The story is told of a state banquet at Buckingham Palace given by Queen Victoria. It was very splendid, very lavish and chokingly stiff and formal. Whatever was served, it necessitated the use of finger bowls. One visiting dignitary, unused to these things, picked up the finger bowl and drank it, taking it to be one of the many drinks offered. The people around were horrified at this breach of etiquette and looked on him with scorn. Queen Victoria (not known for being easy going) saw what was going on, saw that the man had just made himself a social pariah and rescued him by picking up her own finger bowl and drinking it, which meant that everyone else around the table had to do the same. She ‘saved’ him by deliberately occupying his place of shame and, because she was queen, emptied it of all shame.
In a difficult but vital passage Paul claims that God in Christ does that with sin. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5: 21).
The place of shame is something created by people to reinforce their own sense of goodness. It may be the cross, it may be position occupied by the class geek in school, it may be the position of an ethnic or social group like untouchables in India. For many people the fact that someone else occupies that place is the guarantee that they themselves are OK. For such people it’s essential that the place of shame exists since their sense of goodness depends upon it, and usually they will fiercely resist any attempt to rehabilitate the shamed person or people. But once Christ has occupied the most shameful place on earth, there is no longer any need to create such places or to establish our own goodness by not being there.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree" (Gal. 3:13).
For the Christian, being baptised into Christ’s death means we forego any claim to righteousness through a human system. Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself (Rms. 2:1). In other words: “If your sense of being good depends on being able to identify others as ‘bad’, sooner or later you will end up being the bad one in someone else’s system of goodness.” If people believe they need guns to protect themselves, they are likely in the end to be the victims of shooting. If people believe and invest in that system of goodness, then sooner or later they will become the victims of it. Once Jesus has occupied the very worst place in that system and come back from the dead, that toxic place is emptied of all its poison.
Reflect on how much your own sense of goodness depends on comparing yourself to others who are in some way ‘bad’ or ‘unacceptable’. How can the grace freely given to us in the Cross of Jesus rescue us from this divisive mindset?
© Fr. John Hemer, used with permission.