Shame is a powerful word. It is the recognition of unworthiness inside one’s self due to an action or intrinsic trait and leads to humiliation and guilt. It is the reason we fear allowing people into our lives, thinking that if they saw us as we truly are, rejection would be the only logical result. For who could truly love and accept a broken creature like me? Shame culture, the societal mindset that enjoys projecting humiliation to those who we deem worthy of it, exists because internally we all feel ashamed of something. We try to post, tweet, and selfie some self-esteem into our lives but the truth is that we are deeply broken and most days are spent doing things to try to escape that thought.
Shame is also more spiritual than most people realize. The Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden immediately introduced the event of shame (Gen. 3:7-11) and shows the true casualty of shame: a trusting relationship with God. Adam and Eve felt fear and humiliation as soon as they disobeyed God’s good command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their response to this embarrassment was to sew together fig leaves found in the Garden to try to cover themselves. But, knowing that fig leaves were truly inadequate to hide the shame they felt, they hid from God as well. Shame caused Adam and Eve to not only run from the same God who had encapsulated their entire existence with His love but it also caused them to believe that it was up to them to come up with their own pitiful solution to a very real brokenness now present in their life. For shame is always first and foremost spiritual. Fig leaves can cover up but they will never solve the problem.
But Adam and Eve, being so focused on covering up their shame and trying to make themselves presentable to a holy God, completely missed an equally astounding event that happened in the Garden: God came looking for them. Surely Adam and Eve were aware that God is omniscient, knowing and seeing all things from eternity as the present. Surely they know God was not unaware of their decision. But because shame entered the world through their sin, it blinded them from seeing God looking for them as a good thing. God was not afraid of their sin or turned off by their shame. He was not embarrassed or humiliated by them. God chose to pursue them still yet shame caused Adam and Eve to see this not as an astounding feat of ever-pursuing love but instead as a reason to hide. But from the beginning of time God has proven to His children that He wants to pursue us even in the midst of our shame. Knowing we are prone to distrust His intentions, God sent His Son to show us truly how deep His love is for us.
In Luke 7, starting at verse 36, Jesus has just accepted an invitation to eat at the house of a pharisee named Simon. What happens at this dinner is an amazing depiction of God’s response to our shame despite our response to it:
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
Pharisees and known sinners were not social friends. Pharisees were known for being judgmental and would have been likely a strong source of public shame for sinners. So this woman is already extremely bold for even approaching the house of a pharisee. She is described in the scriptures as “a woman of the city”, most likely alluding to the type of sin she was known for. So here we have a woman known most likely for promiscuity and possibly prostitution coming to the house of a Pharisee to meet Jesus. And when she sees Jesus reclining at the dinner table, she begins to anoint his feet and wash them with what? Her tears. This woman has probably endured years of shame in her community. She’s more than likely unmarried so she is already treated as less than a human. She probably does not have many friends for she was publicly known for her sin. Her everyday could be filled with the feelings of rejection, self-hatred and shame. Even if after a while she begins to like her sin, her reaction to seeing Jesus shows she probably wishes things were different. And maybe, just maybe, if she could anoint this man’s feet, if she could get in His presence, maybe He could do for her what she has heard He’s done for others. So, risking the whispers of the audience, she steps into the house of man who would like nothing more than to publicly chastise her and she puts her very soul into washing the feet of her last resort. Have you ever felt like her? Like the weight of your sin is too much to bear? And if you could just request a quick audience with some Hope, maybe you could be different?
But there is an interesting flaw in the way the sinful woman approached Jesus, one we also are prone to make. Yes, she understood rightly that Jesus was her hope, that He could do for her what she could in no way do for herself. But notice how she approached him:
38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
She stood behind Jesus. She conquered enough of her shame to at least be in His presence, but certainly she could not look Him in the face. Her shame still reminds her she is unworthy. But what is Jesus’ response to her?
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among[a] themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
He turned to her. Jesus faced her and spoke directly to her. Her shame could not overcome His love for her. He called her forgiven and told her to go in peace. Jesus wanted her to know that He had not come to simply sprinkle forgiveness from afar and leave us. Jesus came to show us that He is here, face-to-face with us and our sin. He turns to us. He came to us, died for us, and has forgiven and saved those of us who believe in Him. And He and the Father are One, for He is the exact nature of the Father. Our Father in Heaven does not turn away from us in our shame; He turns to us. And when He turns to us, it is to deliver good news. Even in the Garden after administering judgement, God proclaimed that a Savior would come and crush oppression once and for all. Shame is oppressing. But it is also a liar. It tells you that you are not worthy, not good enough, and that there is no hope. But God says otherwise. And when He does, He says it to us, to our face. Turn to God in your shame, for He has already turned to us first in Jesus Christ. God loves you. Not the cleaned-up version of you; not the version of you with no regrets; not the version we put of ourselves in our status updates. He loves the one known in public as sinner; He loves the unchaste, the ungodly, and the unworthy. And He loves them enough to turn to them. Turn to God; your shame is no match for His love.