Shame is a Prison; Humility is a Highway: The Story of a Woman Who Loved Jesus


This year I really don’t want to post about anything we’re doing for Valentine’s Day. It’s not that those things aren’t good, or that I don’t want to celebrate my wonderful husband or do fun things with my girls. But looking at so many posts gets to be too much sometimes. I don’t know were your click on this post fell in your feeds full of happy faces, lovely dates, crafted perfection or special gifts, and I just don’t want to be another one of those this year. Instead, I want to tell you a story about a time I messed up.

I had just made one of those sweet, heartfelt posts for a special occasion…you know, sort of like today. I was happy and feeling the love. Later that day, the same special person I wrote about said something and I took it the wrong way. I’d like to say I responded in a loving and gracious manner, but the truth is that I didn’t. In my pride, I responded selfishly. And I felt pretty awful about it afterwards. I wish I could say I repented right away as well, but again, I didn’t. Putting something kind and loving online is a lot easier than actually being kind and loving all the time. Of course, I’m not advocating that we should all share our mess-ups with the world online. It’s just that what we say online and what we do in person are sometimes different. I’m no more immune to my own humanity than anyone else, but I carried around the shame of my words the rest of the day. I felt the dichotomy between what I had said and how I had acted, and it felt like a chasm.

Shame is a Prison. Humility Is a Highway.

Then suddenly the Spirit reminded me of a passage I’d been reading in Luke 7:36-50. It describes how a sinful woman comes to Jesus at the home of Pharisee and publicly humbles herself in love before him. Previously, this story had simply been a reminder of how much I’ve been forgiven, but I’d never truly saw myself as the woman until that moment. In an instant I was brought back to the reality of God’s love and it broke through my shame. I moved past just shame to brokenness over my sin. His love turned my shame into humility, and humility led me into the loving presence of my Savior.

You see, shame and humility are not the same thing. Humility cuts through shame, and gets to its root - pride. Shame is pride disguised, and it makes us think we can earn approval and love. So when we mess up, we’re ashamed, because we think we need to be good enough for acceptance. Shame is a prison. Humility is a highway. Shame locks you up. Humility is a path that leads towards Jesus. Shame hides shortcomings. Humility understands our bent towards sin and error, and keeps pressing towards Christ. Shame keeps you in the dark. Humility brings you to the light. Shame will keep you from love. Humility leads you to love.

Take this “sinful” woman’s story for example: She was someone who had emerged from her prison of shame onto the path of humility and love for her Savior.

The Story of the Sinful Woman and Jesus

We meet this woman as she enters the home of Simon the Pharisee. She heard Jesus was there, and went uninvited to be in His presence. What exactly drove her there, we don’t know, but it probably wan not her shame. The reality of her sin didn’t keep her from Jesus, but drove her to Jesus’ feet in humility. If she had any lingering shame, it didn’t stop her from coming to the home of this prominent religious leader, knowing full well she would not be welcomed. She was not only a woman, but most likely a prostitute. In that day women were not considered very important, and had virtually no rights. In fact, the daily prayers of Jewish men included this prayer: “Praised be God that he has not created me a woman.” Ouch. On top of being a woman, she had a sullied reputation. Pharisses in particular held great contempt for such “sinners.” But she went to Jesus regardless. But it doesn’t seem like the woman even noticed any of the onlookers or cared about their thoughts, even though Simon the Pharisee quipped that if Jesus was truly a prophet of God, He would have known this was a sinful woman and dismissed her. She had moved past shame (which would have surely kept her home, locked behind it’s bars) and to the place of humility before Jesus.

She proceeds to weep over Jesus’ dirty, travel worn feet and kisses them. She then wipes them with her hair, and anoints them with oil. It was a very public display of love. It was over the top. To some it was probably awkward and unseemly, but to Jesus it was an act of incredible humility and love. Everything was out in the open. No hiding. No denying. Any dignity or glory she had left to hold onto was humbly given in love to serve and worship Jesus. Her humility is beautifully seen when she wipes His feet with her hair, which was deemed a woman’s “glory” and not to be taken down in public. She used her glory to wipe his feet. She also took a jar of perfume and anointed Jesus’s feet. Not only was this probably something incredibly expensive, but something she likely used in her profession. She poured out her earthy treasure, because Jesus was worth more to her. Any humiliation she might garner was worth it. In love she poured out everything. Shame gave way to humility. Humility brought her to pour out herself for Jesus. And in the presence of Jesus she found his love, grace and forgiveness.

