When you think about the day-to-day mechanics of life, certainly in America and most of the modern world, how would you answer the question, “Who is the greatest?“
Did you think about something along the lines …
- The team who won.
- The athlete who had the most points.
- The student who was valedictorian.
- The man who was salesperson of the year.
- The black woman who climbed the corporate ladder, smashed the glass ceiling and became CEO.
In other words, the one who came out on top.
Or, did you think about something like this …
The one who, by their willing service, helped others come out on top.
Sadly, most of us would have thought the former, not the latter. Why? It’s because we have an honor deficit.
The normal way of life, generally speaking, is one based on merit. Our socioeconomic system is based on performance and earning our keep. The “what have you done for me lately?” mindset is ubiquitous in corporate America. If one achieves, one is rewarded. If you do not achieve or work for your earnings, then you fall short of the honor and rewards that come with that. That’s the honor deficit. Moreover, the honor deficit becomes intrinsically linked to a person’s identity and value. That’s actually more than sad. It’s a sin.
What’s the appropriate response to the honor deficit? Ignore it. Enable it. Widen it and create a deeper chasm between the “honorable” and the “dishonorable?” Alternatively, should we acknowledge it and teach grace as a solution? I say let’s teach grace, and there’s a Hebrew word that captures the spirit of grace in action, chesed.
The word chesed (pronounced hess-ed) means kindness or love between people. It is traditionally translated as “loving-kindness.” It is taking action on behalf of someone who needs mercy, compassion, love, and grace, and taking action means “walking the walk.”
- Loving someone who needs love.
- Giving mercy to someone who needs mercy.
- Giving forgiveness to someone who needs forgiveness.
- Being kind to those who need kindness.
The problem with grace is that it’s unfair. Why should a homeless person or welfare recipient receive my hard-earned money if they chose not to work? Have you ever thought this? The alarm on my fairness meter sounds. How unfair, unjust. What about the investment of time, effort, energy, money, and hard work it took me to get to this quality of life? What about all the real and perceived odds I had to overcome? Whenever I find myself thinking like this, the Holy Spirit reminds me that I would be nothing if it were not for God. The Spirit helps me turn off my fairness alarm pretty quickly. The reality is we’re all bums who have not earned one thing we enjoy. I was a panhandler at an intersection when Christ gave me the bread of life to eat. Who am I to deny grace a fellow human created in God’s image, when I myself was redeemed by God’s grace.
God does not assign honor to those with certain gifts, economic status, or even ethnicity. Those that lack honor are the ones who qualify for special honor. Those with an honor deficit are at the front of the line from God’s perspective, and we are called to give them even greater honor.
Don’t just take my word for it. Jesus himself tells a parable about it in the Bible.
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”Luke 14:7-11 NIV
The next time you find yourself patting yourself on the back, or arguing about who is considered the greatest, remember true greatness is not being above others, lording over them, or exercising authority over them. We are not to be like that. Rather, the greatest among us should be like the least, and the one who leads like the one who serves.