realize brokenness is not weakness
our greatest transformation comes as
we become desperate for Jesus
Our family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, in July 2009, to go on staff at Cross Point Church. As a lifelong Indianapolis Colts fan, I entered AFC South enemy territory by moving to the home of the Tennessee Titans. But even Titan fans need Jesus.
In September, the Titans started the 2009 season playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers on a Thursday night. It was a big game, and some friends from church invited our family over for a kickoff party and dinner. My son Elijah was in fifth grade and had flag-football practice that night. Trisha had a meeting at church and was going to arrive at the party after kickoff.
It was up to me to pick up the kids from school, get Elijah to flag-football practice, and then make it to the party before kickoff. There is no easy way to drive anywhere in Nashville, with its hills and traffic and winding roads. If everything went well, it would still be a challenge to get from football practice to the football party before kickoff.
Elijah was the first of our kids to play flag football. The year prior, he’d played tackle football in Indiana, but Nashville didn’t offer tackle football for his age-group. Flag-football practice involved a lot of drills, and a lot of passing and catching, but no contact.
I was watching the practice while sitting in the van with the other two boys to communicate to Elijah that I wanted to leave quickly after he was done. On the last play of the final drill, Elijah went out for a pass, caught the ball, and fell awkwardly to the ground. He started holding his wrist and crying a little. The coaches walked out onto the field and knelt next to Elijah to check on him. One of them stood up and motioned for me to come to the field. I looked at the clock in the van, then got out of the car.
When I got to Elijah, I asked him if he was okay. He said, “No, I think I broke my arm.”
I said, “Buddy, that’s impossible. You are playing flag football. There is no contact. You didn’t break your arm. You probably sprained it. Let’s get in the car; we’ll put some ice on it at the party.”
We got in the car and sped across Nashville in the direction of the party. On our way, Micah gave his prognosis: “Dad, I think Elijah broke his arm. It’s really swollen.”
“We’ll put some ice on it when we get to the party. I really don’t think it’s broken,” I said.
We arrived at the party, and Elijah walked in holding his arm like it was dislocated from the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. About twenty other people were there, and half of those in attendance were mothers. One hundred percent of the moms informed me that we should leave the party and go to the emergency room.
Emergency room? That would be expensive and take forever. It was flag football. Elijah was a tough kid. His arm wasn’t broken. I got him some ice, sat him down in a comfortable chair with large armrests, put his arm on an armrest and the ice on his arm, and began to watch the game.
Every few minutes, another person walked over to Elijah, lifted up the ice, examined his arm, and then looked at me with judgment and condemnation. Elijah kept looking up, with his soft brown eyes, and saying in a raspy voice, “My dad doesn’t think it’s broken.”
Just before halftime, my wife arrived at the party. I have to admit that Elijah’s arm was pretty swollen by then. As Trish walked in the front door, it felt like every ounce of air was sucked out of the room. Everyone got quiet and stopped moving. I think someone hit “mute” on the TV.
At this point, I’d been married fourteen years and was wise enough to text my wife and let her know Elijah was hurt. I told her it wasn’t that big of a deal and that we’d put ice on it. When she entered the room, every female available formed a V-formation around her, and they all walked over to surround Elijah.
Trish lifted the ice pack from Elijah’s arm. The look she gave me is seared into my memory. “Get your stuff; we’re going to the hospital,” she said.
Bottom line—his arm was broken. In two places. From playing flag football.
This isn’t a story about how incompetent a father I am; although, it may provide some kind of evidence.
This is my life. This is your life. We are broken and hurt, wounded and fractured. We put ice on it. We compartmentalize our lives, or we numb the pain. There is a party going on, and everyone knows we’re broken, but we are content with the ice pack.
the “broken” at the Pharisee’s party
In Luke 7, Jesus was invited to a party, but it wasn’t an NFL kickoff party. This was a dinner party at the home of a Pharisee. There were at least two broken people at this party; one already knew it and one was about to find out.
