Today we are looking at two deadly needs – The Need to Look Good & the Need to Keep Score – these two can be intertwined – as all of them can, actually. In Scripture today, we focus on the woman who poured out everything for Jesus without counting the cost or keeping score and was entirely oblivious to the Need to Look Good. When the woman enters where the men are eating, then unbinds her hair, she violates the standard of socially respectable behavior on two counts. When she begins to bathe his feet with her tears, then dry them with her hair, kissing his feet and anointing them with ointment – it’s going 5 steps too far for socially acceptable behavior – which is code for “looking good”.
Both the unnamed woman in Luke’s Gospel and Mary of Bethany from John’s gospel appear to be uninhibited in their willingness to pour it ALL out regardless of how others in the room might judge them, tally the score and attempt to look good themselves in the midst of what they consider a disgraceful, embarrassing situation.
What would you be willing to pour out from your heart completely without counting the cost or thinking you might look stupid? Whatever it is, I think it probably starts from a place of love or gratitude. From a place of feeling total acceptance and belonging. How many places do you have where you can be completely free of keeping score or having to look good? Have you ever listened to people talk to their pets or to babies? If we had a sneak peek, what would we hear? ——Elicit examples —— What if that was how they acted all the time in real life? We would start uttering the comparison prayer that is really about keeping score… “Thank you God that I’m not like THAT!!”
Whenever you’re watching a game and someone comes in, the first question is, “What’s the score?” Who’s winning, who’s losing, who’s up, who’s down. Who should win, who should lose. It’s dualistic thinking especially when the Huskies play the Cougars, or the Ducks play the Beavers. We divide into camps about keeping score when it comes to our beloved teams. This question, “What’s the score” also plays out in our daily lives, but in a more hidden way – sometimes even from ourselves. We rarely keep score in our out loud voices, and yet, in the secret places that are just starting to become conscious, we might recognize this Need to Keep Score in ourselves. In the book “The Seven Deadly Needs” there is a conversation between two men from AA:
“We have a secret place in our brains that keeps track of everything – it keeps score so we know if we’re ahead or behind. Who’s winning and who’s losing. In some shadowy part of the brain, there’s a place that wants to make sure you don’t fall too far behind. Tries to keep everything in balance. It Hates to lose. It Feels diminished if it’s losing. Afraid. Fearful. It puts you off-balance.”
REV. EIS: So we keep score. We keep score with colleagues: it even happens with clergy – about who has the larger church or salary or who is a better preacher; in corporate America, it might be who gets the best office, gets the most shout outs from the boss. With siblings – who made the best grades, gets the best gifts, or who’s the favorite; neighbors – who’s lawn looks the nicest or who’s taken the best vacation. Sometimes we keep score of how many times we’ve been hurt; or how many times we’ve helped another person while never needing to ask for help ourselves. Our emotional pulse keeps track of where we are in relation to everyone else; it won’t let let us move on without carrying a record.
This subconscious narrative of Keeping Score can motivate our actions and behavior, driving the need to Look Good – or at least try to “look” better than everyone else… do you see how they can be intertwined and related? The need to look good is a multi-billion dollar industry. The message is that if you look ok, you are ok. Just look at how ads on TV/social media are aimed at making you look the best you can – from deodorant, to cosmetics, to wearing Spanx so your clothes fit right, to driving the fanciest car, attending the best schools, getting the most prestigious job & paycheck, who you marry.
Bryce Johnson, White Bear Lake UMC: But looking good is not necessarily about clothes, appearance, the kind of car you drive, or relationship status — the need to look good encompasses everything – it’s just as often the pretense of appearing to be ok and well adjusted in the face of adversity. “I’m bulletproof. Nothing can hurt me. Feelings just bounce right off me.” If we’re all so busy looking good, it’s guaranteed to keep us isolated. From life. From each other. From ourselves.
If we need to look so good that we can’t tell anyone about our fears, struggles, doubts, if nobody ever tells anybody, we’re all going to feel like we’re the only ones who feel that way – the struggles and the heartaches. We won’t be able to recover. We’ll say, I’m fine. How are you? Oh I’m fine too. My mother just died, but I’m ok because I know she’s in a better place…but I’m fine…. My life’s falling apart, but I’m fine… I’m actually…dying because I can’t go on pretending like this anymore.
To get over the Need to Look Good, we have to take the risk of letting others see us when we’re not at our best, when we may feel vulnerable. Here I am, this is me.
It seems like the need to look good and to keep score was alive and well in both Simon the Pharisee and Judas the Disciple… instead of looking inside, they judge this woman who dares to be authentically vulnerable in that moment. Both the Pharisee and Judas could only see that they were more righteous than the woman: they were busy keeping score, making sure they looked good in the eyes of Jesus; that they didn’t embarrass themselves with such a display. But what Jesus noticed was how she responded to the outpouring of God’s love with humility and generosity. The Pharisee hadn’t even offered Jesus the regular routine of hospitality, washing his feet; but the woman offered extravagant hospitality, washing his feet with her own tears and pouring out of all she had – her very being. She kept her focus on what mattered: not whether someone else was ahead or behind, not what the Pharisee or Judas (or anyone else watching) might have thought about her.
The reason the Need to Look Good and the need to Keep Score are deadly is because they make you believe that life works from the outside in, not the other way around. If you believe that life works from the outside in, you will always be at the mercy of something external – outward appearance, money, power, prestige, image – and you will always be set up to keep score with someone who looks like they have it more together than you.
Whatever it is, we all have that thing – categories in which we’re keeping score, places where we need to look good. We can’t fall at Jesus’ feet when we’re worried about what other people will think. So what if church was the place where everyone could be who they are without expending so much energy on looking good, on keeping up appearances, on keeping it all together? What if church was the place where we could be ourselves – flaws, fears, failures and all – without shame? A place where we are working for kindness, justice, humility, authenticity, and vulnerability? That place where we are really real. That place where we are willing to pour out from our hearts without counting the cost or thinking we might look stupid? That sounds like freedom.
What God wants is for us to turn over that energy to building others up, to working for good in the world, to acknowledging our vast need for grace and forgiveness and then, when we realize we’ve already received it, to be unashamed in responding with unabashed love. It turns out that Life works from the inside out – it’s an inside job. It’s about our interior life. And our life in God in Christ.
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” 41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
John 12:1-11. –
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.