Jesus The Shame Bearer
By Joe Hellerman
As we approach the Passion Week, it might help to think about Jesus’ crucifixion in a threefold way:
1. Cross-Bearing: The physical pain of Jesus’ death
2. Sin-Bearing: The spiritual anguish of Jesus’ death
3. Shame-Bearing: The public humiliation of Jesus’ death
We do a pretty good job in our churches of emphasizing (1) the physical suffering of crucifixion and (2) the spiritual anguish Jesus experienced bearing God’s wrath for our sins at Calvary. And so we should. Because most of us do not live in the honor culture like the New Testament world, however, we tend to miss (3) the shame-bearing that public crucifixion entailed. Perhaps a story will help.
My vocational pilgrimage has been delightfully schizophrenic. I still can’t decide whether I want to be a seminary professor or a pastor when I grow up. I have oscillated between the two jobs now from nearly two decades.
After some fifteen years of church ministry and a bit of adjunct teaching, I made the transition to academia in an official capacity in the Fall of 1994. I took a part-time but permanent position with the New Testament faculty at Talbot School of Theology. The plan was to bring me up to full-time when I finished my doctoral program a couple years later.
The two years came and went, and I was itching to get back into full-time church ministry. I told my dean at Talbot to give the job to someone else, and I jumped on board as a team pastor at Oceanside Christian Fellowship, in February, 1996. I will never forget the reaction of one particular group of students at the seminary.
For a variety of reasons, related to the expansion of Christianity in the Pacific Rim and to our own history as a school of theology, Talbot has had the privilege over the years of training large numbers of pastors for the church in Korea. These young men and women and their families make tremendous sacrifices to come to the States, learn a new language and culture, and get a top-rate theological education to take back to their homeland. They are some of our hardest working students. They have to be.
One day in early 1996 I announced to my classes that this was my last semester as a professor at Talbot. I was going back into full-time church ministry [Little did I know that I’d be back in the classroom full-time in 2001, but that’s a story for another time.]
The reaction of my Korean students took me completely by surprise. They suddenly began to act quite uncomfortable around me. As I probed a bit, it became clear that these international students felt deeply sorry for me. They were somehow ashamed for me, as well…
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