Jesus Disallows Shame.
A sermon based on Mark 10: 46-52
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on October 28, 2018
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Jesus lived in a culture where honor and shame were central guiding forces to a person’s conduct and the esteem and place they held in their community. As Dr. Stephen Patterson puts it his book The God of Jesus, to have
honor was to have a place, a role, within which one is readily recognized by one’s peers, a role whose functions one may competently perform. . . One knows what to expect from an honorable person. [they] are clear about their role in life; they know what is expected and do their duty. 1
To have shame was the opposite, it occurred when someone “behaves in a way that is inappropriate to his or her role, or to society in general . . .” 2 . Those behaving inappropriately were considered shameful people. 3 They acted outside the box of expected honorable conduct for whatever role they had in the culture. Such actions were disquieting to others, and perceived as an undesired disturbance, threat . . . even danger. Roles in society were defined and compliance with the role as defined made you honorable. Non-compliance made you shameful.
Honor and shame were forces that helped hold communal life together, for the most part there were not readily accessible police forces or courts to keep people in line. Consequently non-conformists were typically shamed back into their expected roles or faced expulsion or worse. In essence honor was given when you took on and were recognized as having a role and successfully you functioned in the role, and you were allowed to hold it, by others. 4 Shame came into play when you failed at being recognized or functioning in a role . 5 If a person ignored honor and shame eventually they were considered shameless fools and cast out.
Honor and shame still play roles in our culture to a lesser degree but they are still out there. Dr. Patterson uses the example of a junior high dance. If I took on the role of wanna be dancer way back in junior high, I might have even asked a potential dance partner something like: “May I have the honor of this dance?” The honor came from acceptance of my request. The shame came from being turned down. Or it could come later if my awkward flailing about to rock an roll failed as dancing and I am shamed for not being what I aspired to be, a passable dance partner.
Or what if my dancing is so bad the partner runs off the floor in the middle of the song? There is no honor in that. Only shame. Unless someone comes and rescues me, by stepping in to become my partner restoring me to an honorable position.
We negotiate honor and shame more than we think, not just at dances. To hold a job or even community leadership we take on roles that ordinarily require recognition of us in the role and some sort of consensus of successful functioning in that role. Honor helps keep us there, and shame helps us do as culturally expected. It’s not as strong today but the sense of shame and honor do come into play.
And in Jesus’ day they meant the world to most people, so much so that – like I said– a person ignored honor and shame at the peril of being considered shameless fools and cast out and shunned or worse. Jesus is just such a shameless fool and he is cast out and he is shunned by cultural elites. In the Gospels we find political and religious leaders trying to shame him and dishonor him. They challenge Jesus and his Way.
When that does not work, when he will not step back into line, they plot to eliminate him. And when they capture him to do so, they take extraordinary steps to dishonor and shame him with mocking, scourging, and a public display of the worst kind–marching him down the street, putting him unclothed in a public place to suffer and die.
Jesus’ biggest dishonoring of the culture, his most shameful acts were ironically refusing to recognize shame and to try and remove it from society all the while caring for the culturally shamed. Over and over again Jesus knocks down barriers of shame. He rescues those in shame. Jesus lives a life, and leads a movement, that disallows shame. Think about all the stories we know about Jesus helping people. A great number of them are about Jesus stepping over some sort of line in the sand for shame, and joining the shamed.
Another metaphor suggested by the Jericho setting in our lesson is that Jesus knocks down walls that deny justice and kindness to the shamed. He gives justice to them. He gives kindness to them. All of them. Any of them. Jesus did not shun. He joined the shunned and asked his followers to do so too.
A healing gift Jesus had that cannot be denied is he made whole in his community those wounded through the cultural dishonor of shame. In one story a shamed woman accused of adultery was about to be executed. Jesus defends her with a challenge of his own. He challenges the honor of those wishing to eradicate her shame: “ Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. . . .” Her accusers all skulk away, themselves shamed by Jesus’ challenge . . . 7
We see Jesus knocking down walls of shame surrounding other women. Martha tries to get Jesus to help shame Mary back into a conventional role. Jesus knocks that wall of shame down. A foreigner woman at the well who was married many times and living with someone else’s husband is shunned by others. Jesus knocks that wall of shame down. The Syrophoenician Woman talks Jesus into taking down the shame wall around her and her daughter. Jesus knocks that wall of shame down. There’s a sobbing woman that men shamed as she washed Jesus’ feet. Jesus knocks that wall of shame down. Even Mary Magdalene herself was shunned and shamed with demons. Jesus knocked that wall of shame down.
And its not just women. A man also in a shameful state with demons is approached by Jesus and Jesus knocked the wall of shame down. He knocks down the wall of shame for numerous ostracized lepers. He knocks down the wall of shame for loathsome shameful tax collectors.
And it is not just the marginalized whom Jesus removes the stink of shame from. Loathed Gentile Roman Centurions and collaborating religious elite are not shunned, but welcomed to Jesus’ table and community. Even shunners are not shunned by Jesus. He even asks forgiveness for those who shammed and crucified him! Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female, old, young, rich, poor, sick, stranger and imprisoned all of them get into Jesus’ community and he removes their shame. He disallows it.
