By Venansio Ahabwe
Society accords respect to people who are considered to be of higher status, authority or power. Children are told to respect elders, citizens are asked to respect leaders, learners are asked to respect teachers, women are asked to respect men, beneficiaries are asked to respect benefactors, prisoners are asked to respect wardens and so forth! On the other hand, very few powerful people think or find it necessary to respect others who are considered of low status. This writer submits that everyone deserves respect, regardless of their status. Dave Willis, an American actor and writer says, “Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.” Albert Einstein also says, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
In his book titled ‘Ann Karenina’, Leo Tolstoy says: “Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.” Therefore, respect is a fruit of love, which both the humble and the powerful deserve. A person becomes humble either by minimising his own prestige or when he is actually seen and known to be of low esteem. In our society, humble people are disrespected, not only by the powerful but also by their peers and even themselves. The Bible shows that people were bringing children to Jesus Christ, asking him to give them blessings. The disciples knew that Jesus was a very important person, so they thought that it was disrespectful for the local people to divert the attention of the Lord to little children. They thought that people had failed to realise the status of the Lord and, hence wanted to reduce him to a point of participating in children’s games. They felt duty-bound to protect Jesus Christ from inconvenience, so they rebuked the baby-carrying citizens. However, Jesus Christ counselled them, “Let the children come to me… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these…” (Mark 10:14-15). The mighty Son of God revealed utmost respect to the innocent, vulnerable young ones!
One day, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus Christ for help because her child was tormented by a demon. His disciples saw her as a nuisance because she was not a Jew like them, she was shouting wildly and seemed clearly out of place. As they thought that she did not deserve attention, they told Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” They felt that their Master was too important to stomach the inconvenience which the woman was causing. Yet the woman pleaded even more and the Lord ultimately granted her prayer, “Then Jesus said, ‘Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment” (Matthew 15:21-28). Scripture further teaches, “You shall not harm the widow and the orphan” (Exodus 21:21). One day, Jesus had a meal with his disciples at the home of Levi, a tax collector together with other tax collectors. “But the Pharisees….. saw Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners’’ Jesus heard them and answered, ‘…. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:15-17). In one of his writings, Cardinal Basil Hume asserts that the church must reject sin but never disown a sinner!
In 1 Samuel 16:1-13, the Prophet was sent to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint a new king of Israel to replace Saul who had been rejected by Yahweh. Jesse presented seven of his sons to Prophet Samuel, leaving out the youngest who he considered unworthy of the kingly crown. Like Jesse, even Samuel imagined that the king would be selected from the bigger boys and, as the young men filed before him, “Samuel looked at Eliab, the older, and thought, ‘This must be Yahweh’s anointed” (v.6). His attitude shaped his personal mentality about physical appearance in terms of one’s age, size, and social status. The Prophet was wrong and God counselled him, “But Yahweh told Samuel, ‘Do not judge by his looks or his stature…. Yahweh does not judge as man judges; humans see with the eyes; Yahweh sees the heart” (v.7). When the youngest boy, David, was brought, God told Samuel, “Go, anoint him for he is the one” (v.13b). The child who was clearly marginalised earned God’s favour! James Abraham Garfield, the 20th President of America must have been right to say, “I never meet a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat.”
When Jesus Christ commissioned the disciples to carry out his ministry in different areas, they believed that they had the monopoly of preaching the gospel and performing miracles. They considered themselves superior and highly privileged. They did not expect anyone to attempt to do anything similar or related to what they were doing. They anticipated no competition. They were shocked to find a person doing their work and they attempted to stop him but he resisted them. Thereafter, they complained, “Then John spoke up, ‘Master, we saw someone who drives out demons by calling upon your name, and we tried to stop him….’ But Jesus said, ‘He who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:49-50).
Every human being – rich or poor, schooled or unschooled, young or old, decent or rough, working or idle, friendly or rude, rural or urban, neighbour or stranger, anyone! – deserves respect. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40).
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