Early in the time of Corona, the name ‘covidiot’ was coined as a way to name and shame people who weren’t self-isolating or maintaining ‘social distance’. When our lives feel out of control, our natural instinct seems to be to try and control others by the primitive practice of ‘naming and shaming’, or ‘scapegoating’.
At this difficult time, most of us have a strong sense of how our communities ‘ought’ to be. But the language of ‘should’ and ‘ought’ can very easily slide into what a friend of ours calls becoming ‘world policeman’! The world policeman’s favourite occupation is playing the ‘blame game’ – accusing, denouncing, mocking, assigning guilt, judging who’s on the good side of the line and who’s not.
As Easter comes around again this weekend, many people believe that God is a kind of finger-pointing ‘world policeman’. They will not be celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus because they believe that God's defining activity is naming, blaming and shaming - observing human beings to see where they go wrong and pronouncing judgement on them. To be fair, some Christians still perpetuate that idea by talking and singing about the ‘wrath’ of God being ‘satisfied’ by Jesus’ death on the cross.
*Recent studies have demonstrated the value of what Jesus actually taught which is that blame games don’t really help us in our struggles to be better people. – they just make us discouraged and defensive. If we’re to change, really change, we need something else.
This Easter, many Christians will celebrate how, instead of becoming the world policeman, instead of pointing the finger and naming and shaming and scapegoating and trying to make us all suffer for what we have done, Jesus of Nazareth took an entirely different approach to human weakness.
I’ve been thinking about that approach as I read again the famous story of Peter on the first Good Friday. After three years of following the Jesus, Peter got scared when Jesus was arrested. Three times, in quick succession, he denied his friendship with 'the Galilean'. He claimed he ‘didn’t know the man’.
And what was Jesus’ response to this repeated but very human act of cowardice and disloyalty? He looked at Peter. Nobody knows what Peter read in Jesus’ face. We can only guess from Peter’s subsequent activities. First of all, he wept. He didn’t go and kill himself, he wept. His rehabilitation took time but he didn’t give up being part of the Jesus community. And the post-resurrection Jesus stuck by him too.
Clearly, Peter’s friendship with Jesus meant that he was slowly able to name for himself who he was and what he had done. But that naming did not include belittling or shame. The story of Peter demonstrates what we all know in our heart of hearts: that it is people’s willingness to accept us and love us - even understand us - for what we are, even when they’re on the receiving end of our weaknesses, that makes us want to change.
On this Good Friday, I believe that what God in the form of Jesus of Nazareth offered his devastated friend that night was what Peter most needed to be ‘the making of him’! It was the compassion, understanding and forgiveness God offers us all. It’s a love which blames no-one. We humans don’t always have those qualities. Only God offers them unconditionally and perfectly. It’s a potent Easter mix.
*Shame and Guilt by June Tangey
The Psychodynamics of Social Networking by Aaron Balick