And Jesus calls us to remove and disallow shame too. The United Church of Christ embodies that call in its motto on our banner outside: “No Matter Who You Are Or Where You Are On Life’s Journey, You’re Welcome Here.”
Today’s story about Bartimaeus is another example of Jesus knocking down a shame wall and welcoming the culturally shamed onto his Way and into his community. Bartimaeus means “Son of Honor.” His name telegraphed to the first hearers of the story the discordant news that this poor blind beggar – a culturally shamed person– is the son of honor. The discord in the story is that a blind beggar expendable nobody sitting outside of the town of Jericho is not supposed to be in line for honor.
Bartimaeus is begging on the side of the road. He is a beggar. A blind beggar. That is his role. He cannot see. He cannot work. In the regular scheme of things he begs and the honorable thing for him to do is accept his lot in life and take what people give him. He is not supposed to be able to be the first person in all the Bible to “see” and proclaim that Jesus is the “Son of David.” He certainly not supposed to bother a revered rabbi let alone accost him crudely yelling “Son of David have mercy on me.” That is just shameful. And so the story has a lot of people trying to shame Bartimaeus. We are told “ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet . . .” And what does the Son of Honor do? We are told “He cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Good for him. Because that prayer to Jesus gets heard over the raucous clamor to try and shame him. Jesus answers the prayer by stepping over the line in the sand that was meant to keep Bartimaeus on the street outside the city walls quietly walled away by society being poor and blind and a nobody expendable.
It is no accident Jesus takes down the walls of shame outside of Jericho. Where Joshua took down physical barriers. Jesus takes down cultural barriers– every single kind he encounters, everywhere he encounters them. The message is there is no wall of shame that a culture can build that Jesus will not take down and stand on the side of the shamed.
Whatever place of shame we might think we are in or the culture tries to claim we are in, not only is Jesus willing to cross over that line and side with us, but he brings justice and kindness with him and in so doing knocks the wall of shame down as effectively as Joshua knocked the walls of Jericho down. We can pray to Jesus over any raucous clamor and attempts to try and shame us and Jesus will be with us on the shame side of life and he will wash it away. He will provide us with justice and kindness. Overriding traditional acts of shaming is one of Jesus’ specialities. Jesus disallows shame. All of it.
That is not to say there are not consequences for real wrongs and sins, there are. But shame by the culture does not ever influence who God or Jesus Christ care for or love. It certainly did not stop Jesus on his mission as person in history or his continuing experiential reality after Easter. Jesus is shamed in his life and literally shamed to death by Rome. But that did not stop God from honoring and validating Jesus and His Way. Shortly after his death Jesus’ followers get that. No shaming effort by earthly power could end all that Jesus did and taught, most especially his efforts to take down the walls of shame and bring justice and kindness to the culturally shamed. Ironically Rome’s efforts at shaming Jesus backfires, he is not the shameful one. We know that Rome’s earthly ways of oppression are what is shameful.
But even then we must work to see that individuals who behave in oppressive ways must not have the violence of being shamed imposed personally on them by us. That is why Jesus asks God to forgive those who crucified him (“Forgive them father for they know not what they do.”) Jesus and Jesus’ Followers are not to shame people. That is very difficult to do, especially in this climate with anger and disagreements in high relief. We feel drawn by earthy ways to shame those we disagree with. We call them names. We mock their positions. We shun them.
An example of this is in the heated political climate we are in with so many on both sides dishonoring and shamming opponents. Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Republican Nikki Haley, recently called for greater civility noting that “In our toxic political environment, I’ve heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil.” Haley then pointed out “In America, our political opponents are not evil.” She went on to describe real acts of evil in the world noting “In the last two years, I’ve seen true evil,” and then added “We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil. They’re just our opponents.”
I do not know Ambassador Haley’s religious affiliation, but her words that I just quoted are akin to Jesus’ efforts. I hear her teaching us to end the shaming in politics that so many of us are tired of. She is not alone. Michelle Obama urged that when others go low, we should go high.
Ms. Haley and Ms. Obama can be heard to express the spirit of what Jesus taught and did wherever shame was aimed. Instinctively if someone was shamed Jesus stood with them and unshamed them. He does that still today. It is our call to treat people Jesus’ Way in politics and everywhere else. We can disagree. We can oppose and even protest. But we must buck earthly ways and learn to not to do so wielding the violent weapon of shame.
And when we see victims of that weapon, whoever they are and whatever place of shame they might be placed in, like Jesus we need to be willing to go to work to bring justice and kindness to them. We need to work to knock the walls of shame down as effectively as Jesus did. Jesus disallows shame. May we strive to do so too.
1. Much of this sermon was influenced by Dr. Stephen Patterson’s chapter on shame in his great book The God of Jesus, pages 55-89. This quote came from page 74.
6 Ibid at 77
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED