Grace Conquers Shame
Does God care when we make a mess of our lives—or when someone else does that to us? Does God care when we feel humiliated?
One definition of humiliation points out that “humiliation involves an event that demonstrates unequal power in a relationship where you are in the inferior position and unjustly diminished.” Other definitions of humiliation speak of manipulating a person, treating him or her as an object, subjecting a person to ridicule, scorn, or contempt, putting a person in a degrading position, demeaning a person, or subjecting a person to public shame.
Our English word humiliation actually derives from the word humus, which is “the organic matter of the soil, as leaf mold and other decomposing materials.” To humiliate someone is to reduce that person to the ground.
Each of these perspectives on humiliation matches the experience of a woman whom we meet in John 8 who was “caught in the very act of committing adultery,” and who was made to stand before a crowd of people in the courtyard of the temple. Scribes and Pharisees—the powerful men of the day—dragged her out of bed and forced her to stand beneath their accusations, as the object of public shame. By all indications, she was manipulated into the position in which she was caught. She stands there, in a degrading position before this crowd, subject to their ridicule, scorn, and contempt. She is treated as an object—merely the bait used to try to trap Jesus. She is humiliated; she is reduced to dirt before the crowd of onlookers.
Where do we find Jesus while all of this is going on?
As the scene opens, Jesus is sitting at the temple, teaching the people. When they stand the woman before him, he drops even lower. John tells us that “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.”
What Jesus wrote in the dirt was not important enough to John to mention it in his record of this event; therefore it is of no importance to us.
What is important to John—and should be important to us—is where Jesus puts himself while this woman is being humiliated. John tells us twice (in verses 6 and 8) that Jesus “bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.”
While this woman is being humiliated—reduced to the ground—that’s where we find Jesus. He shares with her where she is.
In the preface to his gospel, John tells us (in John 1:18), “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.”
What does this event in the temple that day reveal to us about God?
Jesus shows us a God who comes down to meet us in our humiliation. That is, in fact, what the incarnation is all about: Rather than remaining in heaven, looking down on us, God came into our sin-filled world in Jesus, as one of us. He came down to meet us in our humiliation.
That’s what Jesus’ death was all about. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And that’s what Pentecost is all about. Pentecost is the celebration of God choosing to make his home in the mess of our own hearts.
God did not hold back the birth of Jesus until this world was good enough for his entry. Nor did God hold back Jesus’ death until the world was good enough to deserve his death for us. Nor does God hold back the Holy Spirit until we are good enough for God’s Spirit to enter our souls.
What Jesus began to reveal to us when he bent down and wrote in the dirt that day is that the God we love is a God who bends down to meet us even at our lowest points.