13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Want to hear a weird irony? At some point in our lives, we all long to be known, but at the same time we are terrified of it. So many of our patterns of relating to others can be traced to this inner tension. So, which side wins? More times than not, it is our terror that wins out.
I know this has been true of my own life. Much of my early life was spent trying to make a name for myself and become known to others. Being an athlete in a high-profile program such as Iowa State and my brief time in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams brought me to that level of recognition that I so craved. It is a double-edged sword though. When you are well-known by people, you don’t slip through the cracks. People know things about you that they would not normally know about a person. You really do tend to live in a fishbowl, where people can see everything you do and make judgments about what they see accordingly. Even though 18 years have passed since I have participated in any organized sports, I still get recognized in public, often by people I do not even know.
As I have grown older, my desire has become to live a more private life, where not everyone knows everything I do. I don’t have that strong desire to be “known,” as I once did. I don’t want everyone to see me completely, all the time. Despite this, I have found that I still feel, at times, relentless pressure to look good to all the people I do interact with. The idea of admitting my own fears, doubts, and temptations seems impossible to me. I am a slave to my shame way more often than I really want to admit.
So how does Jesus change this? Take the story of how he called Levi, the tax collector, a eatinman hated and shamed by his fellow Jews. Levi throws a party and invites the only friends he has, other tax collectors and lowlifes. What can they do? They eat together. Eating in that culture required a certain physical intimacy as they reclined together on couches. It also implied an emotional intimacy as hearts were shared over the food. Imagine the impact on Levi and his friends. Jesus wanted to be close to them, and it began the dismantling of their shame. We don’t know what happened to Levi’s friends after the party, but we do know what happened to Levi. He was so revolutionized by Jesus that he eventually penned the Gospel of Matthew.
That same revolution can happen in us too. How does shame get healed? How do we learn true intimacy? It comes as we allow Jesus to re-shape how we feel about ourselves, seeing ourselves through His eyes. Shame binds us because it defines us, but the truth is that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers. We see this in the book of Hebrews.
“Whatever the reason for your broken intimacy with God…Jesus waits to embrace you now in the arms of unconditional, divine love.”
I think there is a lot of peace available to us, knowing that Jesus love us no matter how bad we mess up. There is nothing we can do to make Him stop loving us. He will forgive us for anything we might do wrong. All we have to do to accept this gift is choose to accept it. It really is that simple.
The important question that we need to ask ourselves is:
How has shame influenced and distorted your life?
Once you can answer that question, you can work to end that influence and distortion. One way to do that might be to go to a trusted friend and share a present or past struggle or difficulty from your life. There is real power in sharing with others.
We are all influenced by sin in our lives and none of us are perfect. It can be very easy to let the shame we feel for things we have messed up in our lives control the direction of our lives and take us in directions we never imagined possible. Just remember that we do not have to be slaves to our shame. Jesus has already bought our freedom through His death on the cross so that none of us have to live as slaves to anything, including shame.