I love the story from Mark’s gospel (5:25-34) of the woman who’d endured years of suffering from bleeding. She was a social pariah and no one even dared get near her for fear of becoming unclean themselves. Though she was shunned and outcast, she was brave enough to push her way through the crowd hoping to touch Jesus’ cloak.
In her shame perhaps she didn’t dare hope to see His face, to meet His gaze, or touch His hand – that was too much to expect. Still, she believed that just the touch of His cloak as he passed by would be enough to save her. And immediately she received the healing she sought. But the best part is what Jesus does next.
Yes, He healed her body and stopped her bleeding, but now He was determined to restore her. He would not allow her to slink away unnoticed, and continue in her shame. When she had summoned the courage to admit it was she who touched Him, He did what probably no one had done in years – He looked at her and spoke to her. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
He acknowledged her as a person, a woman, and a daughter of God. “…be freed from your suffering.” Her bleeding had already stopped, so it wasn’t her physical suffering He was speaking of. He knew so well that though she was physically cured, if she did not receive the healing in her spirit, she would never be whole.
He was telling her to be free from her shame and embarrassment and feelings of worthlessness and to no longer hide in the shadows. He was telling her to hold her head up again, and remember that her faith had brought her healing, and Jesus Himself had restored her dignity and worth. He looked into her eyes and affirmed her in love. Now she could truly “go in peace.”
I am, at times, rather like this woman in one important way. My heart is often burdened with shame, and it can be very difficult to “go in peace.” Sometimes I get so discouraged with myself and my lousy sinful behavior that I’d like to slink away and hide somewhere. After going around the same mulberry bush with the same sin for the ten-billionth time, I’d rather beat myself up with a stick than believe that Jesus forgives me and wants me to be free from shame.
Healthy shame has its rightful place and purpose, certainly. In fact, I’d say that our world could stand a whole lot more of it sometimes! But twisting our shame into something destructive is a favorite device of the enemy.
Shame can and should bring me to my knees at the Cross. It is right that I should be ashamed of my sin and feel heartbroken at the pain I have caused His Sacred Heart. But my shame should never go any further than the foot of the Cross, for His heart is full of only one thing for me: love. Endless, merciful love.
I am right to go to Jesus in sorrow and ask for forgiveness, but if I rise from the foot of His cross and carry the shame away with me again, I have not received His mercy at all. In fact I have insulted the love He gives me. Am I the one person in all of history for whom His sacrifice wasn’t enough? Is His blood not sufficient to cover my offenses? How arrogant! This is the trick of Satan regarding our shame.
Jesus looks at me and says, “I have forgiven you. Go in peace.” But the liar whispers, “You should be ashamed of yourself… You can’t really be forgiven for that. He might love you a little, but He still remembers what you did. You don’t deserve peace.” That proprietor of the pit snickers with glee each time a child of God walks away with a heart still burdened with shame, refusing to be freed. In believing the lie and clinging to shame, I declare Jesus a fraud and the cross a hoax.
A beloved priest once told me something I’ll always remember. After a wonderful yet intense time of confession and talking with him, he said, “From now on, this past sin is no longer your tormentor, but your teacher. You have been forgiven and God remembers it no more. You will remember, of course, but now it is to be your teacher, to help you grow in love and mercy for others.”
Is it hard to believe in the miraculous forgiveness Jesus offers us? It isn’t about you – how good or bad you are. It’s only about Him, and how perfect He is, and the lengths to which He has gone to prove how much He loves you. We are all undeserving, but we are not cast out to live as wretched, unwanted, nameless, faceless things.
Do not believe the lie of hell. Believe Jesus. Just believe it, and go in peace. Make it a forever trade – your shame for His mercy. You are not the dust beneath His feet, but the lost-and-found lamb in His arms.
Remember with a solemn heart the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Take your sins and your guilt and shame and leave them there in the bloodstained dirt. Then remember with gratitude that He has done this for you! What a high price He has paid for you! Who pays such a high price for something of no value or worth? Who would die for something insignificant? Who would do all that He has done for someone who meant nothing?
The wonderful truth is He has hung a price tag around your neck that says you are worth more than every ounce of gold this world has ever seen. You are in fact, priceless, because He is priceless and He sees Himself in you.
This is the only way we can ever love each other as well. We must see the price Jesus has paid for our brothers and sisters and even our enemies, and disregard the price tag placed on them by the world. Radical, huh? We are His own… and we are beloved. We are cleansed by His blood, restored to dignity by His grace, and He bids us go in peace.