As much as the Pharisee would have liked Jesus to dismiss this lowly woman, that is not what He did. Instead He saw her, and honored her act of love. Shockingly, Jesus reveals that this very “religious person” had not even given Jesus the common courtesy of washing his dirty feet as He entered his home, nor gave him the normal friendly greeting of a kiss. Our modern day equivalent would be offering to take a guest’s coat or bag, or a handshake. He didn’t show any love for Jesus at all, but this “sinner” did. Jesus pointed out that her acts were not shameful, but came from a deep love for the one who had forgiven her. He said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” He had no reason to love this woman who had made so many wrong choices, but He did. Simon (and probably everyone else present too) thought she wasn’t worthy to be there, but He saw her and loved her. He spoke forgiveness to her in front of everyone and says, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Surely she left a changed woman, from the bondage of sin to freedom in Christ. I doubt the memory of her time in the presence of Jesus and the reality of His forgiveness ever left her.

My Glory At His Feet

I was the sinful woman too. That one shameful moment reminded me of a thousand other failings, and I allowed them to keep me from the presence of Jesus that day. But the Spirit whispered, like I imagine the people in the Pharisee’s town, saying, “Didn’t you hear? Jesus is here.” And so I came. The bars flung open and my heart found its way to Jesus’ feet in gratefulness. Humility brought me low because of the reality of His love and the reminder He had already forgiven me. And I was undone. Nothing else mattered any more. Jesus was there! He forgave me and gave me peace. It had been a long time since I’d experienced that depth of gratefulness. Sorrow over my sin and joy over His forgiveness poured out in tears for me too. Songs of worship, like her kisses of love filled my lips. I found I wanted to let go of everything precious to me, or any of my own glory and use it for my Savior with renewed passion. Whatever my “glory” and “expensive perfume” was in my life - I did’t want to keep it for myself. If I had thousands of lifetimes to lay at His feet, I’d give it all a thousand times over because of His grace towards me. He is the Lover of the Least, and He loves me.

Shame had kept me from love, but humility had brought me back to the love of Christ. I poured out love for Him in response. My understanding of His grace and love deepened and became even more overwhelming and beautiful to my heart. I won’t ever forget that moment either.

Great Love Produces A Great Response

What is truly amazing to me is that I can’t find anywhere else in Scripture that Jesus says someone expressed this kind of love for Him. That is crazy! It didn’t come from His disciples. It didn’t come from the religious leaders. It came from this sinful woman whom He had forgiven. I want to be like this woman, and care more about loving Jesus than keeping my dignity. I want to give up any glory I could keep for myself and use it to serve Jesus. It may look uncouth, like I have no “chill” or don’t have enough self-control to restrain my emotions. But how can I hold back when I have experienced forgiveness for such an immense debt? (It’s a lot more than just that one mistake, just to be clear!) I’ve entered into the very presence of the One who forgave all my sin, and not only forgives me but loves me. Experiencing such great love naturally produces a great response.

I don’t claim to know much about anything, but I do know that it is easy to be locked up by shame and pride. I also know they’ll keep us from the freedom in the love of Jesus. Pride leads to shame, then shame subsides leading to pride again, which only results in more shame. It’s a cycle that keeps you spinning with no hope for escape. But Jesus! He offers us the way out through his grace and forgiveness. His love was poured out for us on the cross. Right now as you are scrolling down this post, Jesus the King of Kings is looking upon you with love. His compassion towards you is boundless. His mercy for you is unending. His grace is beyond comprehension. He loves you. Maybe your shame has you feeling not enough or unworthy. Maybe you feel the inconsistency between what you say (or post) and what you’ve done. Maybe pride has made you subconsciously believe that whatever glory you have is worth keeping for yourself. I have often been the epitome of these examples. But I also know that Jesus is the Lover of the Least - me. He loves the proud and shame-filled heart, but He draws near the humble. We can’t be free of sin while clinging to pride and shame. Facing our sin and humbling ourselves to the reality of our brokenness and need for Jesus will bring us into freedom. So let’s all cast off our covering of pride or shame, and humble ourselves before Jesus’ feet. There we will more fully understand His incredible, history-altering expression of love for us on the cross. I don’t know about you, but His love truly deserves the most passionate expressions of love in return. I want to love Him with such abandon, because He’s loved me more than I could ever measure.

He is the Lover of the Least, with arms outstretched in mercy. There’s no one He can’t reach with His love…even me and even you. Shame is a prison. Humility is a highway. Let humility lead us to Jesus today, tomorrow and always.

An Invitation:

If you have never experienced the love and forgiveness of Jesus and want help coming to the place of freedom in Christ, please, please reach out to me on any platform. It would be a great joy to share with you what He has done for me and how you can know His love too.