Shame

Healthy Contrition

Jesus tells a number of parables of reversal — that is stories where the expected winner, loses. There is the farmer who has a bumper crop and tears down his barns in order to build new ones. Surprise! His name appears in tomorrow’s obituary (Luke 12:16-21). There are seeds that do well when first sown and then fail when the noon day sun burns down on them (Mark 4:3-8). And then there is the story of a good man, a Pharisee, who goes up to pray and the blessings of God skip over this paragon of virtue. Instead, a disreputable tax collector goes home knowing that his prayer is heard (Luke 18:9-14).

 

In matters of religion, we should expect reversals. Those who start out well, don’t always end well. Getting into heaven is not a matter of joining the right church or developing the right theology. Jesus tells us of a tax collector and a Pharisee who are praying at the same moment in the same church. Jesus says that success in religion is a matter of contrition.

Sunday, October 23, 2016
Pentecost 25

In with the Vipers

John the Baptist doesn’t make any friends by calling everyone brood of Vipers. Now note that Jesus doesn’t contradict John. To understand their shared message, we need to focus on what is healthy and not, relating to pride and shame. What would John, or Jesus, make of the boast, “I am proud to be an American” or the current rush in France to buy tricolor flags since the Paris attack?

 

Shame is related to who we are, as opposed to guilt that involves what we do. We can have false pride relating to both who we are (things outside our control) or relating to things we have done (boasting of our accomplishments).  John tells the good Jewish people who come to him, not to have unhealthy pride in the fact that they are “children of Abraham” (Luke 3:8). Similarly, I don’t think we should have false pride in the fact that we were born Americans. If I had been born 10 miles south of where I was, today I would be speaking Spanish and worrying about Mexican politics. False pride is sinful and can lead to a lack of compassion.

 

Moses

Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. He thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight..."
“Earth is crammed with heaven, And every bush is aflame with God But only those who see, take off their shoes The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Lent 3
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