Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Different Kind of Guest

By Linda Goodman
(From Luke 7:36-50)

Good morning. My name is Rachel and I am the daughter of Simon the Pharisee. My father is a well respected man, who often invites other important men to be guests at our table. Last night, however, was different.

            The word Pharisee means separate. The name serves us well, as Pharisees to not like to keep company with people who are not Jewish, or Jews who do not follow the same practices that we do. That is why I was surprised when my father announced that Jesus would be a guest in our home.

Jesus of Nazareth... .have you heard of him? He is a vagabond who keeps company with the rabble; the peasants, tax collectors and women of ill repute. Our guests are usually great men who wear the finest clothes and have servants to attend their every need.

When Jesus entered our home he was dressed in the garb of a simple peasant. I expected that, but he was not even clean! He was covered with dust from his head to his filthy feet! He looked as though he had walked miles through the wilderness without bathing for days.

My father was so disgusted that he refused to offer Jesus the simple courtesies that were normally afforded our honored guests. He did not have Jesus’ feet washed, as was the custom. Neither did he give him the expected kiss of welcome that would have been followed by the anointing of Jesus head with olive oil. My father merely said, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, who has gained quite a reputation of late. Let us sit down at the table.”

The servants were just beginning to bring us our meal, when a strange woman walked through the front door. Many of the lower class pass our home when we have important, or, in this case, infamous, guests. None, however, would dare to enter our home without an invitation.

My mother gasped when she saw the woman, and when I looked at the woman’s face I understood why. This woman was the town harlot! Whenever I saw this woman walking down the road, I would cross to the other side and look away. One must not keep company with, or even acknowledge, such a vile being!

  No doubt she did very well plying her chosen trade, for she wore scarlet robes made of the finest silk, and her sandals were studded with pearls and rubies. In her arms she carried an exquisite alabaster jar that was filled with sweet perfume. She must have paid a fortune for it!

She took no note of my family. She ran straight to Jesus, where she knelt at his feet and began sobbing. She cried so hard that her tears, like rain, washed over Jesus feet, turning the dirt to mud. Horrified, she undid her long hair, all the while begging, “Please forgive me, Lord. Please forgive.”  She wiped Jesus’ feet clean with her own hair!  Then she kissed his feet and poured the perfume from the jar on to them, gently massaging it into his skin. And Jesus let her do these things!

My horrified father muttered under his breath, “And I thought this man might be a prophet! He does not even know what this woman is!”

Jesus must have excellent hearing, for he heard every word that my father said.

“Simon, I wish to tell you a story,” Jesus announced.

“I know a banker,” Jesus continued, “who was owed money by two men. One owed him fifty silver coins. The other owed him 500 silver coins. Neither could pay his debt, and the banker decided to forgive the debts of both men. Which of these men, Simon, do you think was more grateful to the banker?”

“I do not see what that has to do with anything,” my father retorted, “but I would judge that the man who owed the banker 500 coins would have been the more grateful of the two.”

“You are correct,” Jesus told him. “Those who have been forgiven more are more grateful than those who have been forgiven little.”

Jesus turned back to the woman and placed his hand on her head as he continued speaking to my father.” Simon, I am a guest in your home, yet you did not wash my feet. You did not welcome me with a kiss or anoint my head with olive oil. This woman, on the other hand, has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. She has  kissed my feet and anointed them with sweet perfume.”

I could see my father’s face turning red with rage as Jesus told him, “This woman has sinned much, and she will be forgiven much. She will be more grateful for that forgiveness than any Pharisee would be.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Go, woman. Your sins are forgiven.”

After Jesus left our home, my father and the others laughed. “What makes him think that he has the power to forgive a woman like that?” they roared. “He must think he is God!”

I did not join in the laughter. I did not laugh because I had seen that woman’s face as she left our home. I saw serenity there, and a peace that I cannot begin to understand in one so damaged.

I want that peace.  Tomorrow I will go find this man Jesus. You are welcome to come with me if you like.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Gift of “The Visit of the Tomten”

(c)July 2013 Linda Goodman

Even after I accepted the idea that personal stories could be healing, I continued to believe that claims about the healing power of traditional tales were “new age hocus pocus.” The following story changed my mind and made me a true believer in the healing power of all story genres.

Just a few weeks after my granddaughter Morgan was born, I arrived at my daughter Melanie's house to find a frantic note tacked to her front door.

“Mom, I'm at the hospital!” it read. “Something's wrong with Morgan!”

I had a key to the house, so I let myself in and took a seat in the living room. I knew that Morgan had had a routine doctor's appointment scheduled for that afternoon, but I had not expected her to be hospitalized. My mind immediately did what it always does: it rushed to worst case scenario. Was she seriously ill? What was going to happen? How would my daughter handle a crisis? How would I handle it?

After a few hours, my daughter and my son-in-law returned. Melanie, her face white and drawn, was holding Morgan in her arms. I was given the news that Morgan had been born with a cataract in her right eye. Only immediate surgery would save her from blindness. Morgan would go “under the knife” at 8:00 a.m. the following morning. Other surgeries would most likely follow.

A cataract? I wanted to do my happy dance! I had been expecting something life-threatening, like a tumor or a heart problem. Compared to what I had expected, a cataract was good news! I knew several older people who had had cataracts removed and were just fine afterwards.

