February 8, 2015
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
Shame is clearly distinguished from embarrassments, which we can joke about, and guilt, which tells us we have done something wrong and need to change our behavior.
Shame is never a good thing; it says I am something wrong and that change is not possible. Shame isolates us twice, both because it tells us we have a problem, and it keeps us from approaching others to find a solution.
Mark 1:35-45 The Story of Jesus Healing a Leper
We know little about Biblical leprosy, which probably includes both Hansen’s disease and other incurable skin diseases (See Leviticus).
However, we do know that leprosy in the Bible was a disease of shame, making you perpetually religiously unclean, forcing you outside of normal society, and strongly associated with sin. In fact, people were terrified of it because if you had leprosy, you lived a life, indeed, a disease, of shame.
Mark then moves in this story about the leper from the terror and shame of leprosy to faith and compassion: “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean. Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean.’ “ (Mark 1:40, 41)
As the author, Mark, gives few details in this book, we need to pay attention to his pointing out that Jesus actually touched this man who was not even supposed to approach Jesus.
Although touching is not necessary for healing, Jesus intentionally touched this diseased man, with no concern that Mosaic Law would render Himself to be ceremonially unclean. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, Jesus goes to him, reaches out to him, and touches him in his shame. This story of the leper brings us encouragement: to bring our own mess to Jesus, don’t clean it up first, don’t try to minimize it, just bring it to Him and we will find Him moved by compassion.
Notice that Jesus then moves beyond touching to actually cleansing the leper. “He said, ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:41-44)
The story of this leper is such a beautiful picture of the Gospel: Jesus cleanses us from our sin. He takes our sin away by taking it on Himself, and makes us clean. But the cross was not just about sin; it was also about Jesus bearing the consequences of sin, the punishment, and the shame.
We ourselves try to deal with our shame in many ways, e.g.: hiding from it, declaring there is nothing to be ashamed of, compensating with religion, numbing it with drugs/alcohol/porn, shaming others, even punishing ourselves.
However, the Gospel, the story of Jesus taking our sin and shame, is the way to deal with our shame. Like the leper, we need to take our shame straight to Jesus who is the only one who can help and cleanse us.
Where do we feel guilt in our lives for real shame? How have we dealt with it? Have we named our shame, and asked Jesus to heal and cleanse us from our shame? Have we prayed that Jesus will free us from just such lies from the enemy? We cannot do this on our own; we need to ask Jesus for help, and then thank Him for bearing our sin and shame on the Cross.
With shame as such a powerful force for evil, many of us will need Christian community to assist us in processing our shame: to help us distinguish between truth and lies, and make us feel loved and valued (not worthless and isolated).
At our church we specifically offer both the Stephen Ministry and Small Groups to help work our faith out in Christian community, as God transforms us from within. Every Christian needs community in some fashion to help us move from lies such as shame, and move toward joyfully being the people God wants us to be.
What happens in this story about the leper, should be happening in our lives as we ourselves are healed and transformed. As the body of Christ on earth until Jesus returns, Christians should do what Jesus did here: Be moved by compassion, reach out to touch others, and tell them that God is willing to heal them. We have the opportunity to offer others Jesus’ forgiveness if there is sin, and his power where there is need for healing.