My wife has the gift of hospitality. I do not. She has a keen sense of what should be done in our house to prepare for a guest. There are dishes to be done, toilets to clean, laundry to put away, and clean sheets to put on the beds. There is vacuuming, sweeping, and dusting. Certain things happen at our house every time we host a guest.
As a rabbi, Jesus was likely the guest of honor at the Pharisee’s dinner. Preparations had been made, but also certain customs had to be observed for a guest as honored as Jesus.
the host’s responsibilities
The first responsibility was a customary greeting. The host greeted the guest with a kiss upon their arrival. If the guest were a person of equal status, the kiss was on the cheek; but if it were a person of higher importance or stature than the host, the kiss was on the guest’s hand. To not do this was insulting at worst and indifferent at best. It was the equivalent of ignoring your guest when they came over or not shaking their hand.
Another custom involved the washing of feet. This was mandatory for meals. We tell our kids to wash their hands before dinner; the people in biblical times would always wash their feet. They wore sandals, and they walked everywhere. The roads were dusty, and their feet got funky. If the guest were of high status, the host would wash their feet themselves. If they weren’t of a high class, then the host’s servant would be responsible for washing the guest’s feet upon arrival. At minimum, the host provided the guest water to wash their own feet.
Sometimes, if the journey was long or the guest was highly esteemed, the host would anoint the head of the guest with olive oil. The anointing of oil was a sign of refreshment. The oil wouldn’t necessarily be expensive, but it would be a nice gesture.
At this dinner, Jesus was a visiting rabbi who had been teaching all day. When He arrived, nothing happened. There was no kiss of greeting, no washing of feet, and no anointing with oil. These weren’t subtle miscues. They indicated that Jesus was ignored. We can assume that Simon intended to make a silent statement to Jesus and everyone in attendance—to show Jesus up publicly.
the woman’s generosity
Then, another guest arrived at the dinner; she was uninvited. The Holman New Testament Commentary helps us make sense of what happened: “The meal was apparently a special, public celebration, possibly connected with the Sabbath or another Jewish festival. At such times outsiders could enter the open door, sit by the wall, watch, and perhaps beg for leftover scraps.”
Dinners like this took place in the outer courtyard of the host’s home. In our day, it would be like having a party in our front yard, or perhaps on our deck. Only the invited guests could eat, but anyone who wanted could come to the party and observe. All that sets up verse 37: The woman, who had “lived a sinful life” showed up at Jesus’ feet. The English Standard Version says, “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” The Tyndale New Testament Commentary says, “A woman of the city described as a sinner, which probably means a prostitute.”
The phrases “sinful life” and “woman of the city” both meant that the woman was considered a prostitute. She was not just a sinful woman; she was a professionally sinful woman. People at the dinner party likely knew who she was; the text says that Simon, at least, knew about her. Her reputation preceded her.
Luke didn’t record the woman’s name. We don’t know much about her other than her reputation and that she owned at least one alabaster jar of per-fume. Maybe the perfume was a tool of her profession. One thing I think we can assume is that she didn’t set out to become a prostitute. She didn’t wake up when she was a little girl dreaming of the day she would sell her body, and be used and abused. Instead, I imagine that, every day of her adult life, she wondered, How did I end up here? How did I drift so far from the dreams I once had?
Have you ever been there? How did I drift so far into debt? How did I drift so far away from truth-telling? How did I end up being so angry? How did I end up with so many broken relationships? How did I end up addicted to porn, alcohol, or gambling? How did I end up here?
I’ve been in that place a few times in my life. One specific time was in 2011. Trish and I had done the hard work of healing our marriage. I’d spent four years out of ministry and had gone through the restoration process required before returning to pastoring. It was two years after we moved to Nashville and I went on staff at Cross Point Church. My salary was half what I had made the previous year, and we didn’t adjust our spending.
On top of that, we couldn’t sell our house in Indiana before we moved. After a few months of paying rent in Nashville and mortgage in Indiana, we found tenants for the home in Indiana. What they paid us at least covered our mortgage—when they paid the rent. Unfortunately, they rarely paid rent on time and sometimes not at all.
