“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet,but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
-Luke 7:44-47 (NIV)
Katarina Lucardie just wanted to be herself. She wanted her friends to know who she was without artifice, without qualification. She was tired of pretending, and so the 11-year-old Colorado Springs middle-schooler decided to tell her secret.
She started by sharing it in a letter to her school counselor. “I have a disease and it makes me lose my hair,” she wrote.
Katarina was born with a disease called alopecia areata. At the age of 8, she started to notice clumps of hair in the shower or on her pillow. By the next year, she was completely bald. She started wearing a straight black wig to school, but after she graduated from elementary school she went to her mom and told her she didn’t want to wear the wig in middle school.
She just wanted to be herself around her friends and classmates.
Katarina’s counselor, Jennica Mabe, and her teachers worked with her to create a documentary about Katarina’s illness, hoping to head off any possible misunderstanding, fear, or ridicule. After they screened the documentary for her classmates, Katarina stood in front of them and answered questions about her disease. She also explained that, starting the following week, she wouldn’t be wearing her wig any longer.
“She was just determined to do it,” her mom, Carmen Aranda, says. “She wanted to be herself and not cover up and mask who she was. She was very courageous.”
“I want people to like me for me and not what I look like,” Katarina explains, “because that's how I can find my true friends.”
There’s a lot of wisdom in those words, isn’t there? Don’t they describe what most of us want - to not feel the need to hide or mask our true selves with someone? When we meet someone who likes us for who we really are, we befriend them. We marry them. We trust them and entrust ourselves to them and open our hearts to them.
Having someone, just one person in our lives, to whom we can entrust our true selves is priceless.
For a lot of people, though, the church isn’t a place to find those with whom we can take off our disguises and be ourselves. Sometimes even for regular church attenders, even church leaders, church isn’t a place to be honest about weakness, vulnerability, or fragility. In some churches, that kind of thing is rewarded with judgment - the kind of scorn and dismissal that writes a person off as hopeless, irredeemable, an object of God’s wrath. That’s not true in all churches, thankfully. In some, it’s less judgment than discomfort - “I was more comfortable when I didn’t know so much about you.” It’s less that someone says or does the wrong thing, more that no one knows just what to say or do.
This idea that the church isn’t a safe place for people to reveal their secrets comes, I think, from a couple of places. For one thing, churches rightly want to take seriously the mandate of Scripture that believers live ethical, moral lives that reflect the character of God and the nature of the gospel. We preach about it, pray about it, sing about it. And so it’s probably no wonder that folks feel like it might not be a good idea to strip away whatever hides the sin and struggle in their lives in front of the church. And it’s probably no wonder that a good percentage of those folks fade away, often with promises to be back once they have their lives in order so that they’ll fit in better.
You know, doctors talk a lot about what a healthy life looks like. A good doctor will talk to her patients about eating well, about getting exercise, about managing stress. A good doctor isn’t shy about describing what she wants her patients’ lives to look like. This is because she wants what’s best for her patients’ health. But she also welcomes those who come to her sick.
We might remember in the church that Jesus came for the sick, not for the healthy. While we’re right to describe what a spiritually healthy life looks like and encourage one another to live that kind of life, we must never do so in a way that gives the impression that we only want healthy people among us. If Jesus came for the sick, then we’re not really living a life like his if there aren’t some struggling people around us and among us.
That woman at Simon’s house didn’t interrupt that dinner party and break all kinds of social taboos because Jesus made her afraid to reveal who she really was. She came in and poured out her love to him because he knew exactly who she was, and loved her in spite of it. “Her many sins have been forgiven - as her great love has shown.”
Maybe some of us in the church need to re-learn that. Nothing motivates love like someone who knows you best, with all your unlovable features, looking at you with love in their eyes. Speaking to you with love in their words. Doing for you with love in their actions. And if we want people to trust us and be a part of us, we need to learn how to act when their lives don’t match up to the Lord’s expectations.
Here’s a thought: let’s act like he did.
Beyond that, though, a lot of polite church people need to be personally convinced that it’s OK to show our weaknesses. We need to believe that when God looks at us, he loves us as we are. That nothing we can do will make him love us more or less. We need to believe that Jesus gave his life because he loves us as we are, and not the idea of how we might be. The corollary of the woman’s experience is also true: “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” For some of us, it’s been too long since we’ve stood before God honest about who we are, and received his forgiveness and love in the name of Jesus.
Perhaps that’s the most important thing that the church can do for one another, then: reassure each other of God’s forgiveness, in Jesus’ name.
So may our sermons about living good Christian lives never fail to speak words of hope and love and grace to those who are struggling. May we brave enough to share our own failings, and our own gratitude for the Lord’s forgiveness. May we trust that the Lord loves us for who we are, and that his people will too. And may we find among them our true friends.
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