I’d like to talk about the danger of assumption and how assumption many times leads to an even more treacherous danger: judgment.
Just as the Gospel story is Jesus’ way of teaching a Pharisee about the dangers of assumption and judgment, the story I will share with you proves the lesson still holds true today, some two-thousand years after Christ.
Sadly, we all can be Pharisees at times (Yes, even priests and deacons). We can all judge people for their outward appearances or how they behave. But can we truly judge a book by its cover?
When we assume we make a “you know what” out of you and me.
I worked for a former Navy commander who taught me to NEVER use the word assume. It’s dangerous ground to stand on, kind of like standing on ice, and only makes us look silly when we slip and fall.
This story is about changing the world one life at a time; by showing love to one single person. But it’s also the story about the assumptions and judgment lurking in our hearts that prevent us from taking the first step and building a dignity-filled relationship.
My dear friend Dianah and her family first saw the homeless woman sitting on a street corner ranting and raving as traffic drove by while coming home from Sunday church service in their hometown of Spokane.
The woman clearly was dealing with some deep-seeded demons and appeared mentally ill.
Dianah and her family had done so several times before one particularly cold day when her boyfriend Mike just couldn’t do it. He could no longer look the other way and keep driving.
He got out of the car, walked up to the woman, and said, “Is there anything you need?” The woman said, “I’d love a cup of coffee.” So, they drove to the corner Chevron to buy the coffee and Dianah said, “We need to get her a sandwich, too.” So they bought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Turned out the woman “loved peanut butter and jelly” sandwiches. She was so excited about the sandwich and hot coffee and said, “Thank you.”
Dianah is someone I’ve known for 16 years. She knows about judgment and when I tell her full story you may be surprised to hear who judged her.
This would not be the last time Dianah and the homeless woman would see each other. Dianah would drive by every couple of days and ask if there was anything the woman needed.
This went on for months. Dianah found out the woman loved hot cocoa and warm banana bread with butter on it. So she brought her some fresh banana bread and hot cocoa on a regular basis. The woman usually would look at Dianah like she was “just nuts” for doing all these nice things for her.
She asked her, “Why do you keep stopping by?” Saying, other "people stop by, but you keep coming back.”
Dianah said, “I think God put you in my life for a reason.” The homeless woman said to her, “Yea, maybe.”
The woman told Dianah, “People like you don’t come back.” In other words, well-dressed, professional people like Dianah don’t come back. Dianah would drop off tarps and blankets and other needed items for the street lady.
Dianah would usually sit down on the sidewalk with the woman during their visits together to get on her level.
One day during a visit, Dianah noticed the woman didn’t have any shoes. This was in the middle of winter. It was cold out. The woman claimed someone had taken her shoes. So, Dianah went and got her a pair.
Dianah eventually learned the woman’s name was Marcella.
Dianah eventually learned the woman’s name was Marcella.
Due to city ordinances, Marcella was forced to move on a regular basis. This made it difficult for Dianah to find her. But Dianah always found a way to track down Marcella.
I first learned of Dianah’s experiences with Marcella through Facebook picture posts from Dianah’s boyfriend Mike, another dear friend and longtime homeless advocate.
A friendship blossomed and Marcella began to count on Dianah to stop by for a visit. Slowly, her mood started to change. Dianah would see Marcella smile, joke and laugh more and more.
One day Dianah stopped by and could tell Marcella was crying. It was such a bitter, cold winter day that Dianah was afraid to get out of the car. Turned out it was the anniversary of Marcella’s father’s death a decade and a half earlier and Marcella was not in the mood for a visit.
Dianah asked, “Are you OK? Do you need a hug?”
Marcella looked at her and said, “I’m strong.”
Dianah told her “You are strong, but we’re still allowed to be hurting inside.” She got out of her car and hugged Marcella as the homeless woman cried in Dianah’s arms for a long while. And in that moment, Dianah and Marcella became forever friends.
Once Marcella told Dianah, “People keep telling me I’m on Facebook. I don’t even know what Facebook is. But you’re making me famous.” Dianah said, “No, I think you’re making yourself famous.”
Soon, others would join in helping Marcella on the streets due to her Facebook fame. In fact, Dianah met a Spokane police officer who would check in on Marcella every night just to make sure she was OK.
Dianah realized Marcella had a heart that was not meant to be on the streets and started to look for ways to get her off the street and talking to Marcella about this.
Dianah also began to bring her young daughter Kaitlin by to join them on the visits. Kaitlin and Marcella would always play jacks.
A few months later Dianah and her family were about to go on vacation. So, she told Marcella about the vacation each day she visited in the weeks before departing so Marcella would remember.
When Dianah got back from vacation and tracked down Marcella, there were lots of tears and another long, long hug. Marcella had gotten confused and was afraid she would never see Dianah again.
A few months later, Dianah lost touch with Marcella. Dianah became despondent. Where was her friend? She disappeared from the streets. Had something happened?
Weeks went by and Marcella was nowhere to be found.
Dianah and her family attend a Sunday service at a non-denominational church that does a weekly feed for low income and homeless in Spokane. Actually, many homeless attend the church service, too.
One Sunday, just as the service was ending, Dianah caught sight of Marcella, all cleaned up and looking nice, sitting right across from her. Dianah screamed out in a loud voice, “Marcella!” and ran to her friend for an embrace.
Marcella told Dianah that day, “You know, we’re kindred spirits.”
Marcella is getting mental health counseling and taking her medications. She's moved back home with her estranged husband. Her life is far from normal, but she's no longer on the streets, and now is on the road to recovery. Dianah even found out Marcella used to be a nurse.
Both had judged a book by its cover. Both had been wrong about each other. Both learned to love each other just as Christ loved the woman who cleaned his feet in today’s Gospel reading.
Many assume the woman in the Gospel story is guilty of some kind of sexual sin, although there’s nothing in the text to suggest such a thing.
My friend Dianah has been judged in her past, too. Judged for being a divorcee, judged as being an immoral person, judged as an unfit mother to her 10-year-old daughter.
Sadly, the one who judged her was a Catholic priest.
This breaks my heart and shows we can all be Pharisees at times and assume things about people that are not true.
I know Dianah as a salt of the earth person. When she told me what the priest had said to her, I was shocked, saddened and at a loss of words.
I love our Catholic Church, but even priests and deacons can judge a book by its cover, assume things about people, and not show the dignity Christ showed ALL he encountered during his ministry.
One bible commentary points out this Gospel passage is “SOBER in its presentation of religious self-righteousness.”
Another interesting thing about today’s Gospel reading is the presence of women throughout the reading. It wasn’t that uncommon for women to support rabbis and their disciples with money, property and food, but to leave home and travel with a rabbi - that was scandalous in the time of Jesus.
This bible story helps us to understand we may be blind to our sinfulness, or too fearful or too proud to ask that our debt be written off.