By the end of our second year in Nashville, we had accumulated $46,000 of consumer credit-card and medical debt. We woke up to the reality of our situation when a sheriff served my wife papers. Citi Cards had filed a suit for the lack of payment on an $8,000 balance for a credit card in her name. Until then, I had been responsible for our finances, but it became apparent I wasn’t financially trustworthy. The Sunday after Trish was served papers, I stood onstage at church and invited the congregation to sign up for Financial Peace University. I told them how bad debt was to their financial peace and how this class could help them be good stewards of what God had given them.
As I walked off the stage, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me, “Did you listen to anything you just said? This class is for you.” I brushed it off and went to the lobby to greet people as they left the church.
When I got home from church, Trish told me she had registered us for Financial Peace. I was not happy. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I said, “Do you know how embarrassing it will be to show up at this class, not to teach it, but to admit we have $46,000 of debt? These are people I’m supposed to be leading spiritually?”
She said, “Is it more embarrassing than having a sheriff serve you papers that a bank is suing you for non-payment? You can’t lead spiritually in this area if you ignore it. We can’t get out of debt until we come to terms with the depth of our debt.”
I knew she was right, though it didn’t make it easier. By God’s grace, we went to Financial Peace and came to terms with our debt. Within eight months, we paid off every dime of that $46,000.
The woman at the Pharisee’s party brought with her a large balance of debt—in sin and regret. I assume she noticed that Simon didn’t perform the customary acts of greeting. We don’t know what prompted her, but she moved from the sidelines of this dinner to the feet of Jesus at the table.
Our dinner customs and patterns are drastically different from those in Jesus’ day. The woman moving to the feet of Jesus in our culture would involve climbing under a table and navigating the feet and legs of everyone at the table. In ancient Middle Eastern culture, the table was low to the ground, and people sat on mats or pillows around the outside of the table. The men at the dinner, including Jesus, reclined at the table on their left elbows, with their feet stretched out behind them. As Jesus reclined this way, the woman saw an opportunity to demonstrate her devotion to Him.
She didn’t come to the party to try to fit in or pretend to be better than she was. Aware of her lifestyle, she didn’t try to find a seat at the table; she desperately went to the feet of Jesus.
The woman approached Jesus’ feet with tears streaming down her face and a perfume bottle in her hands. She lowered and used her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus with her tears and perfume. Simon had seen enough. He couldn’t believe Jesus allowed her to touch Him. He was so appalled that he didn’t address the woman’s spiritual life directly; instead, he questioned Jesus’ credentials as a spiritual authority.
the parable Jesus told
Both men had debt, and neither of them could pay it back. One debt looked manageable; the other insurmountable. Neither could pay, and so rather than serving papers through the sheriff, the lender canceled both debts.
After telling the story, Jesus asked Simon a self-evident question: “Which would be more thankful?”
Simon said, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”
Verse 44 is the most beautiful statement in this passage: “Then he turned toward the woman.”
Picture this: Simon and everyone else at the dinner were in front of Jesus. Jesus turned to the woman but continued His conversation with Simon: “Do you see this woman?” The implication was, I know you’ve been looking at her, Simon. You’ve been judging her; you’ve seen her occupation and social standing, but do you see her?
They all looked at Jesus, and Jesus kept looking at the sinful woman, while talking to Simon: “I came to your house; you had no water for My feet. So, this woman washed My feet with her hair. I came into your home, and you offered Me no kiss; meanwhile, she has not stopped kissing My feet. I came to your house, and you provided no oil for My head. Instead, she has lavished Me with the most valuable thing she owns. She has poured her life out at My feet, Simon” (my paraphrase).
Jesus continued: “Therefore, Simon, her sins, which I know are many, are all forgiven. That’s why she loves so lavishly; that’s why she pours herself out at My feet; that’s why her tears fall freely, and she can’t stop kissing Me. Because he (or she) who has been forgiven much loves much. But the one who’s forgiven little only loves little” (again, my paraphrase).
Jesus wasn’t saying that Simon had only sinned a little. He didn’t say that Simon was so righteous that he only needed a little grace, or that God was getting a pretty good deal with Simon. That’s not what Jesus was saying.
