A Sermon on Shame and the Bent-Backed Woman

 

shutterstock_152647745

Click above to listen along. If you can’t see the audio player above, click here to listen to the audio. 

If you follow the HBO show Game of Thrones you know that there are a lot of very disturbing and violent things that transpire on the show. But for me, the most disturbing was a scene of public shaming in which a character had her hair shaved off, was stripped naked and made to walk through the streets while people spat on her and chanted shame, shame, shame. It was a perfect external and physical depiction of what every day of Jr. High feels like if you are the fat kid, or the queer boy, or that weird bug-eyed girl.

I myself am not unfamiliar with shame of my physical body – especially as someone who suffered graves disease as a child, which set off a chain reaction of shame that for a very long time distorted my vision of the image of God in myself, something that is always being healed. This week I kept thinking about shame and the bent-backed woman. For in some way, she seems like such an embodiment of shame itself. I thought about how shameful it must have been to not be looked at in the eye, to know only the feet of those around you, to live as half a human. I wonder what bent her back to begin with? Was her injury physical or emotional or was it maybe both as it so often is. The text is silent on these things, but all week as I thought of her I thought of shame. I thought of how shame – often delivered through the words and actions of others within our homes or schools or churches –writes its own words inside us. As though shame writes its own story in our bodies and every stroke of every letter of shame pulls us down until we cannot look others in the eye. I know that so much shame has been created in you and me and many others through religion, by those who would use God’s holy name to shame us and others, but using Lord’s name to shame is is truly to use the Lord’s name in vain. Because shame does not originate from God. Shame is actually the great deceiver. And as I’ve said before I have no problem saying that I believe shame is demonic.

And it has been since the very beginning.

Like, Garden of Eden, very beginning.

See, thinking of shame embodied in the bent woman made me think of Adam and Eve and that very moment when shame was first introduced to humans and our human bodies.

Because in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden we were free and unashamed and lived in harmony with God and God’s love (you know, for like, 20 minutes…). Until deceived by the serpent into thinking that yeah, to be in harmony with God and God’s love is pretty cool, but what would be REALLY cool is to be LIKE God – which means to have the knowledge of good and evil. We were deceived into choosing knowledge of good and evil over love and inevitably, and with that came shame. Because until they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve did not feel ashamed of their bodies and they didn’t even think to hide their nakedness…

Yet when they were hiding and God said “where are you?” and they said “we were ashamed of our nakedness and afraid of you and so we hid” and God was like, “wait. Who told you you were naked?”

Well, that would be the deceiver. See, if God says who told you you were naked then obviously the shame they felt didn’t come from God. It came from the serpent.

Because while Adam and Eve had done something wrong, what they felt wasn’t guilt.  Guilt didn’t make them hide their nakedness…it was shame – which they didn’t have when they listened only to God.  But having listened to a voice other than God’s tell them who they are, shame was able to write its own story in their very bodies – trying to erase the story of love written in them by their creator – replacing it instead with a story of good and bad.

When shame was introduced into Adam and Eve, I imagine them no longer standing up quite as straight. Gone was the un-self conscious poise endowed by their creator. When I picture the introduction of shame, I picture Adam and Eve slouching, hiding, becoming small.

For some reason God allows us to live in a world where alternatives to God’s voice of love exist (for instance, the serpent)  and those alternatives to God’s voice of love are where shame originates and there is another term for alternatives to God’s voice and it is that which we call the demonic.  Shame is demonic because shame lies about us and our value and our beauty and our worthiness to be loved. Even though it is God herself who created us and gave us value and made us beautiful and did this all in perfect love.

Which finally brings us back to the woman with the bent back.

Jesus sees her. He knows that the shame that binds her is from Satan and not from God. So Jesus again defeats the deceiver. He touches her. And the Greek word isn’t the word for Healed but more like the word for “freed’ or “released from bondage.” That shame which Satan has written inside of her –is scattered as her spine is unfurled by love. She stands up straight, her shoulders back, her chin raised, her eyes available to give and receive light and love and recognition. She stands among them with the full dignity afforded her by her creator. And what was the response of the religious leaders who witnessed this miracle. Was it love? No. It was knowledge of good and evil.

They responded to Jesus by saying that how dare he do the work of healing on the Sabbath and in turn Jesus was like, you want to be ashamed of something – then be ashamed of THAT. Be ashamed of choosing knowledge of good and evil over knowledge of God and God’s love.

Jesus puts to shame: shame itself.

As I thought of all this, I thought that if the body is the place where Satan sews shame then how amazing is it that a human body is also what God chose to take on to be with us?

That God would, as we say, slip into skin and walk among us…choosing to make God’s home in an actual human body – in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

All of this is to say, let’s not forget that the body matters. Your body is holy and beautiful to God. Your young, old, fit, fat, cis, transitioning, queer, disabled, strong body. Because the body may have been where the devil put shame in the very beginning but also it is the body that God will resurrect on the last day. Now, I know that really actually believing in a literal resurrection of the body or even the actual physical resurrection of Christ’s body three days after his burial is not something a lot of liberals tend to confess. It’s intellectually suspicious to admit to believing such fantastical stuff. But the fact is, that the Gospels are almost disturbingly physical in nature. Jesus is born in a barn amongst straw and animals, he was accused of being a glutton and a drunk, he touched people deemed unclean and was flogged and even spat upon.

So given the physical reality of the Gospel, this Christianity thing just has to be more than ideas for your head, it must also be salvation for your body. For after all, it is the human body in which God placed God’s image, the imago dei. I might piss off some of you outdoorsy nature freaks – but God could have chosen to place the imago dei – the image of God in the mountains, but instead she put it in our bodies. Bodies created in the image of their creator. We might experience the awesomeness of God in the mountains…but we see the image of God in the human body in all its perfectly glorious diversity.

I just can’t overstate the significance of this. Because while shame might be demonic and might pull us low with bent back, it is still no match for a God who goes to the cross, takes profound humiliation and insult into his body and responds with only forgiveness and love and then three days later defeats sin, death AND the devil by rising from the dead.

So beloved of God, let us put shame to shame as our Lord taught us. Because we are embodied souls. God slipped into human skin because God saves us in our bodies, not from our bodies. God saves us from the sin of believing our bodies are evil and need to be destroyed, or disciplined, or ignored. We have a body that comes from God. We are part of the larger body of Christ and we are saved through a body on the cross and at the table. The body of Christ broken for us so that we may know God’s love in our own broken bodies.

So as you come today to receive this body and blood of Christ, stand up straight as you are able. Do not be deceived by shame…Stand with the dignity and beauty afforded you by your creator. For you were meant do stand straight.

Amen.

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org