I later found out that cataracts are much more serious for infants than they are for older folks. We were lucky. Morgan had a cataract in only one eye. Most infants who are born with them have them in both eyes. Also, in infants cataracts are usually accompanied by some degree of mental retardation or a physical malady. Morgan seemed mentally and physically fine. Medical data showed, though, that eighty-five per cent of infants born with cataracts developed glaucoma. For Morgan, the jury was still out on that.

After Morgan's surgery, my son-in-law had to leave for an out of town trip. Melanie brought Morgan to my house to recuperate. On her first night there, I came downstairs after doing the dinner dishes to find Melanie sobbing uncontrollably as she rocked Morgan in the over-stuffed rocking chair in our family room.

“What's wrong, Honey,” I asked her (as if I did not already know).

“Mama,” she cried, “I did everything right! I ate healthy food. I didn't drink any caffeine or consume any alcohol while I was pregnant. I have friends who were doing drugs or drinking every day during their pregnancies, and their babies are fine! Why did this have to happen to my baby?”

For one of only a few times in my life, I was at a loss for words. I had no answers for her.

That night, as I said my prayers, I asked that God might somehow comfort my daughter. As soon as that prayer was uttered, I saw a vivid image in my head of a red paperback book, written by Barry L. Johnson, titled The Visit of the Tomten.

The Visit of the Tomten is set on Christmas Eve in a barn in the Smaland Highlands of Sweden. There, four animals wait for the Christmas gifts that the Tomten will bring them. The more they talk about the gifts they hope to receive, the more excited they get.

The Tomten is a Swedish good-luck elf who delivers Christmas gifts. Every farm has one. To repay the Tomten for his kindness, the farmer's wife leaves a bowl of porridge in the barn for him. Come Christmas morning, if the porridge is gone, the New Year will be a good one.

The animals do not get the gifts that they expected. Ivan, the old dog considered to be the sage of the barnyard, is given a bird with a broken wing. “I don't even like birds!” Ivan rants, “and this one isn't even right!

The animals respond with an vengeful plan: they will kidnap the Tomten when he comes back for the porridge, and they will demand that he give them an explanation for the ridiculous gifts they were given.

The plan is executed and the Tomten is trapped. He is aghast that the animals do not appreciate the gifts he left them! There is no such thing as a ridiculous gift, he insists.

He then goes on to explain the purpose of each gift. To Ivan, he says, “To be asked to take care of the handicapped is no insult. On the contrary, it is a great honor. I chose you to care for the disadvantaged bird because I trusted in your wisdom and courage to give it the very best life it could have.”

I could hardly wait for Melanie to wake up the next morning. I knew exactly what to say to her. When she came down to breakfast, I pulled her aside and said, “Melanie, it's like this - God looked at all the thousands of babies waiting to be born and saw that Morgan had a special problem that would require a special kind of love. So he searched all the expectant mothers, looking for that one mother who could give Morgan the very best life she could have... He chose you.”

It was what she needed to hear. A smile slowly spread across her face as she looked down at her precious daughter. “You're right, Mama,” she whispered. “I love this baby so much, I wouldn't trade her for all the perfect babies in the world.”

Morgan will be 17 years old soon. She has had multiple surgeries on her eye and a few years ago she did develop glaucoma in it. She sees well enough to drive, and she is at the top of her class in school. She does not much care for the story of the Tomten, but that's okay. “Different strokes for different folks,” as they used to say in the 1960's. The story got me and her mama through a rough patch. We will treasure it always.


I bought this book because I was looking for a new story for my Christmas repertoire. After reading it, I decided not to tell it. The chemistry necessary between teller and story was not there. After I shared the story with Melanie, however, I found that it became a part of my story tapestry. The chemistry followed, and I now tell it often, particularly in my Storytelling in the Ministry workshops.

By the way, at the end of the story, the Tomten did not eat the porridge. Regardless, the ending was most satisfying.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Impossible to Translate, But I'll Try

Compact Disc Review

True-life Israeli Stories

$15.00, plus $2.00 shipping and handling.


Reviewed By Linda Goodman

This remarkable CD features stories that are constructed in layers, each layer more delectable than the one preceding it. As you dig through the layers, treasures are discovered. The labor is well worth the effort.

Almost everyone will identify with the frightened girl in Sleep, the CD's first story. This child knows that little evils lie in wait beneath her bed, and she has devised detailed strategies to protect herself against their inevitable invasion. Only a grandmother can turn those little evils into dwarfs and soothe her golden girl to sleep. The last story on this CD, Sleep Epilogue, revisits night time rituals a generation later.

In Why Do I Have That Name, a young Noa demands that her mother tell her why she was given such an unusual name. Patiently, her mother shares its source, leaving both Noa and those listening to this story with new insights to ponder.

My Shidech (My Match) features the unlikely pairing of a creative, unique, intelligent young Israeli woman and a down-to-earth American botanist. Some believe that differences are the glue that keep a couple together, but others seek mutual interests in their partners. In this story, taking risks yields rewards not anticipated.

Top Secret is the story from this CD that I will carry in my heart. This story of an awkward elementary school girl and a relationship that changes in ways she is too young to understand hits close to home. As I listened to this story, the ghosts of own past began to haunt me.

Love Comes in Many Packages portrays mature love centered around a rather frightening excursion in the city. Fortunately, time allows anxiety to morph into humor. 

This CD is more than a way to pass time. It is deep and demands your full attention, as all classics do. The stories are set in Israel, but their truths are universal. They are mirrors of our own internal truths.