Finding Jesus in Rebuke
A sermon on Mark 8:31-38
“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…” (Mark 8:38).
I have been thinking a lot about shame lately.
My attention was drawn to the issue of shame through an e-mail conversation I have been having with a beloved family member. This family member and I share a love of Jesus and of our extended family, and almost nothing else. Our life experiences have been quite different and most of our opinions about the world and about politics diverge just as significantly. But we have been trying, over the last 6 months, to engage in intentional dialogue as a means to understand each other better, even if we will never agree.
Early in that conversation it became clear to both of us that the biggest barrier to this kind of conversation is SHAME. Feeling shamed by the other person (feeling like we are being called callous, or stupid, or lacking in some moral quality) is an automatic trigger for both of us. Shaming invariably prompts defensiveness, shuts-down vulnerability, and closes our ears to hearing anything else. We feel like our core value has been assaulted, so we armor up, and that is the end of understanding.
It is a pattern that I see being played out over and over in our nation’s public conversations about emotionally-charged social issues:
I hear it in the “not all gun owners” response to public outcry after mass shootings, like the recent massacre in Parkland, FL.
And there is a whole body of social science theory that explores the phenomenon known as “white fragility” in discussions of our nation’s painful racial inequalities.
The issue with these responses is NOT primarily with their claims: I have no problem believing that the majority of men, gun owners, and white people reject the blatant examples of misogyny, gun violence, and racism, that trigger national debates.
But the problem is that these defensive responses deflect attention away from the issue at hand, in order to soothe the feelings of those who have been shamed for their surface association with perpetrators of abuse, violence, or oppression. And - understandable as this defensiveness might be - that isn’t where our primary attention or energy belong.
I will be the first to point out that liberal call-out culture is no help in this regard. Far too many advocates are ready and eager to wield shame as a weapon. I have done it myself. Leveraging broad-brush associations to silence the voices of anyone who might offer challenges or ask for consideration of viewpoints that fall outside liberal orthodoxy.
American political discourse suffers from an addiction to self-righteousness that is stealing our ability to see ourselves in our neighbors, and to recognize that we are ALL both sinner and saint; that society is not divided into distinct “good guys” and “bad guys.”
So, in the context of so much division and defensiveness associated with shaming in our culture, how do we understand the petition that we, along with Lutherans around the country, prayed a few minutes ago in our prayer of the day:
“grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of … Jesus Christ…”
Can we imagine gladly suffering shame for Jesus sake?
Maybe. I have, on rare occasions, suffered mild ridicule as someone who publicly affirms my faith in Jesus in a post-Christian culture. But the thing about that ridicule is that it’s not really shaming – it doesn’t make me face the brokenness and sinfulness of my own soul. It doesn’t make me confront things about myself that I wish were not true. It’s uncomfortable to be mocked, but it doesn’t make me ashamed.
In contrast to simple ridicule, Peter faced a much more serious rebuke in his confrontation with Jesus in today’s gospel reading. Jesus had just revealed, for the first time in Mark’s gospel, that he was going to suffer, be rejected, killed, and rise again.
Jesus said this without hiding – out in the open – but this was not the path of redemption that Peter had in mind, so he tried to take Jesus to the side and whisper a cautionary rebuke.
Jesus would have nothing to do with it.
Jesus turned back to the disciples to make sure his response was public and clear, and he harshly rebuked Peter. “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)
I don’t think it’s much of a leap to imagine that this was pretty shaming for Peter. Jesus compared him to Satan after all. Whether this is a reference to personified evil, or just a way to describe someone tempting him to abandon God’s plan, being “Satan” is a bad thing.
It’s not a rebuke I am eager to experience, but I wonder if maybe that rebuke is what is meant by the petition “that we may gladly suffer shame.” Because the shame invoked in Peter’s rebuke is not a rejection, it is an invitation.
Jesus doesn’t say “get away, Satan,” or “get out.” He says “get behind me.” And then, in the very next verse he describes the invitation to become his followers as “following behind” him (Mark 8:34). It’s not clear from the translation we read today, but in the Greek it’s the same word in verse 33 and 34. "Get behind me." "Follow behind me."
In other words, Jesus isn’t saying “you are Satan and I want nothing to do with you.”
He’s saying “you are talking like Satan by trying to put yourself in charge. The remedy is to remember that you are the follower. Get behind me. Follow the leader.”
Jesus’ shame-triggering words have a function. Their purpose is not to make Peter feel bad; They are to make him confront his error. To face his own brokenness and sinfulness that are getting in the way of his call to be a disciple. Peter was trying to call the play. He was trying to take charge and redirect Jesus from his dangerous talk about suffering and death.
So Jesus said no. You don’t lead. You follow. Even when I am telling you to follow me into death.
It’s a hard teaching. I wonder how we might responds to that same rebuke?
There are two ways to respond to challenging rebukes – to corrections that set-off our shame triggers because they touch on our deep fears about getting things wrong and exposing our weaknesses.
The most common response is shame-induced defensiveness: throwing up walls, and defending our positions, and barricading ourselves against any possibility that we could be wrong, that there might be something we need to learn. This response is the opposite of our prayer of the day. It is the complete unwillingness to suffer shame, no matter who it’s for.
The alternative response is what the gospel calls us to embrace – the position of followers. It’s the willingness to “get behind” Jesus and follow where he leads.
That means being teachable. Willing to take correction and confess we don’t know it all. And it means being also willing to get called out when our minds are set on human things, rather than divine things. Which, if I am any gauge of the average Christian, is MOST of the time.
Correction - and probably some shame - is going to happen a lot in the Christian life … but being followers of Jesus means being willing to accept rebuke, rather than getting defensive. It means giving up our instinct to say “not me” or “I have a better plan” and instead to say “what do I need to learn?”
Which sounds great, and enlightened, and spiritual until we remember that Jesus gave us a hint about where he is leading us: to suffering, and rejection, and even death – before we get to resurrection.
With that path laid out, we might start to think that following Jesus requires an unattainable level of faith – the kind exemplified by the idealized version of the faith of Abraham described in our reading from Romans: a faith that cannot imagine how God is going to do what God has promised, but follows the plan anyhow.
Of course, that’s not exactly how the story of Abraham goes in Genesis. Abraham laughs at God’s plan, and tries to take matters into his own hands in some fairly problematic ways, and only falls in line after God keeps moving forward despite Abraham’s resistance.
That version of the story is the one that actually gives me hope. Because it was Abraham’s imperfect faith that, in Paul’s words from Romans, “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” In other words – God’s acceptance isn’t earned, and it doesn’t require perfect faith. God sees past the truth of our shame and loves us anyway.
That “reckoned righteousness” in God’s eyes, is the promise that let’s us follow Christ on the way of the cross – the promise that we don’t have to hold a defensive posture regarding the shame-slinging of our culture, because God has reckoned Christ’s righteousness to us.
In the eyes of God – the final arbiter of good and evil – we are righteous. We don’t have to constantly defend ourselves. We can hear correction, and even rebuke, as an opportunity to learn and to follow.
We can find Jesus in rebuke! Shame doesn’t have to be the enemy – it can be an invitation.
In fact, rebuke is part of the promise. The promise that we are following someone who will lead us into God’s Kingdom way – which will look like a cross if we set our minds on human things, but from a divine perspective is the way of life.
Thanks be to God.