Shame and sexual sin: It seems that sexual sin seems to bear such a weight of shame, because sexual sin is sin transgressing marriage. Since our marriage of Christ to his bride is the means by which shame is lifted, shame lies most heavily upon the corruption of marriage.
In Luke 7, we read of Jesus eating with a Pharisee. This story deals with the horrifying weight of shame in sexual sin and thus discloses the unfading and unending grace and love of God in Jesus Christ who carries our sin and shame far away:
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Luke 7:36–39 (ESV)
Now in thinking of this scene we are likely to misunderstand the picture of the woman. While I don’t have any particularized knowledge on the subject, certain things seem certain. First, her personal status in the culture would be brutally oppressive. This is a prostitute in the 4th or 5th world (not 3rd). Second, she would be wracked with shame constantly. In a society which offered limited physical movement over the course of one’s life (peasants don’t have the ability or wealth to move about), this woman would have been known to all. Even the Pharisee and moralist knew her. Thus, her home town would have constantly held has a matter of public shame.
Third, she is likely quite young. Prostitutes being marginalized by their culture and victimized in their position will find themselves at the very least physically vulnerable. The potential for disease would be striking. It would have been striking for a such a woman to have a realistic change to grow old.
So let us picture a teenage girl, terrified, broken, ashamed charging into the room and falling before Jesus – all the while knowing the hateful and hurtful glares of those around.
Augustine notes irony in the moment. The Pharisee wonders that Jesus did not know this woman was a sinner. Yet, Augustine notes that this woman Jesus was God:
Christ was supposed to be but a man both by him who invited Him, and by them who sat as guests at the table with Him. But that woman who was a sinner had seen something more than this in the Lord. For why did she all those things, but that her sins might be forgiven her? She knew then that He was able to forgive sins; and they knew that no man was able to forgive them. And we must believe that they all, they who were at the table, that is, and that woman who approached to the Feet of the Lord, all knew that no man could forgive sins. Forasmuch then as they all knew this; she who believed that He could forgive sins, understood Him to be more than man. So when He had said to the woman, “Thy sins are forgiven thee;” they immediately said, “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” Who is this, whom the woman who was a sinner already knew? Thou who sittest at the table as if in sound health, knowest not thy Physician; because it may be through a stronger fever thou hast even lost thy reason. …
This woman who believed that she could be forgiven by Christ, believed Christ not to be man only, but God also. “Who,” say they, “is this that forgiveth sins also?” And the Lord did not tell them as they said, “Who is this?” “It is the Son of God, the Word of God;” He did not tell them this, but suffering them to abide for a while still in their former opinion, He really solved the question which had excited them. For He who saw them at the table, heard their thoughts, and turning to the woman, He said, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” Let these who say, “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” who think me to be but a man, think me but a man. For thee “thy faith hath made thee whole.”
Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament”, trans. R. G. MacMullen In , in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume VI: Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 418.
Think of this: The woman who bore such weight of sin and shame – before God and man – caught a glimpse of Christ, of God Incarnate and falls before him. What does she bring? Sin. Shame. Faith. She does not care what the world thinks, if Christ thinks she is clean.
Consider further: Jesus knows that in forgiving her sin that he will need to carry her shame. The shame of sin must be carried. The curse and shame of sin must be discharged. This poor girl comes in her weakness and offers nothing but her weakness, she comes to him in faith and weeps that he will carry her sin and shame. And Jesus, in compassion and love, says, I will carry this shame, leave it here with me. I will carry this sin, place it upon my back. I will discharge the curse. You need feel no shame – it is gone, I have carried it far away.
The Pharisee sees only the sinful woman – because he cannot see the Son of God before him. The Pharisee sees only according to the flesh – but the one who sees according to faith sees deeper:
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16–21 (ESV)
One final note comes from Hebrews 2. The writer tells us that Jesus does not help angels. No, Jesus not save angels. Instead, he saves prostitutes bowed down with shame and sin (their own sin and most painfully, the sin of others). Jesus entered into combat and destroyed the Devil who seeks to destroy human beings by means of sin and shame: And in so doing, he makes plain the place of rest and hope:
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14–18 (ESV)