Summary: Respect and Honour are to be earned rather than to be demanded.
The gospel passage Mt 23.1-12 speaks to the hearts of many people, especially, those who feel dominated and oppressed by others. Jesus turns himself harshly against those who try to put themselves up over others and lord over them. He is quite clear of the consequences of a social order that maintains rabbis, fathers and masters who multiply the burdens of daily normal life of the ordinary people through their wrong advices, false guidance and misleading prescriptions for living.
In the administration of the material goods of this world, humans have divided the realm of life into high and low, small and great, successful and shattering and capable and incapable. The creators of this order have used this exercise to possess more power over the others and have insisted that they be venerated, honoured, obeyed and respected by others. Such a pattern of life has led to the abuse of power, to unjust treatment of our neighbours, to competition between people and to the tendency to compare one with another. As a solution to such problems, Jesus suggests, “the greatest among you should be the servants [Mt 23.11].”
The experience of a girl who works in a bank explains such a problem very vividly. In her office, the senior colleagues try to lord over her. They work less and demand more from her. They force her to bring them tea, entertain their customers and work overtime in the office, even after all the others have gone home, leaving all the unfinished work to her. When she complains to the Boss, he threatens her to quit the job if she is unhappy there. Out of fear for losing her job, she puts up with such illtreatment. But she is determined to go for further training, so that in the future she does not continue to become a victim of her senior colleagues.
One sees in such a situation not only the unjust treatment of a person, but also a lack of respect for one’s colleagues and neighbours. Human rights apart, such behaviour reveals the human need for authority and domination over others. On the strength of a higher position in the workplace, one tries to fix the worth and honour of another. One tries to determine the place of another also within a circle of relationship.
The Mission of Jesus included the task of teaching the humans to honour and respect others, and not to demand them from others. Honour and respect in life do not depend on the seniority, age or the position one has within an establishment in society. Just by virtue of being co-humans and neighbours, we are all called to respect and value the others around us. When we add good deeds to it, we evoke already in others respect and value towards us. “The one who humbles himself will be made great”[Mt23.12]. That is the key to gain respect and authority from others in our world.