In the Gospel of John, there is this amazing story about an interaction between Jesus, an unnamed woman, and a group of religious people. Read it a couple of times before moving on...
"The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?' They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, 'Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.' And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one, sir.' And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.'" (John 8:3-11)
Shame is what this wonderful unnamed woman carried with her into this encounter. The shame she carried was not simply caused by her behavior. No, that would be too easy. The shame she carried was given to her by the crowd that wanted her dead. They gave her shame. They wanted her not only to feel badly because of what she had done; they wanted her to feel badly because of "who" she was. The religious crowd did not bring this young woman before Jesus for repentance and redemption. The mob brought her there for vengeance and their own self-righteousness. They packed a bag of shame for her and forced her to carry it.
The same thing happens to us. Shame jumps on our backs and makes us feel as though we are unworthy of love and acceptance. Shame whispers in our ear that we are nothing more than a failure and will never "measure up". And we are weighed down because we believe its lie!
Jesus has a different perspective. Jesus takes the opportunity to redeem a life that had been riddled with shame (Jesus has a habit of doing that). Jesus points to the sin of the crowd reminding everyone gathered that there is enough guilt to go around. Guilt, unlike shame, is focused on a behavior, not on issues of identity. Guilt is an acknowledgement that we have made a mistake and drives us to repentance and restoration.
Jesus changes the conversation from centering on shame to focusing on guilt. He says, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone."
The condemnation of shame was shattered as the stones that were meant to bring death fell harmlessly to the ground and the feet of those who peddled shame turned to walk away.
"Has no one condemned you?" Jesus asks us as we now stand stripped of the shame that once burdened our shoulders, our lives, our souls.
"No one," we respond.
"Neither do I condemn you."
And with that we are fully restored and reminded that we are indeed worthy of life, of love, and of acceptance.
You are worthy. Be at peace.
For more on this topic, watch this incredible video which is a follow up to the last post on "Lent - A Season of Vulnerability"