I remember it like it was yesterday,
even though it was over fifty years ago.
My friend and I were bored.
He suggested we go to the movies together.
But I had no money.
I called my mom at work,
and she told me where she had $20 hidden in her sock drawer.
And that I could use it to go to the movies.
$20 dollars! I had never held so much money in my hand before!
My friend and I went to the theater,
but on the way stopped in a toy store.
Before I knew it,
I was buying a toy racetrack and race cars,
and we still had enough money for movie tickets, soda and popcorn!
(it was, after all, the 60s)
My mother picked us up from the theater.
I was thrilled to show her the toy!
Look how much I’d gotten with the $20!
My mother was not thrilled.
“Donald!” she yelled. “Shame on you!
I gave you that money to go to the movies! Not to spend on toys!”
I cried all the way home.
Especially when she added
that she had been saving that money
to buy herself a new pair of shoes.
I remember that day so clearly so many years later
because that was when I learned what shame was.
I’d felt it before. We all do.
But at that moment I saw it in all its ugliness.
I’d hurt my mother.
I’d used her hard-earned money for a toy.
I had lost her respect
And when she told me she would never keep money in that drawer again,
I realized I had lost her trust.
I remember it like it was yesterday,
and in fact, it was just this past Tuesday.
My friend and I were bored, and so?
We went to the movies.
We saw RESPECT, the new movie about the life of Aretha Franklin.
I guess I knew what most of us did about her:
tragic life marred by years of alcohol abuse.
But what I did not know was what the movie revealed:
that her self-destructive behavior
was rooted in her abuse at the hands of a family friend.
which resulted in a pregnancy
when she was little more than a child herself.
Her self-destruction was rooted in shame.
Ever been ashamed?
Of course, we have. We all have.
Sometimes that shame is something we feel.
like when I felt shame over buying that toy
And the fact that I had destroyed my mom’s trust in me.
Sometimes shame is something that is visited upon us, or we visit on others,
Like the horrible event at the start of the movie Respect,
And which begins to destroy a person from within.
Like it did to Aretha.
These two stories then, highlight the double-edged nature of shame.
We can shame others.
we can feel ashamed ourselves.
Shame is both a weapon and a wound.
And it is something that we encounter in all our relationships
With our friends
our neighbors and even with our God.
Indeed, for many of us our relationship with God is marked by shame.
And that is because we were taught
that God was, is a righteous God.
That God taught us how to be right,
and that to be right
was to follow the 10 commandments.
God gave the people of Israel these commandments
because God loved them.
and the way Israel was to respond to that love
was to follow those commandments.
In that way they would be great in the eyes of other Nations,
As Moses says in today’s first reading
and in that way, they would be great in the eyes of God.
In that way they would be righteous too.
But what happened when they broke the commandments?
Sooner or later, they failed as individuals, as a nation.
They interpreted that failure as punishment.
And as a result they felt shame.
So over time customs and traditions grew up around the commandments
Because the people of Israel were afraid of breaking them.
It was this fear that caused the pharisees to speak out against Jesus in today’s Gospel
when his disciples ate meals with unwashed hands.
We think that washing has to do with hygiene,
but for the people of Jesus' day
Washing had nothing to do with external cleanliness but internal purity.
The customs and traditions of their elders held
that if you did something impure,
you became impure
If you ate something unclean,
you became unclean
They had a word for this.
they said you became defiled.
And of course, with that came shame.
There were many things that could defile you:
Non-Kosher food, women during times of their monthly cycle, gentiles,
and thus, if you encountered these things, so were you.
That is why they washed.
They were afraid of breaking the commandments
They were afraid of being ashamed.
All of this seems so strange to us; But then perhaps not.
For all of us know what It is
to stand in front of a mirror,
to kneel in a confessional,
to sit among a group of family members, friends or coworkers
and to feel the weapon of shame wielded by others
when they judge us.
to feel the wound of shame we visit upon ourselves
When we judge ourselves.
That is why the pharisees were afraid of Jesus,
and that is why they criticized him
For his unwashed disciples shamed them all
in the eyes of others
and in the eyes of God
And that is why Jesus criticized the pharisees.
Jesus didn't hate the pharisees,
as sometimes we think
And he certainly admits
that we can do things worthy of judgment.
But what he did disagree with
was what those terrible things were,
and what God’s response would be.
Because according to Jesus God gives us commandments
not to shame us for our disobedience,
But to guide us in our obedience,
And thus, they must never be used as a weapon to wound us
but always be a guide to show us who we truly are.
For while there are things that are wrong, do defile and are shameful,
in God's eyes we never are.
We are loved.
We are forgiven
and ALWAYS given the chance to start again.
Watching the movie Respect the other day,
I was reminded of that other day so many decades ago,
when a much younger Donald felt such shame.
I remembered what happened the next day,
When I had stopped crying
And my mother cooled down.
I remember how my mother
took me and the race car set back to the toy store
My mother returned the toy, got her money back
And then we went down the street, and mom bought her shoes.
Afterwards she said to me, “I am sorry I was so angry. But you see? We were able to make things alright.”
That memory came back to me in a flash at that moment in the movie Respect,
when God begins to make it alright for Aretha,
who, lying on the floor of her home, surrounded by empty liquor bottles,
finally faces what had happened to her as a child,
the mess she has made of her life,
and the shame she feels.
I won’t let on what happens.
But it is profound,
it has to do with her mother,
and happens to the tune of the hymn Amazing Grace.
And that is significant
because Amazing Grace became one of Aretha’s signature songs.
In the movie she tells her manager that she must sing it on one of her records, because she needed the church, she needed that grace.
Why? Because as she sings in the movie’s final minutes,
she was lost, but now was found, was blind but now can see.
I hope you get to see the movie, Aretha.
If you do, stick it out until the end.
Because it is the story of what God wanted to do for God’s people in the first reading
What Jesus wanted to do for his listeners in the Gospel
It is the story of what God does for Aretha
And when we allow it, it is the story of what God is waiting to do for us.
The God who commands us to drop the weapon of shame,
And who heals its wound.