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As you read the Gospels, which are the different authors’ attempts to write down a history of what Jesus said and did, you will notice that the greatest criticism was reserved for people considered to be hypocrites. The Gospels were especially critical of the people who liked to be treated with honour and respect, but who didn’t actually show much compassion or love for others.

We read about one of these encounters in the Gospel according to Mark (chapter 12, verses 38–40). Jesus warns his followers to beware of the Scribes. The Scribes were the people responsible for copying the sacred scriptures and also legal documents in the Jewish tradition at the time. They were essentially lawyers of a very conservative variety. But their greatest flaw, and the reason Jesus was so critical of them, was their love of being treated with honour and their tendency to exploit their privileged position by using other people to get what they wanted.

It is an abiding temptation in life, more tempting for some people than others, but nonetheless tempting for most people, to be treated with honour, because it makes us feel special. We all like to feel important. We all like to be treated with respect. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the temptation will always be to think of ourselves as the most important person in the world. The danger of thinking in that particularly selfish way is that it inevitably affects the way we treat other people.

There has to be a middle way, so that we don’t downplay our individual strengths – so that we don’t deny that we’re good at something, or that we’re made in God’s image and are special to God – but at the same time don’t think of ourselves as more important than others. True humility is a fine line to walk.

The most interesting times we will have in life will often be when we’re not outwardly honoured. Instead they will be when we’re chatting to our friends, or perhaps quietly working away on something important that makes a difference to someone else. There are times in our lives when we do something outstanding, something that truly makes a difference to someone else, and yet, for whatever reason, very few people know about it. These are the great moments, the moments when we don’t receive much recognition, which doesn’t matter, because we make a difference.

The Reverend Dr Theo McCall
School Chaplain