Crossing Boulevard

with Rev. Rachel


If you learn only one thing about when and where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, let it be this: It was an honor-shame society.

Honor-shame dynamics are still a thing. “From online bullying to Twitter takedowns, shame is becoming a dominant force...(A. Crouch).” Indeed. Lord, have mercy.

First thing’s first, though; to those of ancient times, losing honor meant losing one’s place at the family supper table and one’s folding chair for the 4th of July block party. Those without honor went without what was thought to make life worth the living.

Some have described the honor-shame society as a zero sum game in which the only way to preserve honor involves withholding it from another; which is not to say that 1st century people thought of it in those terms. In any case, what one perceived to be dishonoring provided the basis for a number of acts. Like murder. Like divorce.

Murder and divorce were how folks took satisfaction when their honor was on the line (or so they thought). Men killed men and women in the name of their family’s honor. Men divorced women in the name of their family’s honor. The reason Jesus talks divorce here is because it was assumed that a man had to divorce a wife when there were allegations of infidelity and the Law was being used/abused accordingly.

Honor was the currency and certain men were the only ones allowed to handle it. Jesus, I believe, had something to say about the way things worked. Jesus still has something to say when we refuse to imagine an alternative to the status quo.

What if Jesus was giving his listeners a way out of the honor-shame quandary?* What if the problem here isn’t the Law of Moses or even how some had interpreted the precepts of God but the larger, broader unchallenged norms of the time?

What if, beginning with the Beatitudes, Jesus was blessing those who had faced honor-loss so as to set them free from the fight? What if Jesus was assuring them that they were honorable in God’s sight—that they had nothing to fear when it came to what they would lose by virtue of following God into a new world order? Oh, I think that is exactly what he was, and is, and will be up to~ ___________________________________ * Jerome H. Neyrey; Bruce J. Malina & Richard L Rohrbaugh.

UncategorizedRachel May