Luke 6:37-38

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Luke 6:37-38

Intellectually, we all have heard that there is a difference between shame and guilt. As the old cliché puts it – guilt says that “I have done something wrong” and shame says that “I AM wrong.” Both shame and guilt are powerful forces in human community and both are connected to what Jesus lists as judging, condemning, and forgiving.

What happens when we judge someone? We draw conclusions about them, or make distinctions among them, based on their actions, their appearance, or their social position. By definition, such judgments are divisive. We make judgments to defend ourselves or our community standards.

What happens when we condemn someone? We issue the ultimate judgment. There is no going back. There are no more chances for redemption. It’s over.

Every culture, including our own, is a dance between a shame/honor way of life (with it’s large set of mainly unwritten rules) and a law/guilt way of life (with it’s official list of rules and regulations.}

Jesus grew up in a culture dominated by shame/honor. Everyone had a place, and everyone knew their place. Honor was social capital. Such cultures clearly define people according to the groups they represent. You know you are talking about a shame/honor culture when you use words like “pecking order” or “climbing the ladder” or “What will the neighbors think?”

Challenging his hearers (and us) to leave judging and condemning in the past, and to strive toward forgiveness as the best path forward, Jesus opens life back up. No longer judged, for good or ill, no longer condemned, by family lineage or social position, we are free to build a new way of being in the world.

But then our so-called sense of reality raises its ugly head and reminds us of the this-worldly power and influence of shame and guilt. We can use both shame and guilt as weapons against others. Whether it be the cancel culture of the left or the utter shamelessness of the right, we cling to judgment and condemnation like lead lifeboats.

And we do both to ourselves as well. Even as a child in grade school, I knew there was social status in getting good grades, being the fastest runner, etc. Getting a B was unthinkable. Losing a race was to be exposed as “less than”. I remember how disappointed I was to learn my blood type was B+. I even remember my thoughts as I waited for the nurse to give my first-born child her Apgar score. That is the power of shame. You can’t confess that away, it needs to be healed instead.

The reality is, we can know about the difference between shame and guilt in our heads…but such knowledge alone cannot free us to confess our guilt or liberate us from the power of our shame. For that we need a power greater than ourselves.

We need a God who invites us to freely confess what we have done wrong (as painful and humiliating as that is), and who defines us as beloved children, created in the image of God, and who names us good from the very beginning (as freeing and healing as that is.) Jesus brings us both…and challenges us to live as though that were so.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you know the power of guilt and shame in our lives for you created within us the capacity to feel both of them. And we know full well that there are times when it is good for us to feel each of them. But they can also bind us, and divide us, from ourselves and one another. Instill in us a deeper trust in your love, your mercy, and your love for all that we might be slower to judge and quicker to understand, slower to condemn and quicker to forgive. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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