How Stories Change Honor Codes (II)

“code of honor” or “honor code” is the socially-shared value system defining what and who is honorable or shameful.  (In American English, ‘honor code‘ typically refers to an pledge of academic honesty and integrity, but I use the term more philosophical and ethically, akin to ‘worldview.’)  Rewriting people’s honor code is essential because honor codes, more than laws or conscience, govern Majority World life, even for Christians.  The right action is the honorable one. PREVIOUS POST: How Stories Change Honor Codes (I) Narratives, a common cultural feature of collectivistic, honor-shame societies, must not merely communicate theological concepts, but overturn prevailing worldview narratives for interpreting life.  Stories can effectively illustrate ideas, but best serve to reroute paths to honor and shame in Christian witness.  A good story aligns a person’s code of honor with God’s eternal code of honor.
"The Storyteller" cropped, 1843, England
“The Storyteller” cropped, 1843, England
Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard (Mark 12:1-11) functions precisely in this manner by reformulating the narrative of salvation-history. Jesus redefines Israel from an elect nation with privileged status (i.e. honor) to ungrateful servants requiring expulsion (i.e. shame).  The parable is hardly a moral lesson on stewardship; rather, it reconstructs who is honorable and shameful.  The story subverted their honor code. Even metaphors, as short-hand stories, subvert meta-narratives and honor codes.  We often misinterpret Jesus’ vine and branch imagery in John 15 as solely illustrating a theological concept about individual spirituality.  By claiming to be Yahweh’s true vine through whom God’s kingdom would be realized, Jesus challenged a fundamental Jewish narrative regarding herself as the primary arena of Yahweh’s salvific activity (cf. Ps 80, Is 5).  Jesus is the primary vehicle of God’s salvation, not ethnic Israel as defined by Torah and family descent.  In this way, Jesus rewrites a new metanarrative and honor code regarding God’s people to guide the disciples in the distress they would face on Passover weekend. Moral change in collectivistic societies occurs only as social conceptions of honor and shame transform, not through judicial rulings or political legislation.  In relation to Christian fruit-bearing, this indicates that disciple-making involves reconstructing Christians’ honor code. Christian ministry entails realigning sinful misplacements of honor, orientating affections to honor God, and rewriting prevailing honor codes for ethical guidance.  Narratives can help us in this task.  I summarize the process like this.

Stories -> New Meta-narrative  -> New Honor Code  -> Honoring Life

We can utilize stories to transform people’s code of honor so their ascriptions of value reflect God’s.  The goal here is not merely “What does the Bible say about honor and shame?”, but the more encompassing question of “What (and who) does the Bible say is honorable and shameful?”

 So, what are biblical stories (including Jesus’) that redefine notions of honorability?

resources for Majority World ministry

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