Cultural anthropology is the study of various cultures and identifies their differences. One categorization method is to determine whether a culture is driven by guilt, shame, or fear.
A guilt culture focuses on law and judgment. Most individuals living in such a society will want to have a good conscience. Am I following the laws of the land and the moral law acceptable to most? A shame culture seeks to have honor to avoid the shame of dishonor. Am I being looked at favorably by those around me? And a fear culture is one where the individual lives under physical intimidation. Am I going to be physically hurt for my actions?
In the United States, we live under the first—guilt culture. Throughout history, we have developed the law of the land and built a moral law based on what we understand as Biblical teaching. The fear culture can be seen in states like North Korea or Iran. The people fear retribution, so they do what is expected. In countries like Japan and China, the cultures are based on shame/honor—a fear of losing “face.”
In the Middle East today and in the time of Jesus, this shame/honor culture was and is the driving factor in how people behave. I admit, this is a new way for me to read and understand Holy Scripture, but the evidence of Jesus’ words and those of Paul and the others suggest that Jesus was far more interested in honor than he was in establishing set moral laws.
Jesus said, “The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Jesus did not say, “Whoever does this and does not do that (law/judgment) will receive eternal life.” Jesus said, “Whoever believes my words and honors me and honors the Father will receive eternal life.” So the question is, how do we honor Jesus? Answer: we do what Jesus had been doing. What had Jesus been doing?
Leading up to these words, Jesus had healed a paralytic who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. Being a paralytic, being sick, it was assumed that the man or his parents had sinned greatly. Being sick put great shame on the man. Jesus healed him and gave him his honor back. Similarly, Jesus healed a boy who was near death. There was the Samaritan woman at the well. She had experienced great shame—five divorces and now living with a man. Given the culture and the animosity between Jews and Samaritans, Jesus honored her simply by speaking to her. Still, in talking to her, he took her shame and restored her honor within herself and her community.
In the end, Jesus endured the shame of the cross (cf. Hebrews 12:2) to remove our shame and, in turn, bestowed upon us the greatest honor—He made us God’s children.
How do we honor Jesus? By working to restore the honor of others, which is the fulfillment of our Baptismal Vows—seeking to serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. We honor Jesus and the Father by giving honor to those we encounter.