The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame…
Let those who say, "Aha, Aha!" turn back because of their shame.
…let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely…looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame…
When (Judas) had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”
There is heaviness to the lectionary readings for this Wednesday of Holy Week. In the Old Testament lesson, the psalm, and the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, we hear the echoes of an historic battle with a well acquainted enemy: shame, shame, shame.
This strikes me as a miserable theme; as if the gospel accounts of Christ’s passion were not enough to curtail my desire for a clear conscience. All four challenge us to confront our own complicity on the way to the cross; to examine ourselves before that terrible ‘emblem of suffering and shame.’ Granted, the added exposure may be a necessary part of the spiritual journey, but how much more can one take?
I already regret the way I ridiculed that poor woman for ‘wasting’ that entire bottle of expensive perfume on Jesus. I now wonder if maybe she was on to something. Likewise, I shake my head at Judas for being such a complete sellout and publically point the finger in his general direction. Privately, though, I hope to God that I do not do the same thing under similar circumstances. Naturally, I suspect that I have at some point. Perhaps you do, too. “Never say, never” Peter tells us.
When was the last time you heard the words “shame on you”?
Can you remember? I can. It was awful. Have you recovered? How did you cope?
Contemporary writer and researcher Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Some of us do not need Brown’s definition. Some of us are our own experts in the field.
Other theologians point out that there is a clear difference between guilt and shame (at least in theory). As Lewis Smedes describes it, we feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are. A person feels guilty because she believes that she did something wrong. A person feels shame because she believes that she is something wrong. Such perception is a tremendous (and often undeserved) burden.
All of us have some experience with shame, whether we admit it or not. Many of us pretend to be immune (“everything’s fine” we say), but eventually there is a voice inside that says “you’re not ______ enough.” How do you fill in the blank? I’ve heard some rather creative answers after 20+ years of ministry. And truth be told, the presence of shame does have its place on our road to redemption. If unattended or denied however, these wounds can destroy us—most notably in our relationship with God and others.
Knowing this personally, I am grateful for the witness of these lessons today. Not because they explain the pain away, but because they speak truth about the reality of shame, as well as its relativity.
The prophet declares that shame is in fact unworthy to attach itself to those who lay claim to the calling of God in their lives. Therefore, let the servants of God remain undaunted in the face of opposition!
The psalmist takes the more constructive view, praying that shame will be put to good use. Let those who act with conniving conceit be redirected toward a posture of repentance!
As for the epistle, the Preacher describes the unwavering joy of Jesus, whose perfect display of undeniable love has the power to resurrect us all.
Sure, Judas had every reason to be ashamed (as John tells us). But understand this: none of us is beyond the limits of Grace. When we are at our worst, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are at their very best. This is the moment of my glory, says Jesus.
Hear the good news! No matter what those other voices may be telling you—even that prominent voice of shame—they do not get the last word.
Grace to YOU!
Lord Jesus, we confess that already, while it is only the middle of the week, we struggle to keep pace with you. Our feet are tired and could use a good washing. Our faces are weary—more flab than flint. In truth, we are afraid to say a word or to take another step with you. This close to Friday, our desire to desert the way of discipleship is real. Save us, God, from our weakness and resignation. Fill us when we are sure that we are not enough. Empower us with your Spirit to follow all the way. Teach us to lay down our shame as we pick up your cross. Help us to love that rugged old thing yet again. This we pray, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.