Jesus at the Margins: 2- Shame
Pastors fix their eyes on Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus made being marginal central. He did it primarily by his meal-time practices. In Jesus’ day the Jewish culture operated on the power of shame. We in the West know little about the dehumanizing effects of an extreme shame-based culture. In 1st century Judaism social relationships were arranged hierarchically with those closest to God: the High Priest, then priests, Levites, obedient Jews on down to those most removed from God, the Gentiles, shepherds, tax-collectors, prostitutes and generally the am ha ‘aretz, the “people of the land,” the illiterate human trash. People were kept in their places by stringent social shaming.
Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus into his home and immediately proceeded to exert the power of social shame (see Luke 7: 36-50). By deliberately humiliating Jesus before all his guests, Simon sought to put this upstart “prophet” from Hicksville, Galilee in his proper place. Oops. Shame does not work on Jesus. Rolling with Simon’s shame punch, Jesus proceeds to interpret a redeemed prostitute’s actions for Simon and the guests. All the shame meant to slime Jesus boomeranged onto Simon. The biggest sinner at the meal turns out to be the host Simon the Pharisee!
To be marginalized in Jesus’ day meant to be shamed: publicly humiliated, socially ostracized and spiritually scorned. You were considered, not just someone who did bad things, you were a bad, unclean person. Shame attacks identity, not behavior. To up the ante, the social shame declared that you were cut off from God. You had no place at the holy table. You were an outsider. You were gutter trash. You had no identity other than to be the foil for “the righteous ones” who said things like, “God, I am so glad I am not like that tax-collector/same sex-oriented person/abortion-minded woman/alcoholic/ Hezbollah terrorist over there.”
Jesus prepares his table. The thing one never felt in his presence was shame. You felt welcomed. You felt honored. You felt joy. You felt included. You felt valued. You felt family. You heard “my friend” and looked up and saw that Jesus meant you.
“But I, I am…a very rich and hated tax-collector.”
“I am a…furious zealot with blood on my hands.”
“I am…an unclean woman with an issue of blood.”
“I am a smelly shepherd.”
“I am a desperate prostitute.”
“I am a lonely leper.”
“I am an oppressive Roman centurion.”
“I am a despised Samaritan and immoral woman.”
“I am am ha ‘aretz.”
Jesus looks at us and smiles. He raises his hands and blesses the bread from the earth and the wine from the grape. He blesses as only a Good Host, a Good Shepherd can bless. By the time he stops, we really do not care what we are, but who he is. And one thing he is: he is for us, not against us.
Jesus, as host, says, “Hey, Deborah and Matthew, separate a little bit. We’ve got to make room for father Abraham when he shows up. Good. You guys there, make a place for Isaac. All right, let’s eat.”
Dark shame flees into the night in the presence of Light. Sadly, the fleeing shame that seeps into the crevasses of graceless hearts turns into Christless animosity. Shame hates being shamed. In West Michigan many souls have been driven far from God by the use of religious shame. These victims are the religiously battered. A large segment of well-meaning, but misguided Christians in this region have replaced the Spirit of God with the death-dealing tactic of shame.
Jesus said, “This is My body given for you” and they felt no shame.