I can’t count how many times someone has spat out those words as I offered a gospel tract. My T-shirt prominently declares Jews for Jesus,” and that is what generates the above reaction. There are several possible responses to this condemnatory phrase. Some times I answer, “I am ashamed of my sins, but I am not ashamed of the gospel.” But more often I simply ask the person why. “Why should I be ashamed?” If I am feeling feisty I will add, “Is it because I am Jewish or because I am for Jesus?”
I rarely receive a straight answer to my question, but sometimes a response gives me an opportunity to engage a person in a real conversation.
You may wonder why we so often hear the word “shame” or “ashamed” when we are wearing our Jews for Jesus shirts. It is important to understand that to an average Jewish person, belief in Jesus is a betrayal of one’s own family and heritage. That is not because of what my people think about Jesus, but because of what they think of people who have persecuted us in His name. Few have actually gotten as far as thinking about who Jesus is because they find it difficult to get past the notion that believing in Him would mean joining those who have hated our people. And guilt is a natural defense employed to prevent people from believing in Jesus or to isolate those who do.
Shame is intended to silence dissent, any unwanted discourse or unpopular opinion
A friend of mine, a single woman, announced her newfound faith in Jesus to her family and was told by her mother, “I would rather you had said you were pregnant or a prostitute.” Such shaming may be intended to inflict pain as a punishment for what is seen as wrong behavior. Shaming is also a way of manipulating a person into conformity to what is perceived as acceptable behavior in a family or in society. It is intended to silence dissent, any unwanted discourse or unpopular opinion. It is a method of control and it is certainly not limited to my Jewish people. In today’s cynical society, ridicule has become a highly developed art form in public discourse. It has, in many instances, replaced honest debate and discussion. It is often used to shame and demean an opponent into yielding an argument or backing away from an unpopular commitment.
One of the most common tactics used to shame others is to claim offense. If I can show a bit of outrage, insist that you have offended me, I might be able to gain the upper hand in the court of public opinion. After all, everyone knows that the first commandment in today’s politically correct environment is, “thou shalt not offend.”
An article titled “Jews for Jesus ‘insults’ rabbis,” appeared in the Palm Beach Daily News in response to our recent Behold Your God campaign in West Palm Beach, Florida. Rabbi Moshe Scheiner was quoted as saying, “It’s wrong to proselytize and attempt to convert people who have their own faith and their own tradition. It’s a grave insult and offensive to the Jewish community.”
People know that even if they can’t shame us into silence, by claiming insult and offense they might shame those who might otherwise support us into distancing themselves from our efforts. And again, this tactic is not confined to Jewish community leaders. Any Christian who takes a public stand for Jesus today can expect to confront similar tactics. How are we to respond?
One common response is to back down, even if we know we haven’t been offensive in our behavior, because after all it seems “un-Christian” to be perceived by others as offensive. Or perhaps we might begin to get defensive and try to prove that we don’t deserve the shame being dumped on us by others. But our example in this should be Yeshua, (Jesus) who responded in a completely different way.
Yeshua endured the ultimate symbol of shame, a Roman cross. Crucifixion victims were forced to carry the crossbeam through the city as a form of humiliation, and a tacit acknowledgment that the sentence of death was correct and the punishment appropriate to the crime. Victims were stripped of their clothing and made to die an excruciating death with not one shred of dignity remaining. But the Scriptures tell us that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
To “despise” or look on with contempt is an attitude we don’t often associate with our Messiah. But that was His reaction to the attempts to shame Him. He despised them. He rejected the power of shame and refused to yield to its intent. Shame was no threat to Jesus. It held no power over Him. By despising shame, Yeshua robbed it of its power. In fact, He transformed shame into glory. “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26) The author of Hebrews tells us that despising the shame led to our Messiah sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
It is easy to react to shame and give it too much weight, either by running from it or becoming defensive about it. God calls on us to despise the shame, not to run from it or to argue with it. In fact, we are to glory in it and so rob it of any power over us.
When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin they were publicly shamed for following Jesus and proclaiming His gospel. They were humiliated and beaten and warned to discontinue their efforts. Yet they, too, despised the shame. We are told, “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:41)
Not many today endure the public flogging and humiliation that James and John faced in the first century. Yet if we are willing to be publicly identified with Jesus we will be faced with the threat of shame. Will we allow this shame to hold sway over us, to dictate our behavior and to silence our witness? Especially in today’s society where ridicule and offense are the more likely weapons of shame, we need a strong and visceral reaction. Let us do as Jesus did. Let us despise the shame and rejoice that we may still have some opportunity to suffer shame for His name.