Shame is the feeling we experience when we’ve been “caught.” It is the feeling of being exposed, especially in a moment of weakness or sinfulness. Today’s lectionary gives us two shame-filled readings: the old men hiding in the garden lusting after Susanna (Daniel 13:1-62) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
A healthy sense of shame is not a bad thing! Shame helps us set boundaries, alerts us to risky behavior, and leads to genuine sorrow. Which is why, in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, we ask for the grace to feel shame and confusion when confronting the reality of sin. The difficulty with shame is that it hits at the very core of our identity. At its worst, shame can lead us to believe that we are no longer lovable and not worthy of forgiveness.
When the Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, he does not ask for an explanation. Jesus does not interrogate or humiliate her any further. Jesus responds with compassion, because her identity is not tied to her sin. When Jesus looks at her, he sees a beloved daughter of God. Jesus doesn’t deny that she has sinned, but he sees beyond her sinfulness. As he recognizes her dignity and self-worth, he simply extends mercy, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Jesus, how do you see me? Give me the grace to know myself as your beloved daughter, as your beloved son, as your beloved friend – even when I sin.
—Beth Knobbe is an author and ministry professional based in Chicago, IL. She blogs at www.bethknobbe.com .