Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christ's Compassion in the Face of Shame

It was a warm day and Jesus and His disciples were walking through a crowd. A rich religious leader abruptly pushed through the crowd, falling at Jesus' feet, imploring Him to come heal his dying twelve-year-old daughter. Jesus knew the man risked his position, his power, and his influence in the community by coming to Him. The desperate dad, risked it all and Jesus agreed to go. As they headed towards his home the crowd pressed in and a woman who had been ill for as long as the man had been a dad came near. She wanted to see The Christ and in her desperate state forgot she, an unclean woman, wasn't supposed to be near others and wasn't supposed to interrupt a leader's hope for a miracle.   

She was as pale as pale could be with shades of gray circling her lifeless eyes. She had been bleeding for twelve years--years that felt like an eternity. She had spent all she had on doctors who didn't have the power or knowledge to heal her and she was left destitute with no choice but to live life as a beggar. According to Jewish law, she was ceremoniously unclean and she lived isolated. She couldn't do things we take for granted. She couldn't go to church, shop in the market, ask for a hug, have sex with a spouse, or bear children. She couldn't care for a home as everything she touched became unclean. She couldn't visit with friends or invite company to dinner. She was physically weak, listless, and tired, and left to deal with a heap of emotions common to the chronically ill--emotions like discouragement, despair, loneliness, confusion, and shame--shame that was born from being unable to function, unable to do the things women do, unable to engage in the social life of her community, and unable to join in public worship in the outer court. Shame that came from the belief that suffering is always due to sin that is hidden.  
When she saw that Jesus was heading to the leader's house, she was desperate to get as close as she could. As she drew closer, she was overwhelmed with the thought, "If only I can just touch His garment,.." She mustered up the energy to squeeze through the crowd, pressing closer and closer. Trembling, in fear and with a remanent of hope igniting within her, she stretched and stretched and stretched and hoped and hoped and hoped. She was stretching with the ache of longing for a dozen years until she touched His hem. And the loneliness running deep subsided in the single act of connection. And the senseless flow of  blood stopped and her pale cheeks glowed healthy. She straightened as the cramping dissipated and strength flowed from the top of her head to her tippy toes. Fatigue faded as Christ's as the realization that His power stopped the life flowing out of her, making her uncleanliness clean once again. 

Feeling unworthy, she turned to slip away, but He scanned the crowd, asking, "Who touched Me?" Fearfully she wanted to flee, but the healing gave her the courage to own what she had become done. After she finished speaking, she expected to be reproved and treated with the same disdain with which she had become familiar. But He looked at her with eyes full of compassion, and tenderly spoke, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be well." When she heard the tenderness in His voice and the endearing term "daughter" she found the courage to lift her eyes and look into His, finding there both the love and the acceptance she craved. 

It was Christ’s compassion that compelled Him to give physical life to her body slowly dying. It was His compassion that caused Him to call her out. For, in the asking, He was inviting her to move out of shame to live in the light. He was also inviting her to a face-to-face encounter so she could experience acceptance and restoration. His love expressed in the word "Daughter" went straight to the heart, healing the shame born out of being unclean. It was that same word that healed the pain of loneliness she had endured for twelve years. She had come hoping for a miracle, but He gave her something more--He gave her relational connection that melted away her shame.  

It is interesting to note that the man came to Jesus both boldly and publicly to plea for his daughter's life while she came quietly and secretly, wanting to live. He was wealthy; she was destitute. He was a religious leader, she was rejected and declared unclean. His family was well respected, she was rejected and isolated. He faced the possible loss of a daughter. She had been facing death physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually since her illness began. Though their circumstances differed, they both came to Him in the midst of the hard, confessing their desperate needs. 

While we may not suffer with her physical ailment, we have the same shame sinking its talons into us--shame because we aren't the perfect Christians, wives, mom's, and employees we pretend to be. Shame that we aren't the perfect size, with perfectly manicured nails, and perfect skin. Shame that we don't always sing on pitch, don't always paint our pictures perfect, don't always dance perfectly to the beat, and do not cook perfect meals like a top chef. Shame that our bodies tire, that we leave tasks undone, and fail to show up to commitments on time. Shame that we get sick, and can't be what everyone wants us to be. Shame that we, at times, relate in ways that deeply wound those we love most. Shame that we have everything we could ever need, yet often feel dissatisfied and discontent. Shame that we, at times, feel both unloved and unloveable while at the same time knowing we so often fail to love well. Shame over the sin we hide, the idols we cling to, and the thoughts we are thankful no one can see. And then there is that persistent thought that maybe, just maybe we really are beyond redeeming. 

But, Jesus! He knows! He is calling each of us out and reminding us grace given depends on the Giver, not us the recipients. He is constantly inviting us to come out of shame and live by faith. And it is by faith we were saved and by faith we are growing in Him. It is by grace that we are called His, "Chosen," "Beloved," "Redeemed," "Reconciled," "Daughters." Because His love is outrageous we can know that His compassion is limitless and His grace sufficient.   

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!