Jesus, restorer of dignity and humanity

Yesterday at church, as we were singing, I began to think about something. We think of Jesus bearing our guilt and shame on the cross, but in a sense he was doing that throughout his entire ministry.

What he did goes much deeper than what I’m about to say, but I think what we see him doing in the gospels, is a foretaste, a seed, of what will happen in full. 

Everywhere he went, he touched the unclean, the sick, the guilty and the demon possessed. All of these people were the outcasts because of their conditions or lifestyles. His association with them brought their shame upon himself.

When he healed the demoniac, who was chained up outside of town, who day and night howled and bruised himself with rocks, how did people respond? One version said they demanded that Jesus leave the neighborhood. 

At another time he was accused of casting out demons by a demonic power of his own.  

They were afraid of what kind of man could wield such power. The demoniac is set free and Jesus takes on shame.

When he healed the guy with the withered hand on the Sabbath, he took on the ire of the Pharisees. Jesus does a good deed, brings life, and receives death in return.

He shares space with a woman of ill repute, lets her sit among his disciples to learn from him, giving her dignity and status, and in return he takes on her shame. He receives the dishonor she “should” have worn. It was guilt by association.

But he never minded being associated with the untouchables. With him it was this constant trade-off.

Jesus did no wrong that should bring shame upon him, yet he brazenly walked into any and every situation willing to trade one person’s shame for the dignity and freedom that belonged to him.

We know he did this so much and so often, that eventually he ended up hanging on a cross, naked and scorned, having been brutally beaten. There he stayed – an innocent man bearing the public shame of the guilty. He was mocked for claiming to have the power of God within him, yet he “couldn’t” save himself in that moment.

Of course, we know that it wasn’t that he couldn’t, it’s that he wouldn’t. Nevertheless, the shame would be unimaginable. Have you ever been misunderstood or labeled wrongly?

We hate that feeling and we are far from innocent. Imagine being totally innocent and not only feeling the physical pain, but becoming a public mockery.

I just found it eye-opening to think about how everything he did, either directly or indirectly, removed shame. He removed physical infirmities but, I think, more than that much of his ministry was about restoring dignity, as ones created in the image of God. He restored people’s humanity.

He is still doing that for us. When we choose to believe and follow him, when the Spirit of God takes up residence within us, our shame is, in fact, removed. Our problem is that we often don’t live like that, or really know it.

Any shame we carry is simply that which we won’t, or don’t know how to, put down. 

Let’s invite him in to continue to restoring our humanity. To be human isn’t bad – it’s to be fully formed into what he had in mind at the beginning, when we were made in his image – and fully human.

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