anointed his head. In other words, Simon had thrown, a dinner party, invited Jesus for entertainment and then failed to show any sort of real hospitality. As I reflect on Simon’s action, I find myself thinking, “I know exactly what kind of person this is …”
Yet, as soon as I catch myself thinking that, I realized that I am no different than Simon. I am so busy judging him for his flashy, look-at-me, holier-than-thou party that I fail to see that I am doing to him the same thing he has done to the woman. I take one look at him and jump to judgment instead of compassion.
And in doing so, I miss:
Simon’s profound child of God-ness
I miss the boldness of how Simon invited Jesus over for dinner, even if he didn’t quite understand quite everything that Jesus said or did.
I miss the kind way that Simon prepared for the dinner, being so intent on getting things right that he had forgot to give Jesus the kiss of peace when he entered.
In my rush to judgment, I miss Simon’s deep hunger to connect with God and do that which is holy. As I look closer at Simon’s story, I begin to wonder: How often do we find ourselves in the place of Simon? How often do we find ourselves struggling to understand the teachings of Jesus – what it means to show hospitality or forgive or demonstrate great love? How often do we too become so focused on getting things right that we miss out on the present moment? How often do we find ourselves labeling new people who we have just met and do not yet understand? Or jumping to the assumption that we do, indeed, know exactly what kind of person is in front of us?
Perhaps we are not so different from Simon after all.
This is the reality with which Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber was face one day when she was giving a talk on forgiveness. Nadia is a non-traditional pastor who started her own church and wrote a book about her experiences called Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint. In her book, Nadia explains that as she became more famous, people began to vehemently disagree with the story of faith that she offered, and one of those people was a man named Chris who went by the alias “Pirate Christian” and had his own radio show. According to his website, his radio station was free from the scurvy plagues of pop-psychology, goofy fads, self-help, pietism, purpose-drivenism, the prosperity heresy, contemplative mysticism, seeker-sensitivism, liberalism, relevantism, Emergent nonsense, and the sissy girly Oprah-fied religiosity that is being passed off as “Biblical Christianity.”
One day, after finish a talk on forgiveness, Nadia begins to greet and interact with the line that has formed to speak with her and, in this line, Nadia sees Chris aka Pirate Christian waiting to speak with her. Nadia takes a step back, thinking: “I know exactly what kind of person he is…” Her mind goes instantly to the mistakes that he has made in life, dwelling on the ways that he has talked about her on his radio show in the past. She dreads talking to him.
When Chris finally gets up to speak to her – he is the last person in line – Nadia prays: “God, please help me not to be a [jerk].”
“Nadia, I’m Chris. The Pirate Christian.” He says.
Chris extends his hand and Nadia cautiously takes it.
“It’s weird Nadia,” Chris says, “We obviously disagree on a lot, but something tells me …we have a couple things that we might agree on.”
“Great,” Nadia responds, “Let’s … uh … talk about that.”
Then, instead of a showdown, Nadia and Chris proceed to engage in a thirty-minute dialogue about their own brokenness and need for confession and forgiveness, why we need the Gospel, and what happens in Communion. As Chris talks, he cries. Twice.
Nadia finds him to be hurting and tender and really smart.
She looks him in the eye and said, “Chris, I have two things to say to you. One, you are a beautiful child of God. Two, I think that maybe you and I are desperate enough to hear the Gospel that we can even hear it from each other.”
Nadia says that day God made her enemy her friend. Chris ceased to talk about her on the show and instead called, talking with her about theology and family and sometimes they do argue, but it is always out of a place of respect. Nadia writes:
“We are two unlikely people who have shown each other where there is water in the desert. When these kinds of things happen in my life, things that are so clearly filled with more beauty or redemption or reconciliation than my cranky personality and stony heart could ever manufacture on their own, I just have no other explanation than this: God.”
God shows up and teaches us that there isn’t anyone we can’t love once we hear their story. We learn this truth not only through Nadia’s experiences but also through the Scripture today. When Simon thinks: “I know exactly what kind of person this is”, Jesus responds with a story and then asks Simon: “Do you see this woman?” In this question, Jesus is asking: Do you see this person that you are judging? Do you see her humanity, her profound child of God-ness, her generosity, her capacity for compassion? For while Simon looks on at distance, Jesus sees that this woman is showing great love.
This woman has seen the need of Jesus and has come close to tend the dirtiness and weariness of his feet. She takes them in her hands, wiping them dry with her long hair, and then anointing them with oil, saying with her actions: I see you. As she rubs the oil into the soles of Jesus’ feet, the woman observes not the hardened callouses of Jesus but rather feels the warm radiating love. Near to the heart of God, this woman perceives that which is more important than all else: showing compassion, welcoming the stranger and entering into relationship with God, no matter how many mistakes we have made. For forgiveness is a turning and a returning to a God who loves us no matter what, to a God who gathers us in like a mama hen, to a God who looks at us and says, “I know exactly what kind of person you are … you are my child … you are bright, brilliant, beloved and beautiful to behold. I know what kind of person you are, because I was there when you were created and I declared that you were good.”
As the woman anoints Jesus’ feet, Jesus welcomes her with love and gratitude, forgiving her, and saying: Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.
In this moment Jesus is welcoming into relationship not just the woman but also Simon. For Simon has had faith as well, showing up, even when he wasn’t sure, inviting Jesus over, even when he did not yet understand, and opening his heart to God, even when he could not yet see. Like Nadia who prays, “God please don’t let me be a jerk” and has her life transformed, Simon creates a space for God to enter into his life and it’s enough; his small seed of faith is enough for God to enlarge his heart and open his eyes; it’s enough for Simon to stumble upon his own belovedness and the belovedness of his neighbor; it’s enough for Simon to turn into the warm embrace of a God who cares about him beyond his wildest imagination, to a God who sees to the heart of who he truly is: Beloved.
Your faith has saved you, Jesus says to us, go in peace.