AfterWords | Taking Grace: The (Shame) Party’s Over (January 23, 2022)
AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
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A 3-Minute Read
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)
When daughter, Maggie, began planning her nuptials, she entertained—out loud—the idea of a “dry” reception. My response, swift and certain, was not my best mother-of-the-bride moment.
“Darling,” I said. “Let’s not make people come to that wedding.”
Though there would have been no shame in that wedding. Not too much.
But 2,000 years ago, wine-lessness at a wedding in Cana was more than a drag. It was an error of… Biblical proportions.
In John 2, the host family ran out of vino—a miscalculation that would’ve marred their good name. Today, it’s hard to comprehend how such a thing, while vexing, could be ruinous.
We’ve found new stuff to ruin each other over.
We’re pretty good at beating ourselves up, too. There are times we genuinely fall down on the job. We sin. Other times, we run out of wine. We insert foot in mouth or forget to text back or burn dinner. We fumble and stumble and drop balls all over the place. Then we issue ourselves a proper scolding.
Perhaps you’ve listened to someone issue themselves a proper scolding and thought,
Well, that’s just dumb.
We’re too hard on ourselves. We’re too hard on one another. We excel at shame and blame. We do not open our hands to receive Jesus’s gift—his over-the-top, semi-ridiculous gift—of grace. We shake our heads, wave him off. For me? You shouldn’t have!
Consider Alain de Botton’s take on the grace we extend young children. De Botton, an author and philosopher, says in a delightful talk,
“When a small child has done something wrong—let’s imagine you have a small child, you cook them dinner, they’re two years old, three years old, you have broccoli and some schnitzel and you put a plate down in front of them and they just swipe if off and go, ‘Ech!’ and start screaming.
Now, what do you do as a modern parent? You don’t hit them. You don’t go, ‘I’m so offended, I’ve had a hard day at work, and now this—you’re persecuting me!’ You don’t say that.
Instead, you go, ‘Maybe my poor child’s got a sore tooth, or maybe he’s a bit jealous of his sister being born, maybe that’s kind of weighing on him, maybe he’s a bit tired, and that’s why he’s behaving like this.’”
Okay, now apply this attitude toward, let’s say, your spouse. It may seem patronizing, but we forget, de Botton says, how generous, how kind, how loving it is to handle someone in this way. How the earth might shift beneath us if we were generous in our interpretations of each other!
I’m going to take this a step further… What would happen if we were generous in our interpretations of ourselves? In general, we don’t treat ourselves tenderly. We spill coffee on our shirts and think, Idiot! We insult someone and slink away. Well, I blew that. We second guess and hold back. Across the board, we swallow liberal doses of shame.
Jesus made wine—wine the fussiest of sommeliers would sanction—so the folks throwing the wedding feast could save face. For misdeeds great and small, Jesus allows us to save face in front of our Father.
Shame for grace. Not exactly a fair trade, as it’s all in our favor.
For me? You shouldn’t have! But he did.
Opening my hands to the grace-gift… It’s a process, something to work on. Too often, I catch myself starting sentences with, If only I’d…
Maybe you do this, too.
Darling, let’s not make people come to that shame party.
“I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.” ~ Mary Oliver