Apr 24 2014
By Chip Zimmer, VP of Global Ministries
I enjoy receiving e-mails. A regular part of my work is responding to people who have met God through something Peacemaker Ministries has produced. Their notes are always fresh and charming. Here – misspellings, mis-punctuations and all – is one of my recent favorites:
“By gods grace we conducted our evening seminar on April 4, 2014 at Lutheran Church Veliyannoor Kerala india, It was a blessing for the people.
“In that meeting we introduced your 7 A’s of confession. The people appreciated it. Rev Rooban paras conducted the class and our patron Rev.a.J.Joseph lead the interaction session.In this session we divided people in to small groups and congregation members shared with pastors their problems.People were moved by the 7A understanding ,they said it is a new vision they got through it.”
I love this letter. You can sense the excitement and gratitude in his voice as he struggles to communicate in English what he experienced among the members of his congregation, the “understanding” of confession that has led to a “new vision.” What may not be so obvious is just how difficult it is for people who come from more traditional backgrounds in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, to accept responsibility for their sins and confess to those they have wronged.
In much of the world, preserving personal honor and avoiding shame are critical social dynamics. This goes by many names – “saving face,” “preserving harmony,” even “machismo” come to mind. They are all descriptors given to respecting individual dignity and maintaining relationships. In many societies, truth speaking, directness, and individual accountability matter less than respecting others and promoting social cohesion.
Jesus lived in a culture, the Middle East, which then as now is driven by such values. Honor, status and rank matter. In such settings, admitting fault, asking for forgiveness, and committing to repentance and change are all viewed as shameful. And what brings shame and dishonor is, typically, avoided. A Lebanese friend of mine put it this way: “Shame and honor have trained our community to build masks. According to our culture, confession, humility, and submission, are all signs of weakness.”
Yet, into this mindset, Jesus taught that the meek would inherit the earth, that asking for forgiveness is to be a normative practice, and that honor accrues to the least and the lowliest. If you want to be first, you must become last and a “servant” of all. No wonder he stirred up controversy.
Jesus is no less controversial today. What he taught regularly confronts each of us in those places where we are least comfortable, wherever we may live. The good news for us is that Jesus’ death and resurrection not only deal with our guilt. They also deal with our shame. Incredible as it may seem, we are honored children of the high king, prodigals who have been welcomed home.
Reading about believers in far-off Kerala who are learning to embrace personal responsibility and confess sins raises a question each of us should ask: Where have I become complacent, allowing dominant social norms to dictate how I live out my faith? What “new vision” is God showing to me?
It is a question worth considering as we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection.
This article originally appeared in our April edition of Reconciled. If you’d like to receive Reconciled, subscribe here.