Contributed by Bob Chell, Brookings, SD
What is the thing you are most ashamed of in your life? Share with the Group. Wait! Don’t do it! Rather, answer this question: Have you ever smiled inwardly at another’s misfortune? Still to personal? Okay, try this; What personality trait do you find most irritating in others?
A 14-year-old boy was charged with breaching the Communications Act after students at Alva Academy in Clackmannanshire, Scotland set up a Facebook page which school administrators said was “designed to deliberately cause humiliation, defamation and insult to staff.” The page, contained images of teachers with sexual references written on them. Officials expressed dismay at the number of students who had visited the page and “liked” some of the images. The page has since been deleted.
Parents were informed of the page and urged to check their student’s electronic devices. One Alva Academy pupil tweeted last week: “Ridiculous how far the schools taking this whole thing. Ma mums going nowhere near my phone or laptop [sic]”. The incident has spurred discussion over whether students are overly technologized, having access to tools which they do not have the maturity to use responsibly. Many perceive this sort of behavior as becoming more widespread, prompting questions about how much parents can and should limit use of computers.
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Schadenfreude is a German word which means pleasure derived from the misfortune of another. You may not know this word but you do know the feeling. If you’ve been passed on the highway and nearly driven off the road by someone driving 30 miles over the limit only to see them pulled over by the Highway Patrol five miles down the road the feeling you had was Schadenfreude. If the person your parents are always holding up as a good example is arrested for vandalism at Halloween you’ll know the feeling.
I have been a pastor for many years, in congregations, on campuses and currently, in a prison. One of the great privileges of being a pastor is being trusted by others with their stories, especially shameful or humiliating stories. I have heard many stories, shocking stories, scandalous stories, stories so incredulous they demand to be retold—were they not told in confidence to a pastor. Sexy or shameful, they share one thing in common; they are overwhelmingly sad.
Remember the opening warm up question above, the one about sharing the thing you are most ashamed of in your life? The men I work with in prison have had the most shameful thing they have done published in the paper, often in headlines on the front page. They are reminded every day of the worst thing they have ever done by where they wake up and, for some, where they will spend the remainder of their lives. Not only does everyone know the worst thing they have ever done, it’s the ONLY thing most people know about them.
The Pharisee in the gospel lesson thinks because he follows God’s commandments closely he is better than others. You know people who, because they are smarter than others think they are better. You know people who are more athletic, more popular, more this and more that which provide them reason to look down on others—and when they get their comeuppance, we experience schadenfreude.
Like every parable Jesus told this parable is really about you and me. Sometime’s we’re the Pharisee and sometimes the tax collector. Jesus said, “…those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” I don’t believe this means they trade places. I believe it means they end up in the same place, on the same level. The truth is we are no better or worse than anyone else. Have we done shameful things? You bet! The gospel message, the message Jesus brought tells us we aren’t defined by what we have done. Instead, we are defined by what God has done; namely claimed us as sons and daughters in baptism, in spite of what we have done or will do.
Can we hurt others? Of course. Will we mess up? Well, yeah, but we can never wander so far God will give up on us. Like a shepherd in seek of a lost lamb, God will never give up on us.
Make it a point this week to say a kind word to someone you find difficult or challenging to love. Next week talk about what did or didn’t happen as a result.
Gracious God, thank you for loving us in spite of our failure to live as you want us to live. Forgive us for the hurtful things we’ve said and the shameful things we’ve done. We thank you for those people who listen and forgive on your behalf. When we are burdened by guilt and regret open our hearts to those we can trust to speak a word of forgiveness and home. Help us to be that person for another. Amen.