Wednesday of Holy Week | Dane Anthony
There seems to me a theme arising from the collection of texts today: shame. It is something I know from my own story. I know too, there are different ways to look at shame. There is toxic shame which leads to isolation and fear (“I am no good”), and healthy shame which leads to humility (“I need help”).
We have, I believe, examples of both in our readings, windows to see what shame drives us to do—to retreat and isolate, or press in and know. In this season of repentance and contrition, I sense that shame can be for us a powerful teacher.
The Psalmist heaps shame against his tormentors—shame, in the poetic ring of Hebrew parallelism, that leads to disgrace, that they suffer and feel the pain they have attempted to inflict. Then, the voice of the prophet as he sets his face rock-hard toward the truth, refusing to bend to voices that say he is not worthy to speak with his God-given, “well-instructed tongue.” The Gospel reading sets in motion both Judas’ and Peter’s betrayals; preambles to scenes of isolating toxic shame for Peter, and for Judas, a shame that literally leads to death.
And, finally, in Hebrews, is the shame Jesus endures in his execution. It is here, though, that we shift vantage points. This is where I find the teaching on healthy shame. Jesus’ example for us is not to be defined or identified by our shame (“grow weary and lose heart”). The author of Hebrews recognizes, “the sin that so easily entangles us” that leads to the isolation of toxic shame, but he sets before us Jesus’ embrace of the shame of crucifixion to redefine how shame can lead to relationship, not away from it.
There is a light that healthy shame brings to the recognition of our dependency, a dependency for the mutual relationship and connection we are made for. This dependency finds its ultimate expression in our penitent approach during this season; to come before God holding both our inherent beauty as the Imago Dei and the humility of our healthy shame. This is, for me, the promise and hope of the Lenten season. May we find humility and freedom in our shame that embraces community in “such a great cloud of witnesses.” And may we embrace our dependency as a holy gift rather than a weakness.
Adjunct Instructor, School of Religion