Weekly Seeds: Shame

Sunday, February 25, 2024
Second Sunday in Lent | Year B

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
Saving God, help us find the glory in carrying the cross, in humility, and in giving of ourselves in your name. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Mark 8:31-38
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 • Psalm 22:23-31 • Romans 4:13-25 • Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

Focus Questions:
What causes shame?
How do you distinguish between shame and remorse?
What aspects of the gospel might cause feelings of shame?
How does shame and honor manifest in family and among people groups?
How can shame be overcome or alleviated?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Shame denotes a feeling of humiliation, distress, and guilt that arises as a response to behavior. Often, shame rises in community as accepted norms are broken, and the one who has deviated from the rules is singled out and exposed for those actions. Unlike the internal reflection of conviction or repentance, shame does not typically facilitate restoration or reconciliation. Like a criminal justice system focused almost solely on punishment, shame rejects transformation and repair. Shame judges the person or persons and finds them wanting or unworthy. Shame serves as a result of honor code systems in which maintaining honor is an ultimate goal, and anything that threatens the honor of the community or kinship group is a deep offense.

It is jarring, therefore, to hear Jesus declaring that he will be ashamed of anyone especially those he called to follow him so closely. Even more alarming, Jesus first addresses Peter as “Satan” signifying that perhaps his closest companion has become his greatest adversary. What causes these forceful statements? Peter does not want to hear that Jesus will suffer and die, and he does not want Jesus to say these things publicly.

In a temporary reversal of their relationship dynamics, Peter rebukes Jesus. That may, in fact, be the most astonishing moment recorded in the text. Jesus predicts his passion. Peter chastises Jesus either for being so open in sharing this prediction or because of the prediction itself. That remains mysterious as the markan account omits Peter’s actual words. For the gospel writer, Peter’s reasoning does not matter. The specificity of his offense is not significant. Mark silences Peter in the way that Peter attempts to silence Jesus.

The main point is that Peter offends Jesus. While Peter pulls Jesus to the side for a private talking to, Jesus pulls Peter back into the open so that his response will be public. Being called Satan by Jesus surely was humiliating to Peter. Of course, Jesus will later be accused wrongfully of being someone he was not. In some ways, Jesus provides Peter with a sampling of what will come for both of them when they each pick up their respective crosses.

Peter seems to experience uniquely highs and lows with Jesus. He gets to go up to the mountain and witness Jesus transfigured. In this encounter, he suffers humiliation. Jesus continues to prepare Peter for leadership in this ministry of the gospel. Like Jesus, Peter will not have the luxury of allowing anyone or anything to interfere with spreading and being the good news to a world in need of the kindom.

Although he is referred to as ‘teacher’, however, the main body of instruction is reserved for the central section of the biography, in 8.22-10.52. Here the Markan Jesus turns all worldly conceptions of honour on their head in favour of a deeply counter-cultural, shocking and distasteful focus on what contemporary society would usually brand as shameful. Disciples are called on to deny themselves, to act as slaves or servants to one another, and to care nothing for status or prestige. They are asked to give up everything – not only riches (10.17-22) but homes and families too (10.23-30), and possibly even their lives (8.34-8). True honour and greatness in the community which gathers around Jesus lies not in courting the esteem of others, but in embracing a new understanding of honour based on ignominious service, suffering and disgrace. Significantly, however, this is not only instruction given to others, but is crucially the basis for Jesus’ own way of life and, ultimately, his death (as 10.42-5 makes clear).
Helen K. Bond

Peter and his action are the focus of the passage, but like elsewhere in the gospel narratives, he also represents other disciples. It is not possible to spread the gospel if one is ashamed of it. Jesus forced him to confront his feelings of distress over the coming events. The text suggests that Jesus humiliated Peter in public when Peter wanted the conversation to be private.

Shame often works in private. It isolates and conceals. The embarrassment that accompanies shame causes the one experiencing it to attempt to hide themselves or the source of shame. Yet, Jesus insists on having this moment be fully revealed. Yet, in his countering rebuke, Jesus instructs Peter to get behind him. He may be telling Peter that he cannot obstruct his plan or his destiny. Or, Jesus, who loves his enemies, may also be inviting Peter to repent and continue to follow him. This is supported by his admonition to pick up their cross and follow him. Jesus has always known that the glory will be accompanied by suffering.

Mark uses the words to suffer, suffering only three times, always in the construction “to endure many things” (“Many things” (polla) followed by some form of the verb “to endure, suffer” (pascho-) in Mark 5:26; 8:31; 9:12). Most English translations obscure the parallelism of the Greek. These uses are a clue to the understanding of suffering in the markan narrative world. The term occurs once in reference to the woman with a hemorrhage and twice in relation to Jesus’ coming passion. The sickness of the woman is to be cured, while the lot of Jesus is to endure many things, that is, to be persecuted by the powers-that be. For Mark does not lump all forms of suffering together. The narrative sharply distinguishes between general human suffering, which is to be cured or alleviated with Jesus’ inauguration of God’s rule, and persecution, which is the lot of those who persevere in following the way of God as long as this age endures.
Joanna Dewey

Throughout the gospels, Jesus performs miracles to remove human suffering. He proclaims a message of abundant love and hope to encourage, inspire, and include those marginalized by society. He invites the oppressor to also be set free by releasing the need for power over and greed. Jesus declares the coming of the kindom of God on earth. His message is not about saving the individual person but redeeming humanity. Many contemporary communities have come to rebuke the theology of salvation. A more faithful response may be to reclaim the theology of salvation as a communal and cosmic reality rather than the reduction of it to a fixation with individual sin and forgiveness. The original audience would have known a worldview where the individual could not be separated from the community.

