It took a lot of courage for her to override concerns about being criticized, dismissed as an “emotional woman” in the midst of self-important men. But she didn’t let fear of being criticized keep her from doing what was in her heart. Wherever the gospel is proclaimed, it is done so in memory of one who didn’t let other people’s opinions keep her from fully expressing herself.
The gospel is about people getting free. Sometimes we get so carried away thinking it’s just some big ontological abstract subject about how God forgives our sins. But it is also about getting free from anything that binds you: shame, unrealistic expectations, straightjackets that bind you in. Jesus said he came to set the prisoner free. And that he came that we might have not only eternal life, but abundant life, a full and meaningful life.
The woman broke free from expectations. And did a very vulnerable thing. She knew the room would erupt but she did it anyway.
Part of what is going on in the story is that she gets Jesus in a way that no one else did. They all thought the Messiah was about leading a conquest over Rome. But Jesus kept talking about how he would sacrifice himself for a better way. The way of praying for enemies, of ending cycles of retaliation, of going to people with problems directly and working things out. Of forgiving 70 x 7 times. Of seeing yourself as a servant to make things better, rather than the boss of a self-centered universe.
He was vulnerable enough to spread out his arms to expose the depths of human cruelty, hatred, and intolerance so that we might remember and find a better way.
She matched his vulnerability with her own. It’s how the world gets healed. People willing to do what is right against criticism. People willing to take the high road in relationships. People who open their hearts.
Social scientist, Brene Brown has done a lot of work on the topic of Vulnerability. She set out to find out about what drives people and leads to the flourishing of life. She said that it’s really about finding connection with others, and those who are connected and the happiest have a capacity to be vulnerable. To take the risks and develop trust.
She’s kind of funny because she admits how horrified she was to discover that that is what her data was telling her because she has always been a hard as nails, just the facts kind of person. None of this mushy stuff. Yuck. Vulnerable? No, she built her life to protect from that. She got invited to do a TED educational talk about her research. It’s titled, The Power of Vulnerability.
After she gave the speech, a friend asked how it went. She said, “Okay. But I think during it, I told a few hundred people that I had once had a breakdown over what the research means.” She was relieved that only a couple hundred heard the speech but then realized maybe a couple hundred more would see it on video. She was petrified.
To date, the video has been seen more than 34 million times. Because people know she’s speaking the truth, because she was so authentic in sharing her vulnerability.
One thing that keeps us from being vulnerable is a sense of shame. There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is saying, “I did something bad.” Shame is saying, “I’m bad, flawed and this latest incident is just further proof.” Guilt can be healthy, helps us see our mistakes, and figure out how to avoid them. Shame is devastating. It locks us in. Shuts us down. Makes us fearful to try. It keeps us from really living. Have you ever not done something that you really wanted to do simply because you were worried about how others would react? She says it’s the fear of what others say that keeps us locked in.
Of course the gospel talks about this. First step is get in agreement with God about what you are. You are God’s beloved child. Sure you make mistakes but you get up and keep trying. You are capable of acts of beauty, kindness, justice.
The other day I saw that LeBron James, King James had something written on his shoe. It said something about the man in the ring. It comes from a quote by Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s about shaking off criticism and living life all out. I thought how odd. Even LeBron, King James, the greatest player on the planet gives himself this little reminder.
The quote…”It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The question is are you going to be in the arena—doing what you are called to do, led to do, being your most authentic self, or are you going to be just another critic in the stands?
Are you living free from fear of what others would say?
Of course the worst critic you probably have in the internal one. The one that reminds you of your shame. That is why practicing faith is important. Keep moving forward. Being reminded of who you are and what you are about.
I love the fact that the woman broke the bottle open. She didn’t leave room for doubt. She was all in. I think about how I’m so often tempted to be careful. Do things in moderation. Stick the toe in the water first. Sometimes it leads to commitments that are like modern cologne bottles. Spray a little, not too much.
Maybe it’s time to go deeper. Go all in. Be the person in the arena giving it your all.
How is it with your life? Are you all in? Free? Fully alive? Fully committed to who you are created to be? Is your commitment spritz or all in?
I think Jesus helped the woman come fully alive. The old catechism says the glory of God is a human being fully alive. Is there anyone alive out there? Amen.