stay-back-100-feet-sign-s-6266This year I’ve decided to read through the entire Bible. That’s right, the whole thing. Currently, we have about 30 people from our church doing it with me. If you’re interested, I’d love for you to join. You can find the plan I’m using here. Occasionally, throughout the year, I plan to share a few reflections from my reading on my blog. Here’s the first one.


Have you ever found yourself in public in close proximity to someone who’s acting in a strange and/or awkward manner? Maybe its a neighbor who’s always arguing with their spouse and their arguments tend to spill into the front yard or driveway. Maybe you’ve found yourself sitting next to an intoxicated person on public transportation, and people look at you thinking your with them. Or maybe it’s simply walking past someone on the sidewalk who’s dropped their purse or bag and all its contents have spilled on the ground.

While I may feel bad or sorry for that person (or those persons), in the moment I can be hesitant to get involved. All sorts of questions go through my mind.

What would or should I say or do ?
If I help, will it only make them more ashamed?
Is it really my place?

But, if I’m honest, often times I don’t want to help for fear of their shame and embarrassment being projected on me.

In Matthew 1 we read about Joseph discovering that his fiance, Mary, is pregnant with Jesus. Our church just spent an entire month celebrating this announcement. But Joseph’s initial reaction wasn’t celebration.

In his mind, his wife-to-be was unfaithful. How else would a baby be conceived?! And because pregnancy is something you can keep quiet only for so long, he knew it was only a matter of time before Mary’s reputation would be tarnished. And by association, his reputation would be as well, even if he wasn’t the father. Therefore, his initial response was to separate from Mary quietly and move on with his life.

I don’t think anyone would fault Joseph for that plan of action. The text tells us Joseph was actually kind-hearted in his plan, in that he didn’t want to publicly disgrace Mary. But an angel stopped him dead in his tracks. Through a supernatural encounter Joseph learned that the baby had been conceived through the Holy Spirit and was God’s son!

What a relief, right?

Well… in one sense yes. Mary wasn’t unfaithful. But in another sense no. How many people are really going to believe this story?

That meant Joseph, in staying with Mary, had to be okay with absorbing the perceptions and projections of other people. People might think that, either, he was the father and they were having a baby out of wedlock, or that he needed to get some self-respect and dump someone who wasn’t going to be faithful to him. Joseph staying with Mary is a beautiful picture of obedience and selfless act of love.

In many ways, his response to Mary foreshadows Jesus’ response to us. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus associates with us in both our private and public shame. He’s not put off by our poor reputation, the skeleton’s in our closet, or our massive shortcomings. He graciously and courageously takes them on for the sake of taking them to the grave, knowing that when he comes back, all our baggage and past sins will stay buried.

Joseph’s response to Mary foreshadows Jesus’ response to us. And therefore, should be the catalyst for us to respond to others in the same way.

The shame of others should cause no fear for us, because Jesus has dealt with all of our shame once and for all on the cross.

Therefore, be bold. Be courageous. Be like Joseph. Step into the brokenness of other people’s lives in order to be a catalyst and conduit for God’s mercy and love.



3 Responses to “Taking on other people’s shame.”

  1. Elisha Dyer

    Beautiful…but it sure ain’t easy! 😔
    How would you advise protecting oneself from repeat offenses. While Jesus says forgive 70×7 (I’m assuming it means indefinitely, because who is going to commit to track that high of a number of wrongs!) I think dependence upon the Holy Spirit and reaching out and embracing others as they are requires deep dependence upon the Holy Spirit, the community of Christ’s support and encouragement, and daily, (albeit moment to moment) following disciplines of the faith, among other things. Being wise about one’s own issues, weaknesses, sin tendendecies, and temptations could also guide one’s direction before deciding to get deeply involved with another’s need/pain, etc. I’m curious if you want to share more about how to wisely proceed…how to’s with confidence but with wise eye for boundaries as well?

    • bryanmarvel

      Elisha. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. You asked some really good questions. They are also very in depth. I will definitely respond, but as you said, knowing how to respond in a situation such as this requires wisdom.

      Therefore, let me think about it for a little while before I respond. I’d hate to simply shoot from the hip and give a half hearted answer. But thanks again for engaging here.

    • bryanmarvel

      Hey Elisha, here are a few more thoughts from me on this.

      1. I think the issue of forgiveness is separate from what I am talking about in the post. Meaning, what I articulating here is about stepping into someone else’s shame who has NOT offended or hurt you. So in what I am articulating, it’s not a matter or forgiveness, just compassion.

      2. However, when the issue at play is forgiveness, the question of how many times do you forgive is a big one and an incredibly challenging one. I think the scripture you mention makes it pretty clear that we are to continually forgive our offender. Jesus doesn’t put a limit on forgiveness. But that also doesn’t mean we should be continually subjecting ourselves to our offender. This also calls into question the nature of the offense. If it’s abuse, physical, verbal, or otherwise, it’s more than ok to create distance between you and the individual, and create clear boundaries. On the other hand, if the offense is that this person continually fails my expectations and isn’t doing the things that I would like them to do, and they aren’t harming me or anyone else, then I would say the first step is to do some self reflection and see if one’s expectations are reasonable. I use these two examples to highlight the fact the when it comes to forgiveness, the spectrum of offenses is a rather wide range, and therefore, it’s important to know the specific nature and frequency of the offense when it comes to counseling someone how they should walk out forgiving their offender. Make sense?

      3. And in response to your comment about being self-aware, you wrote,

      “Being wise about one’s own issues, weaknesses, sin tendendecies, and temptations could also guide one’s direction before deciding to get deeply involved with another’s need/pain, etc.”

      The more self aware we are naturally translates into being a more healthy (emotionally, spiritual, mentally) person and therefore increase our chances and capacity when it comes to helping others. Without that awareness we could end up doing harm even though we are hoping to do goo.

      Let me know if this helpful and whether or not it stirs up more questions. Thanks again for engaging here.


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