Rev. Mark Buetow
And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8
You’ve probably seen them on the interwebs: people exposing those awful people who do mean things. The waitress posts a copy of the receipt where there is no tip, just a nasty note. Or those oh-so-helpful social media posts “to the person who took up two parking spots outside my apartment.” It’s a dangerous move to attempt to shame someone publicly because there’s a good chance you’ll be shamed right back and with a vengeance! This is the way our warped world thinks: If you are mean and nasty to others, that’s really awful and the just punishment is that others get to be mean and nasty to you. But it’s wrong to bully the bullies. And it’s wrong to shame the shamers. The new man in Christ is not called to expose the sins of others but to cover them with love, as the Apostle directs us to do. But that’s pretty difficult. It’s hard not to rejoice when some jerk gets his just desserts by having his jerkiness exposed for all to see. That’ll teach ‘im! But it doesn’t. What’s really going on is what Jesus was exposing when He told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).
There, the Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you I’m not like all the other sinners out there, especially that I’m not like this tax collector.” Usually our first reaction to hearing that story is to laugh at the Pharisee’s hypocrisy and say, “I’m glad I’m not like that Pharisee!” Do you see what Jesus did there? He got us! He exposes in us what we hate in others-namely, that we, too, are hypocrites and shamers.
If we mess up or do something stupid, we don’t want it made known to everyone. But if someone else does, it’s so easy for our sinful flesh to attribute horrible motives to him and go for the jugular in shaming him and showing everyone what a bully and fool he is. But ask yourself: What could God expose about you? What does He know about what you’ve done that He could bring to light and make you the butt of a nasty social media post? What bullying and shameful behavior have you done that deserves to be spread abroad and mocked?
But the Lord doesn’t do that, because He doesn’t see your faults. His love covers a multitude, and more-all of your sins! In fact, Jesus goes the way of the cross to do that. And if there was ever a shaming to be had, it was of Jesus. “He saved others! He can’t save Himself!” Can you just see the clickbait headlines? “Son of God gets nailed to a cross and can’t get down.” “This Guy saved everyone else but what happens next will blow your mind!” “You’ve never seen anything this gross and shameful: Jesus!” And so it could go. And that’s exactly what happened. Jesus let all the shame and mockery get heaped upon Him by a world that loves to point out how bad other people are. We do that to hide our own behavior and to make ourselves look good and popular. But Jesus takes it on to save you. He wears all the shame the world has to pile on Him to take away your shame. Because of the cross, you will never, ever, have to stand before God, ashamed of what you’ve said or done. Not a single sin will cause God to mock you because all your sins are paid for.
Even the sin of shaming the shamers and bullying the bullies and picking on others for their differences and mistakes and faults and inadequacies has been wiped out by the blood of Jesus. And so it is with YOUR sins in laughing at the sins of others. So are your sins of pointing out the sins of others. The love of God in Christ Jesus, washed on you at the font and given to you to eat and drink with the flesh and blood of Jesus – this love covers a multitude of sins. Covers their sins. Covers your sins.
Now you are so free in Christ you can pause when you’re out and about in the world for real or on line. Don’t take pleasure in someone’s meanness being exposed. Don’t pass on that juicy story about the jerk who got what they deserved. Don’t passively-aggressively vaguebook about the person who wronged you in some way. Instead, as the new man in Christ, speak well of others, defend them, and explain everything in the kindest way. Not only will that go a long way in making you a happier person, it will be a great blessing to others who no longer have to fear becoming an object of ridicule because of your reaction to something they’ve done.
And if that doesn’t work? If the shame you would cover comes back to you? If your patience and covering of someone’s sins backfires and they let loose on you? So what? You’re covered by the perfection of Christ. You can never be shamed before God. And even if you are shamed before the world, you are so free as to rejoice in suffering and bearing the name of Jesus that way. Jesus died and rose. What can bullies and shamers do about that? Nothing.
There is a place in this world for shame and scorn. That place is upon Jesus. All the shame and the scorn are His. That way all the smiles and good things to say are said about you by God the Father for Jesus’ sake. And, by extension, in confessing our sins, we lay our shaming on Jesus and go joyfully to the work of speaking well of our neighbors and covering their offenses with the love of Christ. Jesus’ tomb is empty! You won’t believe what happened next: Their sins were forgiven and they loved their neighbors and were kind to them.
Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, Illinois and serves as the deputy and media services executive for Higher Things. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.