Despising Shame

I suspect you have heard or read these words before, words referring to Jesus:  He became like us so that we might become like him.  Another sentence, in a similar vein is this:  He came to do what we could not do.  Those words are apropos when it comes to the Law.  Jesus came to do what we could not do:  fulfill the obligations of law.  I think about the temptations in the same way:  Jesus did in the wilderness what Israel, and we with them, were unable to do as they lived in the wilderness and as we continue to live in the wilderness.  I want to see if I can connect those two sentences in what follows.

I have recently done some thinking on the topic of shame, encouraged by the reading Curt Thompson’s book, The Soul of Shame.  It is a worthwhile read though you have to wade through some neurobiology information at points.  In my most recent sermon, I thought about the idea presented to us by the author of Hebrews, namely, that Jesus despised the shame in order to walk toward death.  As I thought about crucifixion and what transpires, I recall that it was typical for the person crucified to hang naked.  It was part of the shame endured as a criminal.  I stopped to consider many of the ways Jesus was shamed during this period of time we now observe as the Passion Week.  He was betrayed and denied by close friends.  He was arrested on trumped up charges.  He was slapped by a soldier as he stood before the high priest.  Stripped and mocked by soldiers, made to wear a crown of thorns as if to state, “Here, King, is your royalty!”  God’s own words used against Him by the religious leaders and then rejected for a notoriously bad man by the people for whom He came to save.  Shame was not present on the cross alone but throughout the week’s events, over and over again.  It culminates in hanging physically exposed on the cross. Obviously, our images and depictions of the crucifixion rarely if ever exhibit this naked aspect of our Savior.  As I pondered this, I was drawn back to Adam and Eve’s immediate choice to clothe themselves upon their awareness as being naked. They could not endure the shame that flooded their souls and even when God came calling, inviting them to step into the healing light of naked exposure, they could not do it, settling for blaming and excuses.  All this brought to mind the sentence above that Jesus came to do what we, and in this case Adam, could not do.  Adam and Eve hid in their nakedness. This response to sin and weakness continues to plague us, keeping us separated from God and each other.  Once again, my favorite verse comes into play:  There is a way that seems like life but in the end it leads to death.  Conversely there is a way that seems like death that in the end leads to life.  Jesus, as the Apostle Paul points out, truly was the 2nd Adam.  He did what Adam could not do, what we struggle to do. He did not run from nakedness but rather stared it down, taking away its debilitating power.  Thank God He did because it resulted in life for anyone willing to step into the light of God’s mercy and grace.

This is what it means to scorn or despise something, to do what Jesus did. It is to stare it down and not allow it to have power over us.  Shame has such power, power to immobilize and separate.  Jesus essentially offered freedom from shame’s bondage.  And this is where the first sentence above comes into play:  He became like us so that we might become like him.  He defeated shame so that we might also move against it.  This defeat doesn’t mean we don’t continue to wrestle with it, in the same sense that He defeated sin but we continue to wrestle with the remnants of its power.  What it does mean is that we are no longer paralyzed by it.  It is possible to move in the face of it rather than remain hidden and immobilized.

Have you ever considered how when something that has power in our lives is removed it creates a vacuum?  Years ago, I read a book by Gerald May entitled Addiction and Grace.  Perhaps you have heard of it. Two truths remain from the reading of this book 20+ years ago.  The first was this:  everyone is addicted to something.  We all are addicts.  That speaks of our hunger and thirst for what we don’t have and for what we were created.  May's second truth was this idea of a vacuum.  If we remove the addiction, something else will take its place.  A vacuum is created.  I recall a couple of years ago during the Lenten season that I tried to give up my love (sanitized word for addiction) for Mountain Dew.  What I recall discovering was that I found myself turning into the local Dairy Queen more often, a place I seldom frequent.  It occurred to me that I had just traded one addiction for another.

If Jesus scorned shame, essentially de-powerizing it, what was the replacement?  I wonder if the answer is not found in the immediate context, specifically the words preceding this idea of despising/scorning?  I would argue that what filled the vacuum was the joy set before Him.  And what was this joy?  I would argue against an anthropocentric answer to this question.  I don’t think His primary joy was our salvation. A secondary joy no doubt.  Instead, I would suggest his primary joy was the opportunity to bring glory to his Father, to reveal the kind of God we call ours.  This is what we read in John 17, that famous prayer just before he headed toward the cross. Jesus’ deepest desire was to glorify His father by making Him known.  His deepest joy was theocentric, that is, His joy was in pleasing His Father by fulfilling his ultimate purpose.  That purpose is laid out for us in Hebrews 1:  He is the radiance of the glory of God, the exact representation of his being.  How Jesus moved and loved was so that we could discover the heart of God, so that we could become like him.  He became like us so that we might become like him.

Here is the thing:  Jesus did just that.  He made it possible for us to likewise not be controlled by shame.  We will feel it.  But we need not be controlled by it.  It is possible for us when made aware by the Spirit of God, to move against shame, whether that be moving for the sake of another in the face of being misunderstood or ridiculed, or whether it be stepping into the light to admit our failure.  The same Spirit that empowered Jesus lives within to empower us.  Both of these opportunities, be it in pouring ourselves out for another or in bathing in God’s forgiveness are opportunities for joy.  Both of these bring delight to our God.  We will need His help to do it. He has given us that help, in the person of his Holy Spirit.

As we consider Good Friday and the Resurrection on Sunday, be reminded that Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Thank Him in gratitude.  There is freedom from the bondage of shame.  Be reminded too, that His coming and enduring the cross and then defeating death through the Resurrection also means that we are now, on occasion, able to become like Him in how we go about our lives and in how we treat others.

Christ is Risen!