I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really thought that the shame of the cross was the worst thing about it. Yet sitting reading some other section of the Bible one morning last month, this verse dropped into my mind and asked me to consider it.
Later that day, Andrew Wilson tweeted, “If you read Scripture as if ‘shame’ is basically the same as ‘embarrassment,’ an awful lot of it will not make any sense.” He went on to say, regarding the crucifixion account: “It’s interesting that the pulling of the beard, spitting, wagging heads and jeering are mentioned in such detail in the Gospels, yet the physical pain is not. We’d do the opposite (like Mel Gibson did).”
Quite. I skim over the beard-pulling parts without really noticing them, and certainly wouldn’t consider them important in explaining the gospel. And that is because I, as a modern Westerner, understand sin (and indeed all right and wrong) as being about guilt, not shame.
Which is perhaps why no one has yet worked out a way of bringing rape cases to trial without increasing the suffering of the victim through exposing her to the shame of having every detail of her private life pulled apart by lawyers. We don’t understand the reality of it.
In the Middle East, they do. Shame is a powerful motivating factor there, and the message of the gospel in that culture has to deal with the removal of shame as well as guilt. And it does. As Andy McCullough explains in Global Humility,
If the atonement were only a guilt-righteousness transaction, Christ could have died in private, satisfying God’s wrath and bearing our punishment. The truth, however, is that he was not just bearing our guilt, he was also bearing our shame. (p. 138)
He goes on to talk about how the Hebrew word for ‘atonement’ literally means ‘covering’, not in the sense of staging a cover up, or hiding our sins under the carpet, but covering our nakedness, our shame, as with Adam and Eve in Eden.
There are dozens of fascinating insights like this in Andy’s book. Unlike the more scholarly Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, I found most of these insights drove me to worship, as well as simply to understand. I also greatly appreciated the wider range of cultures examined in this book. Andy engages with Eastern cultures as well as Middle Eastern to help us understand how the gospel must be preached in order to connect with the heart cries of those nationalities – whether you are travelling to them, or whether, in our globalised world, they are arriving in your congregation.
It’s a helpful, and humble, book, with an important message. What struck me most through it, though, is how the gospel does speak powerfully to all cultures. Every parable, every story was understood in a certain way by its original audience, and may be understood differently by different cultures today, but each understanding contains gospel truth and points to God.
One example Andy gives of this is when he heard an Armenian pastor, Karen Khachatryan preaching about Peter from Matthew’s Gospel:
Peter, he said, is continually trying to stick out, to attract honour to himself. The most striking example is in Matthew’s telling of the walking on the water story. I am used to this being told as a story of individual faith. “While the others stayed in the boat terrified, Peter walked on water!” Pastor Karen, however, pointed out that Jesus never praises Peter for this act, he rebukes him. Essentially, Jesus is saying, “Get back in the boat with the others where you belong. Stop trying to be better than everyone else.” In a collectivistic culture, what Peter was doing in trying to stand out from the crowd was unacceptable! (p. 124)
Are we wrong to teach it as an example of great faith? I don’t think so – that reading is clearly there, including the moment when Peter takes his eyes of Jesus, focuses on the wind and waves, and starts to sink. Yet how glorious to realise that while that seems the only possible reading to us, another culture with a different set of experiences and expectations can read something completely relevant to them in it.
I don’t know about you, but that fact alone leaves me in awe of the God whose word it is – this ancient text, written by many authors across many centuries is not only still living and active today, but is living and active on every continent in every culture. Whoever you are, in whatever time, race or culture, the Bible speaks to you. Amazing.