The “10 Year challenge” has been going around the social media circles the past week or two, mostly on the Book of Face.
I think the idea evolved over time, of course, as all things do. I believe the first challenge was to post the first profile picture from your Facebook account alongside your most recent one. At least, that’s the challenge that I heard of first.
And then for most of my friends it became this 10 year challenge to post your profile pic from 10 years ago. And I think it might have started out all as one thing because, well, face it: around 2006 Facebook stopped requiring a college email address to join, allowing anyone with any email address to join. And it took just a little while for the masses to catch on. So most people’s first profile picture actually turned out to be around the 10-year mark, and most of them were of people’s faces, so…
The result of this social “challenge” was pretty fascinating to me. I wasn’t so much interested in how people looked over 10 years, but rather I was interested in reading their comments. I was more interested in how they felt about how they looked.
I was hoping most people would be generous with themselves, and many were. But many qualified their statements about their looks with a self-depricating, “Could have been worse!” or even, “A lot of living happened in those years…”
The shadow side of such humorous statements is a little bit of shame. And shame is this terribly permeable thing that infects us without us even knowing it. It’s like a virus, passed on from person to person, from generation to generation, whereby we subconsciously learn that something is not right.
It’s different from guilt, mind you. Guilt is this feeling that we did something wrong.
Shame, on the other hand, is the feeling that we, in and of ourselves, as a person, are wrong.
I bring this up because one of the big themes of this week’s Gospel lesson is shame. It’s not the only thing to mine from the lesson, but it’s a central theme.
Oh, if you haven’t read it, take a gander: John 2:1-11
I’m betting most of you know this story, of course. It’s the wedding story at the start of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of John. And in this season between Christmas and Lent we have all of these Jesus stories piled up, one on top of another, that give us a glimpse at just who Jesus is. They’re each mini “epiphanies” or “awe moments.”
And to get the setting for this story you have to know a little bit about ancient weddings and parties of the East. They, like weddings of the East today, were multi-day affairs. None of these “fly in on Friday, have a rehearsal, get married on Saturday, have brunch on Sunday, and go” sort of weddings. The party lasted for days. And people participated for days. Not just the bridal party, but everyone, partied for days.
Which meant that the host had to have food and drink for days. This was the way that you were a good, honorable host: you fed people and made sure they had fun. It was up to you as the host, not them as the guest, to ensure you brought the fun.
And it was shameful if you didn’t.
Honor and shame cultures are not something that we in the West understand very well, though I think if we got more acquainted with it we’d be better off. Because we play honor and shame games all the time.
But, back to the text, to bring shame upon a newly married couple by running out of wine early would be to start off their marriage, and indeed their social standing, at a huge deficit. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but trust me when I say that the world revolved around these ideas of honor and shame (and in many places it still does), and it would be devastating for that family.
And so when Jesus turns the water into wine (605 bottles worth of wine, mind you), he’s not simply performing a miracle. This is not a story whereby Jesus shows up and makes a miracle and everyone believes he’s the Son of God because he can make water into wine.
To say that’s it is to miss the culture of the time. Plenty of tricksters were going around doing that kind of thing for people as street performance art. Writers, historians, and theologians like Geza Vermes and Marcus Borg, amongst many others, have pointed this out for years.
The real miracle in the story, my friends, is not that Jesus can make water into wine, but rather that Jesus can take shame and make it as empty as those six stone jars.
That Jesus finds honor where others find emptiness, and can indeed restore honor where shame ruled the day.
And it’s not just any wine that wipes shame away, mind you. It is great wine. Not unlike the wine the disciples are accused of being drunk on in the Pentecost story in the book of Acts. The word used there is gleukos, or “sweet wine.”
Have honor restored by the God who wipes away shame isn’t just like drinking the same old stuff. It’s like a totally new, totally different, totally amazing thing.
Here’s the thing about the 10 year challenge, Beloved: most of the change that I hope has happened to people is on the inside. Because I have to be honest, I have to testify, that in 10 years the most change that has happened to me is the change of having my insides, my shame, cleaned up and cleaned out, by God.
I want that change to be seen, too, on my outside. Because when you’re filled with new wine, you want to share it. It’s too sweet to keep to yourself.
Because we’re all those clay pots at times in our lives, whether we recognize it or not. Empty of substance but filled with these shame signals that we get from the world.
And if there’s one thing that Jesus came into the world to do, it’s to show us, prove to us, that God is interested in doing a new thing in and with humanity.
A thing that wipes away that shame. Sometimes it takes 10 years. And sometimes it only takes 6 empty jars.
But God can, God does, do the work of turning ungodly shame into something honorable, amazing, and beautiful…like a wedding of Divine love and the human heart that lasts and lasts.