Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Culture of Honor

Thursday, February 23, 2012 -- Lent
Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr of Smyrna, 156
Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 951)
Psalms 37:1-18 (morning)        37:19-42 (evening)
Habakkuk 3:1-10(11-15)16-18   
Philippians 3:12-21
John 17:1-8  

In the days of Jesus, the culture of the Mediterranian world was an "honor culture."  In many parts of the world, characteristics of the honor culture still predominate today.  In an honor culture, families and individuals compete for respect and rank.  It is essential for someone to know their place in the society and to act appropriately.  One should not act beyond one's station or level of honor.  An honorable person should not be unduly humble, but carry on with appropriate pride.

Paul discusses Jesus and the Gospel in startling term from the perspective of an honor culture.  In Philippians he says that Jesus, "who though he was in the form of God" (and thus worthy of the highest honor) "did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave."  (2:6-7)  Such a statement would have been perplexing and challenging to someone imbued with the values of honor, especially one who was of high rank. 

Paul continues, "And being found in human form, (the most honorable Jesus) humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross."  (2:7b-8) The cross was the most humiliating death imaginable.  Paul claims that this most dishonorable of journeys has now lead to the highest honor.  "Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow."  (2:9-10a)

It is a story that challenges the culture and turns the conventional notion of honor on its ear.  From the perspective of an honor culture, it is easy to see why many would be perplexed or offended by the whole Jesus movement, especially those who were regarded as honorable people.  In today's reading from Philippians, Paul acknowledges that "many live as enemies of the cross of Christ."  (3:18a)

But in this letter, Paul is at pains to tell how he finds true honor in imitating the example of Jesus.  In his former life, Paul was a man of honor:  "circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless."  (2:4b-6)  Elsewhere we learn that he is a Roman citizen, a highly prized status. 

Now, Paul regards all of this as "rubbish." (2:8)  Now he only wants to embrace the way of the cross -- the way of the servant-slave, willingly embracing any suffering as an imitation of Christ.  The path of honor is to become like Christ, even unto death, and to be honored like Christ through resurrection. 

Paul lives in the light of this new honor code and invites us to follow his example.  Like Jesus, he has chosen the humble path of service and compassion.  Like Jesus, he has suffered from misunderstanding and conflict.  He receives his honor as a gift from God through humble identification with Jesus.  He is exultant and thankful.  He knows he is eternally honored, therefore he can confidently serve others with the freedom of royal nobility.  These ideas turned the world upside down.


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was so glad you acknowledged that Paul has "chosen the humble path of service and compassion" instead of Obama theology where the government forces it on us.

At 10:11 AM, Anonymous janet said...

Hi Lowell,

Musings from Lake Wannacut - I am noticing the startling beauty of the animals here in Washington. They, too, are humble in a sense, not puffing themselves up to be something they are not. But their true colors are vibrant and natural in their setting. I saw a Tom turkey in full display yesterday, just breathtaking, and there is a tiny saw-whet owl, only about 5 inches tall with a large nocturnal voice, and this morning during prayer and reading your reflection a pair of deep dark blue birds with maroon crests, feeding in the pines and whistling away. What if we, as Paul exhorts, displayed with all humility our true colors, our true nature, our God-ness, what a glorified world that could be. I am learning so much here, just watching the natural world unfold anew each morning.


At 7:07 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

So good to hear from you. It sounds like such a lovely setting. I hope you've got some reading from some of the nature mystics. You're getting to read it each day in its real setting. Thanks for the post.

And Greg,
For which of the President's acts of compassion did you condemn him yesterday?


At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you talking about his personal acts of compassion or his presidential mandates?


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