Welcome to Goshen College’s on-line devotionals for the 2013 Lenten season! Our theme this year, taken from the Mennonite Church USA worship resources found in Leader magazine, is “Ashamed No More”; the four paragraphs below represent a brief summary of the writing team’s introduction to this year’s theme. Every Monday an author will introduce the sub-theme, whereas the following weekdays authors will reflect on a specific Scripture passage. The theme for this week, Lent 1, is “God Will Show Us Salvation.”
The biblical stories emerge from Eastern cultures where honor and shame are important — to a degree Westerners might have trouble understanding. Personal, family, community and national honor are of paramount concern. To be shamed, to be recognized as less than the image one has carefully crafted to bestow honor to one’s family and community, destroys people psychologically and spiritually. Therefore in this context, one may go to extreme lengths, such as lashing out violently against the instrument of shame, to restore one’s honor.
Western cultures base their biblical understanding of salvation mainly on judgment and guilt. For example, salvation is about having guilt removed through Jesus who died on the cross, thus restoring our relationship to God. Jesus takes away our guilt, freeing us of the effects of sin. However, honor and shame thinking is also part of a Western approach. For instance, we worry what people will think if they find out about a marital divorce in our stable family and wonder “How will it reflect on us if the world finds out?”
We need salvation from the disgrace we suffer and need to have our honor restored. Which is the better motivator to change our ways: the approach of judgment and guilt OR of honor and shame? Compare the effect on a misbehaving child when the parent says, “What you did is bad” versus “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Both seem to have their place, especially when linked to an offer of forgiveness and a new beginning.
In the parable of the prodigal son, a key Gospel text of the Lent-Easter season, we find that the prodigal son comes to his senses and makes a decision to return to the father not because he feels guilty but because he is ashamed of how he is living. As a Jew facing ruin and starvation, he is reduced to the level of tending pigs and desiring their food. However, his shame is overcome when the father takes the shame upon himself and restores the son to his original place.
God, the Restorer of all that is broken and pained in our lives, help us to experience your salvation. May we live in your desired ways and extend forgiveness to those who have harmed us, and receive forgiveness from those whom we have harmed.