I went to visit yesterday with one of my congregation’s homebound members. This gentleman and I have shared a lot of visits together, most of which included his wife until her death last year. And even though I have worked hard to be faithful and attentive to them, I feel like they have always afforded me far more love and respect than I could ever deserve. Quite early on in our relationship, he took to calling me “his little pastor”; and never have I received a title or nickname that made me feel prouder.
It’s a funny thing – being “respected” by others. Obviously, all of us like to be valued: to have our gifts recognized…to be accepted by our peers and coworkers…to be “looked up to” because of some skill or accomplishment. And yet, it can be a perilously small step from receiving respect that comes to us unbidden in the course of faithful living – and seeking or needing respect that we cultivate through calculated efforts and that we use to prop up our sense of self worth.
In the gospel lesson from today’s Daily Office, Jesus warns about the latter. Having just engaged in yet another dispute with the teachers of the Law (whose personal need for respect apparently blinded their hearts to the presence of One to whom true honor was due), Jesus tells his disciples:
“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (Luke 20:46-47)
What kind of respect are we seeking today? Is it the kind of respect that plays to the opinions of others, or that plays to “an Audience of One”? Is it respect that comes from “being above” others, or that comes from serving others? Perhaps most of all, is it a respect that wants others to recognize how “worthwhile” we are, or that accepts our unworthiness – and rests in the promise that God loves us anyway?
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me,” the song says. But today, may we be the ones who learn the meaning of respect, as our “becoming little” points others to the Father, who alone is great.