Third Sunday of Lent: standing in the middle
She was guilty—caught red-handed. Braced for hard stones, forced to stand in the middle, she had no defense. Without a doubt, she had dishonored her community with her flagrant disregard of purity. Honor, so critically important in the culture, that when broken, the guilty one must be shamed—excluded from the community—even to the point of death.
Guilty and shamed. Guilt, acknowledged behavior inconsistent with one’s own values, has the power of leading to repentance, reconciliation, and restoration—of something new. Shame, however, leaves one feeling unworthy of forgiveness and acceptance—of redemption. Prominent researcher and author on the issue of shame, Dr. Brene Brown clarifies: “Guilt is… powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” Shame flings the guilty one on the downward spiral from “I did something unworthy” to “I am worthless.” Shame forces one outside of the community, standing in the middle of one’s own self-loathing and condemnation—unable to accept even mercy.
She was guilty, but not condemned. After the scribes and Pharisees dropped their stones, the woman once standing in the middle was now face-to-face with Jesus. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Though she was guilty, Jesus’ words allowed her to drop the hard stones of self-hatred. She had committed adultery, but she was not an adulteress—she was a daughter of God. Mercy and acceptance, not condemnation and shame, transforms the human heart.
I read of a culture where when one is found guilty, rather than shaming and excluding, the guilty one is encircled by the community. Hands are gently placed on the offender while members speak words of affirmation, love, and acceptance to the one standing in the middle. This gracious act allows the guilty one to recover, reconcile, and return to the community.
When our children are guilty, we should mirror Jesus and resist the wasteland of shaming. Dr. Brown warns: “Shame [is] highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression.” With her own children, she acknowledges the guilt—sin or mistake—and then gently guides the child through it: “The first thing I try to say is, ‘You made a mistake. You’re human. You’re okay. I love you. You’re going to get through this.’” Never, “You are a mistake.”
We name grace in the domestic church when we encircle our children with words of affirmation and unconditional love—no matter their offense. We name grace as we help our children understand sin as going against God’s will and one’s true self. We name grace as we gently lead our children out of the darkness of condemnation into the new life of forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. We name grace as we model that everything in life is rubbish compared to the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus, who is Mercy.
We are all guilty. Yet Jesus neither condemns nor shames. Jesus never looks down to point a finger in condemnation, but bends down to write with mercy. Jesus respectfully, lovingly, lifts us up and invites us back into relationship, into community—into wholeness. The truth is we are all unworthy, but when He says the Word, our souls shall be healed—standing in the middle of God’s love. Now, that’s good news!
Naming Grace in the Domestic Church reflects on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding parents in their vital task as “first heralds” or “first preachers” of the Good News in the home.