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They ought to be ashamed

August 27, 2015

I was watching CNN the other day when they talked about the release of hacked information from the Ashley Madison website; the “confidential” site set up to allow married people to have discreet affairs.  As part of the interview they talked to a woman who discovered that her husband had an account there.  She made this statement:  “To women who have no suspicions, I say: check anyway. It’s sad.”

It surely is.  It is a sad commentary on our culture that her advice may be quite wise.  Perhaps husbands and wives should agree to sit down together and check the list while holding hands.  It might even be a bonding experience.  Imagine the joy of each coming up with a “no results found” verdict on the other.

We seem to have moved to a new phase of this story with individual names coming to the forefront of the news.  To nobody’s surprise Christian names are starting to surface too; most notably that of Josh Duggar from 19 Kids and counting, who is barely over his previous scandal of having molested his younger sisters as a teenager.  As you might imagine, those who are no fans of evangelicalism are gleefully mocking him and, through him, pretty much all of us.

The whole purpose is to project shame onto those who have fallen, which of course, will leave the accuser feeling morally superior.  Indeed, moral superiority seems to be the whole point.  I’d be more upset if I wasn’t so good at it myself.  I am just as capable of shaking my head at the sins of others as anyone else and reaping the feeling of moral well-being that comes from it.

In fact, I think we evangelicals are experts at it.  This is odd, considering how Jesus seemed to wade right into shame situations.  Tax collectors and sinners?  Let’s go to dinner!  Women caught in adultery?  No condemnation.  In fact, he died a death intended to shame – the cross – and transformed it into a celebration.  So how should we react to shameful behavior in others?

I think the story of Matthew the tax collector gives us a clue.  We first see him in Capernaum working a toll booth.  It is likely that he had extorted (for that it what it was) taxes from fishermen, perhaps even Peter, James and John.  It is there that Jesus issues his “follow me” order, which Matthew obeys at once.  Soon, Jesus and his disciples are dining at his home with those famously despised tax collectors and sinners.  I am sure it was shocking to the other disciples who had been trained from birth to hate guys like Matthew.  But the gospel record gives us a clue to how we should respond to the shamed today.

While Mark and Luke in their gospels graciously drop the derogatory descriptor Matthew doesn’t hesitate to call himself “Matthew the tax collector,” owning his shame.  Indeed, the other writers refer to him as Levi, probably another of his names, so as not to draw attention to his shameful past.  Matthew is having nothing of that, using his Matthew name.  The lesson is simple.

For the one who is shamed – fully own the shame you deserve; don’t deny it, don’t excuse it, don’t forget it.  This is the only way to grow from and through shame; the only way to accept the cleansing of shame that Jesus offers.

For the one who watches – hope for true repentance of the shamed and, if it comes, celebrate it and rejoice in it.  If fiery Peter, who probably had his daily catch extorted by Matthew more than once, and who is the force behind Mark’s gospel, can follow Jesus’ example of offering radical forgiveness and acceptance to Matthew, probably we can too.  But here is the trick – it is not hard to do that for someone we already love because we want them to succeed.  But the real challenge is to do that for those we secretly want to fail anyway.

Gosh, Jesus sets some impossible standards of love doesn’t he?  I hope that knowing that I can never clear that bar and I need rescue from shame should give me the grace to extend the same grace to others.

From → Christianity

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