Are You Stuck in a “Shame” Narrative?

Text: John 8:1-11, Mark 7:1-9

“Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” —Isaiah 2:22

After the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, analysts have been in constant debate about LeBron James’ legacy. The sports gurus love to argue over who is the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Former NBA player Kobe Bryant had some advice for LeBron, whose team lost in the Finals for the third time in four years:

“You got to figure out a way to win. It’s not about narrative. You want to win championships, you just gotta figure it out.”

While winning championships assuredly includes a lot more factors than just figuring out a way to win, Kobe is on to something about the subject of narrative. Though the narrative is what analysts, commentators, and sports fans thrive on from the television studio to the water cooler, it will always be subjective. It’s never the final word.

In the realm of politics, pundits try to control the narrative to advance their own agenda. This was no different with the party of the Pharisees back in the first century. In their self-righteous sanctity, they brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. The narrative is about shame and condemnation. But Jesus silences the morality analysts by saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” After they all walk away and the woman is left alone, Jesus tells her to leave the shame narrative behind, saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:1-11).

In another chance encounter with those pesky scribes and finger-pointing Pharisees, Jesus’ disciples are scathed for eating with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-9). The tradition analysts go crazy. These legalists shape the narrative to smear and degrade the disciples. But Jesus rebukes them, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The disciples learn a valuable lesson—it’s not about the outward “appearances” narrative so often propagated by the religious elite; it’s about the inward condition of the heart.

It’s not about narrative. The narrative might be the stuff people love to talk about, but it’s typically biased and superficial. It fuels preconceived notions, the misreading of others, false judgments, and gossip; it leads to divisiveness, strife, and contentions. It also leads to the fear of man, especially when we long for the narrative about our personhood to be esteemed, or liked.

Whether it’s been one of defeat, disappointment, failure, embarrassment, shame, or smear, Isaiah has a firm admonishment for those stuck in the narrative: “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22)

Jesus doesn’t want us worrying about the human narrative. He doesn’t want us consumed with what others are saying or thinking about us. He wants the unfettered devotion of our heart focused on Him. Craving human praise is a cistern that can never hold water. So we don’t play to the applause or chagrin of others. We don’t play to be liked, celebrated, or applauded at the human level. We play for the pleasure of One—the glory of our coming King. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him,” says Paul (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, your word tells us that the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. Teach us to focus less on the narrative of man, and more on the glory of our Creator. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being. Help us to live and serve for Your pleasure above all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Why do we like to debate who is the greatest this or that?
  2. What kind of narratives have you found yourself stuck in at times?
  3. Why do you think Jesus freely associated with so many people of scandalous reputations, knowing it didn’t fit the Pharisees’ narrative?
  4. In what ways does the fear of man lay a snare? (Proverbs 29:25)
  5. What can you do this week to help someone else break free from a “shame” narrative in his or her life?

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