Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No Shame

No Shame
Matthew 27:11-54; Isaiah 50:7-9[1]      
  Humility is a good thing. From ancient times, it has been regarded as a virtue by almost every religion and philosophy known to humankind. Humiliation  is another thing altogether. We may grow stronger from humiliation, as we can by undergoing any kind of hardship, but I would not say that humiliation is a good thing. Unfortunately, most of us experience humiliation at some point in our lives.  Our deepest secret is exposed to our friends and family. Our worst nightmare comes true, and everyone in our lives knows about it. The embarrassment can be unending. Even more tragically, some of us suffer the pain of humiliation so much in our lives that we begin to believe that we are less than and unworthy and unlovable. We become so accustomed to the sting of humiliation it turns into shame, which means we believe that we are somehow defective.
  But shame is never the final verdict for any of us. It cannot be the last word about us if the God we serve is truly a God of grace, mercy, and love. If God is the one we believe him to be based on the Scriptures, then the final truth about us is that we are good enough because we were created “very good.”  We are accepted and loved simply because God chooses to accept and love us. We are worthy, because God deems us worthy--so worthy that he sent his only Son to die for us! No matter what anyone else may say to us or about us, that remains the ultimate truth about us all. God’s unflinching love for us means that no shame has any real hold over us.
  This perspective is found throughout the Psalms. In one Psalm after another, the faithful expressed their confidence that, no matter what their circumstances, in the end they would not be put to shame.[2] The reason for that confidence was their faith in God. They trusted that God would be a refuge to them, and would protect them no matter what hardships they had to experience in life. They believed that God would be faithful and true to his promise of steadfast love.[3] They held onto their conviction that, ultimately if not immediately, God would take their side and defend them, and he would overturn the “verdict” of those who had humiliated them.
  Our Gospel lesson tells us, perhaps in more detail than we’d like to hear, the story of Jesus’ humiliation. I think it is important for us to understand this dimension of what Jesus endured on our behalf: he was thoroughly and publicly humiliated.  He was dragged before the religious leaders of his people, slandered by false witnesses, and ultimately accused of blasphemy (Matt. 26:57-65)--the one who spend his whole life doing the Father’s will was accused of blasphemy! Then they sent him to Pilate, the Roman Governor, who offered to release him, but the crowd that was stirred up by some of Jesus’ enemies demanded he be crucified (27:11-26).
  Pilate had him literally beaten to within an inch of his life, and then handed him over to be crucified.[4] The soldiers who took over dressed him up in a robe and a crown of thorns and mocked him and even spat on him (27:27-31).  Some of the people in the crowd--perhaps some of the same people who had cried out “Hosanna” when he entered Jerusalem--now hurled insults at him (27:39-40). The Jewish leaders who sought to have him executed went so far as to mock him for his faith in God (27:41-43)!  Even the criminals who were crucified with him taunted him (27:44). 
  I’m not sure about you , but it seems difficult for me to imagine a more thorough humiliation than what Jesus endured.[5] Stripped of his clothing, helpless from the beating and from the fact that he was literally having to fight for every breath, he was completely at the mercy of those around him. His weakness before his opponents, his apparent helplessness to prevent his execution, and the mocking all contribute to the ultimate humiliation: how could one who was so seemingly powerless claim to be the Son of God? It seems for all intents and purposes to contradict his claim to be the Messiah who was establishing the kingdom of God.[6] 
  Those of you who have some experience with humiliation may very well be asking the same question I am: what could enable any person to endure such complete and total humiliation?  All I can say is that his faith was much stronger than mine! I think the other Scripture lessons for today suggest that he must have been inspired by the faith expressed in the Psalms that no matter what happened to him in this life, in the end he would not be put to shame (cf. Isa. 50:7).[7] It’s not easy to maintain that kind of faith in the face of humiliation and shame. But as one Apostle puts it, Jesus did so to leave us an example to follow (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21-23).
  We all have times in our lives when we have to face humiliation. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a part of life. When humiliation becomes our “normal” experience, it can turn into shame. We start believing we are unworthy or unwanted or unloved. That can be unbearable, especially when we believe it so much we tell ourselves that it’s our truth. But that kind of shame is never God’s truth. God’s truth about us is that we are more than good enough.  We are accepted and loved simply because God chooses to accept and love us. We are worthy, because God deems us worthy--so worthy that he sent his only Son to die for us! No matter what anyone else may say, God’s love for us means that shame need not have any real hold over us. We can choose to believe, as people of faith have believed for centuries, that “The Lord God helps me, so I will not be ashamed” (Isa. 50:7, NCV).

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm.  A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/13/2014 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Ps. 22:5; 25:2, 3, 20; Ps. 31:1, 17, 19; 71;1, 21; 119:6, 31, 46, 80, 116.
[3] This perspective is particularly found in Psalm 31, from which Jesus took the cry, “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” This is a prayer not of resignation but of trust, of confidence in the “faithful God” (Ps. 31:5). The Psalmist trusts in “the God who can be relied on and believed in because [God] is true to himself.”  Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 143; cf. also H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 363; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1:459-60: (p. 459) “We can trust Him because His essence is trustworthiness.”
[4] Cf. M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,” New Interpreters Bible VIII:488 points out that the severity of Roman flogging was sometimes fatal.
[5] But cf. Christopher R. Seitz, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66,” New Interpreters Bible V:440, where he points out that Jesus’ crucifixion “was neither the worst nor was it even remotely a singular event in its time; many were such executions in his day.”
[6] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 123: the question is “how the dead Jesus became the living, the crucified the resurrected and the humiliated the exalted.” He says (p. 124) the answer lies in “the faithfulness of God.” Nevertheless, the “scandal and folly of the cross” remains “the basic problem and starting point of Christology” (p. 125).
[7] Cf. Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66, 140-41, where he says that “the abuse and shame heaped upon the Servant loses its power over him, thanks to his knowledge that ‘he who vindicates me is near.’” In Isa. 50:9, the “Servant of the Lord” goes on to express the confidence that “It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”

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