Stones of Shame

I would have loved to stand at the back of the crowd and watch the scene unfold within the thick dusty walls of the Temple.

There in the middle of the crowd stands one woman.  Vulnerable and exposed, she is judged before she is heard.  The “know-it-alls” have accused her of promiscuity, lust and impurities.  As she stands there all the faces who have taken advantage of her beauty peer into her; piercing her soul with the memories of each abusive moment.  I wonder if some of her accusers had shared some of those moments with her?   I wonder, as she stood there if she wanted to shout out her reasons, her story, her pain?

I’m certain she was paralyzed by shame and tears were brimming in her eyes.  But her skin was thick and her heart hard, she wouldn’t dare let them fall.

She had certainly heard of Jesus before now, who hadn’t?  But maybe this was the first time she’d seen him in person.  It was quickly evident after the first of her accusers spoke only a few words that she was yet again being used.  Would He use her too?  These “know-it-alls” were using her vulnerabilities for their own gain, their own ego-stroking, to prove the power of shame.  The verses they hurled went straight through her aimed directly at Him.

Stones

Here’s where the scene takes a striking twist.  Before Jesus utters a response to the accusers he bends down.  {What in the world is he doing?}  He takes his finger and begins to write in the dirt.  {Aren’t we formed from the dust of the earth?}  I wonder if He started with everyone’s names.  Perhaps it wasn’t names but descriptions of hearts, descriptions that could reveal identities.

His writings are a best kept secret.  The scene progresses, He keeps writing through their “badgering”.  When he stood to make eye contact with them… silence fell.  Frozen in shock.  He stooped again to write.  What did he write then?  Names?  More descriptions?  Was it the hidden sins of pride, lust, envy, doubt or was it the big sins of adultery, idolatry, murder, theft?  Or is there a difference?

One by one, they left.  I bet you could hear each scuffle, each breath of silenced shame.  Their thoughts  just as thick as the dust in the air.  Then the miracle happens, Jesus stands and her heart is pierced with Love.  The faces of shame have left, the painful memories are silenced and redemption happens.  What the Pharisees wanted to do with shame Jesus did with love.  In the end there is life instead of death.

Shame can be a powerful motivator.  It “is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”.¹  The history of faith is laden with shame tactics.  It is a powerful tool to silence, shrink and bully.  The Pharisee’s were known for it.  And it is still powerfully used today.  “To feel shame is to be human.”²

Shame isn’t just for prostitutes or abortionists.  It isn’t only for adulterers or criminals.  You’ll find it wrapped in perfectionism, smiling a fake smirk of security.  Shame boasts of mediocrity.  It keeps you quiet at the office conference table and holds your tongue around the water cooler over a controversial topic.  Shame hides your true self in circles at school or church or among friends.  Shame lives in silence.   Shame may keep you in line but it leads to death.

The Pharisees wanted the woman to be held accountable for her actions, her past. They wanted to send a message that that behavior isn’t tolerated and needed to change.  Their tactics for sending this message caused her to shut-down, lower her head and hide.  She knew it was wrong, she knew the punishment but because of the shame of it she was not empowered  but was held captive by it.  She was probably bowing low with her head tucked in a protective posture to avoid the stones they were about to throw at her- giving substance to their condemning words and confirming her deepest fear: she isn’t worthy of redemption, life or love.

She may not have looked up to see what Jesus wrote but nonetheless she was equalized by those scribbles.  The dust of the exodus settles and she raises her head ever so slightly to meet His eyes in the silence of their effect.  What Jesus did next changed her life forever.  Rather than hurling accusations and shame, He met her heart with love, powerful love.  He released her from shame and showered her with redemption.  He set her free with the power of truth; free from sin, free from doubt and insecurity.  Jesus still told her to “change her ways”, to leave her sinful behavior behind like a pile of stones, but he kept her dignity and life intact.  He gave hope to the ache in her heart for acceptance, love and belonging and this empowered her to stop sinning.

What do you think she did next?  I imagine her rounding the corner, just outside the massive walls of the temple and taking pause against those cold clay bricks.  Her mind reeling and those tears finally releasing.  As the flood of devastation leaves her soul a new breath rises up in her lungs.  She is now free.  Free to be a radiant daughter of the most High King.  Her head held high and her hands open to share the love of God instead of the love of shame.

Refuse to cower to the shouts or even whispers of shame, those stones will kill you.  Instead, raise your head ever so slightly and gaze into the love of your Savior.  Receive His redemption and go live a radiant life.

 

1.  Brene Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power (New York: Penguin/Gotham Books, 2007)
2. Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are. (Center City, Minn./ Hazelden, 2010)

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One Comment on “Stones of Shame

  1. Brandi, You must spend a lot of time preparing a piece to be published. I am guessing this happens late at night! Keep up the good work that God has begun in you. Love, Grandma Gray

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