The first demand in Mark 8:34, “Let them renounce themselves,” certainly sounds to modern ears like a call to self sacrifice. Today many do tend to read it as denial of the individual self, a call to give up one’s will, always to put oneself last. I suggest that this is not what it would have conveyed to a first century audience. First, their sense of self was quite different; they had little idea of any individual identity. Second, the demand is in parallel with taking up one’s cross, and is to be interpreted in the context of persecution…. In Mark, to become a disciple is to renounce one’s kinship group and to join those following Jesus, that is, to join the new community or fictive kinship group around Jesus. The markan Jesus says, “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ … Later, in response to Peter’s question about what the disciples get for following him, Jesus spells out the riches and cost of rejecting kin: “There is no one who has left a house or brothers or sisters or a mother or a father or children or fields for me and for the good news who does not receive a hundred times as many now, in this time’…. To deny self, then, is to deny one’s kin.”
Joanna Dewey

Jesus, then, is not advocating or threatening isolation and exclusion through shame. He informs his followers of the risks of being ashamed of the fullness of the gospel–the walk through the valley of the shadow of death as well as the ascension to God’s holy mountain. Saying no to that shame facilitates saying yes to compassion and companionship with the suffering and marginalized. Saying no to shame allows pursuit of God’s beloved community despite fear and beyond consequence. Saying no to shame keeps the way of Jesus in full, exposed, and transparent view. Saying no to shame says yes to picking up one’s cross and following Jesus knowing that Jesus only carried the cross for a small portion of his life.

At the moment of truth, Jesus did the hardest thing…in full public view. It was an attempt to humiliate him, but he kept his integrity. They insulted and tortured him, but his primary distress and concern was for the care and well-being of others—the forgiveness of those crucifying him, the reconstruction of the family unit for his mother and friend, and the reconciliation of the repentant thief hanging beside him. The cross, like current methods of execution, was designed as a method to carry out the death penalty as shamefully as possible. And yet, Jesus transforms it for God’s glory.

Say no to shame.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
I was scheduled to be a guest preacher at an evangelical megachurch in San Jose, California, in just two days. Upon hearing Judith’s instructions for this last meditation period, I silently cheered and said to myself, “Oh, goody. Since I’ve been so disciplined at meditating all day, I bet God will download all sorts of dazzling wisdom on me right now so I can impress the people in my sermon on Sunday.” As someone who had been raised in whitemalegod’s society, I was fixated on my performance and my worthiness to others. I couldn’t imagine that I was unconditionally sacred and worthy of a good gift mystically offered just for me.
I sat cross-legged on my mat, and as soon as I closed my eyes and turned inward, a wave of Love crashed into me, a wave so formidable that it forced my upright body backward and onto the floor pillows behind me. The overwhelmingly powerful force was distinctly pleasurable, but had it been any stronger, it would have been physically painful. This was a mighty force that didn’t abuse. It was force without manipulation, force without control, and force without shame. It was the force of Love—a force I had never encountered in whitemalegod’s world. I knew I couldn’t fight the powerful waves, and as I felt my shoulders expand onto the pillows, my neck muscles relax, and my legs unfold and extend themselves, I realized my body didn’t want to fight. So, I lay surrendered for the entire
meditation period as the potent waves relentlessly and lovingly pinned me to the floor.
I had never before experienced formidable strength in the form of Love and it undid me. I marveled that after an entire day of earnestly clearing my mind of fearful clutter, what lay beneath it all was not another to-do list from whitemalegod, or another hoop to jump through, or another bundle of resources to share with others in order to make myself useful. No, Love was underneath it all, just as I had hoped. That day, I discovered that at the heart of reality—beneath whitemalegod’s maze of terrifying propaganda—flows wave after wave after wave of Love . . . for me.
If such formidable waves of Love are constantly flowing toward me, then I must be getting free, I whispered to myself.
As the waves pinned my Black female body to the floor, I surrendered to the Love. White patriarchy had chained me to fear for a long time, but it was simply no match for mystical Love.

— Christena Cleveland

For Further Reflection
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ― Brené Brown
“Soul, if you want to learn secrets,
your heart must forget about
and dignity.
You are God’s lover,
yet you worry
what people
are saying.”
― Rumi”
“We can endure all kinds of pain. It’s shame that eats men whole.” ― Leigh Bardugo

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

You’re welcome to use this resource in your congregation’s Bible study groups.

Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.