Lesson 13: Do Nothing from Prestige Alone

a magician conducts the prestige.I was amused when I looked up the origin of “prestige.” Apparently it goes back to a French word for a conjuror’s tricks or illusions. And in some sense, all prestige has an element of deception about it. None of us is all that different from another.

This became evident when I found myself dining with a group of Lutherans in a private dining room of a Roman Catholic university. I was the only one wearing clerical clothing, and the elderly waitresses thought I was a priest. They fussed and fussed, constantly asking if there was anything else they could do for me. They served me first, even before the women. They paid me so much deference, a friend called across the room that I was a fake and should be ashamed. My response was a request for everyone to remain silent, so I could enjoy this one moment of great respect.

Of course, there is a place for prestige. The waitresses were expressing respect as much for their religion as for a religious person. We all give honor to persons who provide good examples for others by personifying worthy values. There are saints among us. Still it is healthy to remember even these really are sinners.

This guideline is especially important in our day when so many of our actions are aimed at gaining some special privilege, whether it be praise, money, or power. Many of us worry about the 1% claiming they deserve so very much more than the 99%. Several leaders get away with doing things we do not allow their followers. A number of politicians are always campaigning, not laying out their platforms but carefully saying and doing things that will get them elected. Everything is based on winning, not serving. People are obsessed with exceptionalism rather than equality.

A Christian lifestyle has a lot to say to a society that needs to come together. Jesus teaches that the leader should see herself as the servant of all and demonstrates this by washing his followers’ feet. Paul compares the community to a human body that needs all of its parts in order to operate satisfactorily. Christian worship gathers all kinds of people around the communion table as equals in God’s presence. The standard is co-operation rather than competition. The goal is to serve other people rather than gain special respect or admiration.

However, Christian motivation goes beyond sharing talents and gifts to serve the community. Lutherans make a big deal of Johannes Sebastian Bach’s writing “To the Glory of God” on all his works. He wanted to make clear, at least to himself, that his contribution to society involved his relationship to his God. The bottom line in a Christian lifestyle is performing good works in order to do God’s will, rather than to receive human’s praise.

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