Tag Archives: Rank

Old Ways Die Hard

“Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean.”
Numbers 8:6 (NIV)

When I was a kid, I remember the feeling that the Reverend of our family’s church was different. There was something special about him. He dressed differently, he was treated differently, and we children were told to be on our best behavior around him. If he came to visit our house it was a special occasion and we were give instructions that didn’t accompany any other visitor.

The idea of priests, pastors, imams and rabbis being afforded special status runs deep in us. In the Judeo-Christian tradition is goes all the way back to the days of Moses and the ancient religious prescriptions we’re reading about here in the book of Numbers. The priesthood was reserved for the descendants of Aaron. Assistance to the priests was reserved only for those men in the tribe of Levi. There were special rituals of consecration for both. The priests were made “holy” and, according to today’s chapter, the Levites were made “clean.” The priests took on special priestly garments, the Levites washed theirs. Blood was applied to the priests but just waved over the Levites. It is a spiritual caste system in the making.

God’s Message clearly points to a radically new paradigm after Jesus’ ascension and the outpouring of Holy Spirit. There is now no distinctions between Jews and non-Jews, men and women, rich and poor, slave and free. Salvation is offered to all without distinction. Each and every one is an essential part of the same body. Every member is part of a royal priesthood. Spiritual gifts are given to all without regard to age, education, status, maturity, or purity. Old paradigms have passed away, a new paradigm has come. The religious caste system is over.

Or not.

People are people. Deeply held beliefs and traditions are hard to break. Along my spiritual journey I’ve witnessed that we continually rebuild systems with which we’re comfortable. We make special schools for “ministry” and then pick and choose who may attend (by gender, by socio-economic status, by social standing, by educational merit, by perceived moral purity). We develop special rituals and hoops for individuals to jump through, and then we treat them special and “different” once they’ve successfully jumped through them.

Having spent time as both pastor in the pulpit and as (seemingly) peon in the cheap seats, I’ve witnessed our penchant for treating pastors and priests differently from both sides. Having a systematic process of education for leadership is not a bad thing, but when the institutional system begins affording special social rank and privilege (by design or default), then it begins to tear at the heart of what Jesus was all about.

This morning I’m thinking about how given we are as humans to accepting certain thoughts, beliefs, and social mores without question. I’ve noticed along the way that some people get less likely to question them the further they get in life. I’m finding myself becoming more inclined to question, to prod, to push. “Old things pass away, new things come,” it is said. But we only have room for new things if we are willing to let go of the old. The tighter we cling to that which is dead, the more impossible it is to truly experience new life.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 18

NTN Trivia Action
Image by MPR529 via Flickr

At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?” Matthew 18:1 (MSG)

Wendy and I ate lunch out yesterday. The restaurant where we ate participated in a national trivia network, so I grabbed one of the controllers and we played as we ate lunch. I’m proud to say we finished number one at the local restaurant where we ate (we were the only ones playing). They even showed that we ranked 19th in the nation for that particular game. I was feeling pretty good about that.

There’s something in our pride at wanting to be number one. It’s especially obvious in men, though I think its just as present in women – it just masks itself in different ways.  It starts on the playground, continues onto the court or ball field, then on to our educational system (What was your class rank?), and even into the corporate world. My friend, who has been interviewing incessantly for new jobs, was told by others that he should lie about his sales numbers and rankings on his resume because that was all that employers cared about. Maybe it is. Even fellow believers admitted to him that they lied about their “rank” to get a job and seemed unapologetically non-chalant about their deception.

This desire to be the best runs so deep inside us. I sometimes wonder how much it affects us in ways we don’t even notice. Is it so ingrained in my nature that I am blind to its negative effect on my life, my character, and my spirit?

Today, I want to be on the lookout for the existence of pride in my heart and life. If Jesus teaches me to root out the things that pollute my spirit, then I have to be willing to look for it.

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