What was He saying? It is hard to be overwhelmed by grace when you’ve convinced yourself you don’t need it. Simon thought of himself as a small debtor and, therefore, couldn’t be in awe of God’s grace.
John Ortberg said this: “The question this story raises is who’s really the big debtor? There is a great sin at this dinner, but it’s not the sin Simon thinks it is: It is the sin of lips that won’t kiss, knees that won’t kneel; eyes that will not weep, hands that will not serve and perfume that will never leave the jar.”
what it means to be broken
Two people, each in the presence of Jesus, but on very different sides of the table.
Religion can put you at the table with Jesus, but only brokenness will put you at His feet. Being at the feet of Jesus was a description of the sinful woman’s physical location, but it was also her spiritual disposition. Being at the feet of Jesus is the location of brokenness.
As we turn the corner on our journey from perfect to real, the first milestone is to realize brokenness is not weakness. On the contrary, the spiritual condition of brokenness is a prerequisite to authenticity.
The word brokenness can be used in a spiritually negative way. We’ve used it in this book to describe fractured relationships, wounded hearts, and sinful patterns. That is unhealthy brokenness. But for the remainder of the chapter, I want to focus on an alternate use of brokenness.
Dr. Eric Mason, a pastor and author, gave an insightful definition of the type of brokenness that produces the authenticity we long for. He said, “Brokenness is the spiritual state by which we are disarmed of our self-dependance and pride.”
Pastor Crawford Loritts described brokenness as “living in a constant state of God-neediness.”
David offered his own definition of brokenness in a passage you may be familiar with: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
That phrase, “crushed in spirit,” is what we are talking about when it comes to brokenness. The transliteration of the Hebrew word for “crushed” is dǎk·kā, which has several meanings:
Devoid of arrogance
God’s presence is close to the brokenhearted, and He saves those crushed in spirit. For most of my life, I looked at the word saved almost like rescued. Like, God is saving us from being crushed in spirit. But when you look at the word in Hebrew, it is the word yšʿ, which can also be translated as “accepts” or “receives.” Eventually, this word evolved into the Hebrew word for “Savior.”
David was saying God’s presence is close to the brokenhearted, and He accepts those who are spiritually wrecked and shattered. This is the same word David used when he articulated his brokenness and repentance over his sin with Bathsheba: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
The New Living Translation of that verse reinforces this: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken (dǎk·kā) spirit. You will not reject a broken (dǎk·kā) and repentant heart, O God.”
David wasn’t using the word broken to mean “sad” or “hurt.” Notice that in the NLT translation, the words “not despise” from the NIV are translated “not reject.” That translation carries forward the thought that being crushed spiritually is the prerequisite to being accepted and received by God. David realized in his own life that God accepts, saves, and doesn’t despise those who are spiritually shattered, wrecked, or broken.
Brokenness is a posture of surrender; it’s giving up rather than trying harder. Brokenness is a decision, laying everything on the line and then sub-mitting it all to God. It is an awareness that God is your only hope. You can choose brokenness. God longs to see us desire brokenness, for this is where His strength is made perfect.
the “losses” of brokenness
We tend not to think about brokenness in a positive light. In our culture, it’s easy to look at the cost of brokenness and ignore the benefits. But it is only in the process of surrender and loss that we gain from God what we can’t attain on our own—transformation. Here are three losses that brokenness brings that become gains in our journey to being real.
your need to control
Psalm 62:8 says, “O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge” (NLT).
Do you see the imagery here? Pour out your heart like the sinful woman poured out her tears and perfume. Pour out your life like she poured out her worship and adoration. There is a connection to pouring out your heart and trusting Him at all times.
When you have a faulty trust in God, you don’t think He can control your life as well as you can, so you manipulate. When you choose broken-ness, you trust that God is in control and submit to what He desires and chooses. There’s freedom in living knowing He’s in control.
your need to impress
When you choose brokenness, you lose your need to impress others. You begin to live out of an identity not based on others’ opinions, validations, or acceptance. When you live only trying to impress God, you discover the confidence and freedom you’ve been attempting to provide for yourself.