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#Arise Compassionate: Honor Over Shame

By Kolleen Lucariello

Not all storms occur because of weather; I know—quite well—that some storms are created by our own internal struggles. Reading through Luke's narrative of a dinner party hosted by a Pharisee named, Simon I sense his internal struggle is no different than my own, at times. You see, I'm not a fan of my plans being disrupted. I like when things go smoothly – the way I've expected. When order has been disturbed a knot in the gut begins to form.

So, it's not difficult for me to imagine this is exactly what was happening within Simon when his dinner party was disrupted by the woman Luke introduces as "a certain immoral woman from that city" (Luke 7: 37, NLT) Please forgive me if I am being presumptuous, but can't we all relate to the internal struggle gripping Simon in that moment? He created his agenda, planned a dinner party and prepared the guest list, which included Jesus and other influential men. What he hadn't planned for is the uninvited guest known around town for her immoral lifestyle. Certainly, this woman had not made the cut.

Simon's internal struggle begins as the woman makes her way through the room to the feet of Jesus. The struggle intensifies when she takes out a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume and then kneels behind Jesus, at his feet–weeping. (I don't imagine it was a gentle, contained weeping, either).As her tears fall on his feet she wipes them off with her hair. She cannot stop kissing his feet and putting perfume on them (Luke 7:37b-38, NLT).

"When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!'" ( Luke 7:39, NLT). Simon's internal struggle is written all over his face when Jesus answers his thoughts.“'Simon,' he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you” (Luke 7:40, NLT).

Jesus proceeds to share a parable with Simon about the cancelation of debts. The higher the debt, the more gratitude will be shown to the one released from it. Jesus also clarifies something Simon missed when Jesus came into his home as an invited guest to his dinner party. He turned to the woman but spoke to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume." (Luke 7:44-46, NLT).What Simon saw as inappropriate, Jesus saw as gestures of hospitality.

What I hadn't understood before was that within the eastern culture of Jesus' day, they lived by an honor–shame code which was more collectivistic. People were shamed for not fulfilling group expectations and then they'd need to restore their honor before the community. Knowing this can help us see how every interaction between Jesus and the religious leaders became an honor–shame battle. Now, Simon, one of the religious leaders, has invited Jesus to his home and failed (or did he refuse?) to extend the customary, high standard of expected hospitality to Jesus.

Everything Jesus spoke of: the water to wash his feet, the kiss and the olive oil would have been expectations for all of his guests. If I'm reading the room right, the tension is thick as the host dishonors Jesus by neglecting acts of hospitality. Instead, I see Simon sending a message of public shame. We see a similar honor–shame battle play out when a collective group of people rise up in an effort to shame those who speak an opposing thought into submission. In our day, we call this cancel culture. The religious leaders created a culture to cancel Jesus.

Jesus, however, exposes Simon's shame and honors this woman as he received her expression of great gratitude. Some believe this woman came prepared to honor Jesus because of a previous interaction with him. Perhaps, they'd had a conversation before this night and she'd been told she was loved. She wasn't forgotten. Indeed, she was seen, known and loved. She could be free from the shame of a community who used her. This night, this woman would fight her own inner struggle with identity as she ignored the questionable stares from those in the room. She'd pour out the contents of an alabaster jar and possibly relay a message to all men in the room, I am no longer for sale.

Let's not ignore the healthy side of shame that convicts of sin and brings change within us. However, in that situation, Jesus took her shame on himself when he did not correct her, make one excuse for her, or attempt to stop her from her actions in the moment. Just as he took her shame he also took the shame of our sin on himself when he went to the cross. How can we help release one another from the curse of shame and understand in Christ we have a new identity?

A spectator in the room might have seen this interaction between Jesus, Simon and the woman as a challenge. We see it as one motivated by love—for both: the woman AND Simon. He wanted the woman to find her place and understand she was worthy of restoration. Jesus openly acknowledged her immoral life and brought awareness to her that restoration was possible—because of him. The shaming of the community pushed her outside the boundaries of that. Likewise, Jesus wanted Simon to be free from the pride that had left him blind to God’s mandate to love and care for others—no more shaming people for their sin. Instead, help her (and others) RISE up and take her place in her true identity.

How can we apply this to our own lives today? We can be mindful of the storms that brew when we assume the nature of others is beyond the reach of Jesus. Pride closed Simon's eyes to her humanity and fed his internal struggle with judgement. If an internal struggle stirs within us because we've glimpsed the immoral one, perhaps we've lost our ability to honor others through the gift of compassion.

Join us during the month of June as we #Activ8Her ability to #AriseCompassionate by mining for the gold nuggets found in this story. Those who know Jesus are most like him when they choose to honor others out of their immoral lifestyle than when they use shame to bind them to it. Can we accept the same challenge Jesus had for those around the table and offer someone the same words "Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace'” (Luke 7:50, NLT)?

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