Leveling the Field: Rohr on “Subverting the Honor/Shame System”

I’ve always thought the story of the woman caught in adultery is one of the most powerful in the whole Bible, and perhaps the most illustrative of Jesus’ posture toward sin and forgiveness (and for Christians, therefore God’s “posture” as well).  Here Rohr touches on the key points, which I take to be basically encapsulated by the paradox of “there is no condemnation/go and sin no more”:

Some form of the honor/shame system is seen in almost all history. In such a system, there is immense social pressure to follow “the rules” (almost always man-made). If a person doesn’t follow the rules, they are not honorable and no longer deserve respect. And anyone who shows such a “shameful” person respect is also considered dishonorable. (A certain US president, and one Pope, could not even talk about people with AIDS, much less help them.

Jesus frequently showed respect to “sinners” publicly (John 8:10) and even ate with them (Luke 19:2-10; Mark 2:16-17). In doing so, he was openly dismissing the ego-made honor/shame system. He not only ignored it, he even went publicly in the opposite direction. That preachers and theologians have failed to see this is culpable ignorance.

When Jesus was confronted with the dilemma of the woman caught in adultery, he masterfully leveled the playing field of the “honored” and the “shamed.” To the men accusing her, he said, “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7), and to her he said, “I do not condemn you; go now, and do not make this same mistake again” (8:11). What a marvelous consolation for people in all of history who have felt shamed or put down or defeated by others! Yet Jesus holds us to personal responsibility for our actions, too. This should please every fair-minded person.

At the same time, it was an opportunity for the self-righteous accusers to face their own darkness, their own denied and disguised faults. Hopefully they would learn from their ego humiliations. Truly holy people are able to embrace their failings and have no illusions about being better than other people.

Adapted from Francis: Subverting the Honor/Shame System and The Path of Descent

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