The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail) by Bartolom´┐Ż Esteban Murillo, 1667/1670, National Gallery of Art.    

Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation

Subverting the
Honor/Shame System

Leveling the Field

Thursday, March 27, 2014

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
(CD, MP3 download)
and The Path of Descent (CD, MP3 download)

Gateway to Silence:
You are precious in my eyes, you are honored,
and I love you. (Isaiah 43:4)


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Drawing from Fr. Richard’s talks at the 2013 Festival of Faiths with the Dalai Lama, Silent Compassion focuses on the divine silence that offers peace, calls us to compassion, and brings wholeness of being.


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