Looking at Everyone with the Eyes of Faith
Being a Soldier has taught me to look at everyone. Before becoming a Soldier, I was always observant, and I like to think that I noticed people. But as a Soldier noticing those around you is a duty. You see, we wear rank insignia on our uniforms, and the customs and courtesies of the Army require us to greet other Soldiers with a verbal greeting by the Soldier’s rank, and perhaps with a salute. So, you have to look. You can’t just look down, or off in the distance, or in a daze, as you walk across post. You have to look AT everyone.
It goes something like this: as you’re moving down a walkway on a military installation you notice a Soldier coming your way. They’re still quite a few paces away, but you want to get ready. So you look at the front of their uniform, or their cap, and you try to discern what rank insignia they are wearing. If you’re 44 years old and had laser eye surgery a few years ago, especially if it is sunny and there’s a glare in your eyes, you squint. From a distance the rank insignia for Specialist can look like that of Lieutenant Colonel, but most Specialists are quite young and most Lieutenant Colonels are not. Majors are the worst - their gold leaf cluster insignia can be hard to pick up until you’re practically next to them, and thus you’re left rendering a salute as you’re almost passing them by. Not the best way to greet a field grade officer.
The Non-Commissioned Officer insignia gets harder to discern the higher rank they get. You have to get pretty close to see the detail clearly. Most NCOs are addressed as “Sergeant” (Sergeants, Staff Sergeants, and Sergeants First Class), though it is appropriate to address Master Sergeants, First Sergeants, and Sergeants Major by their rank. “Good morning, First Sergeant!” Of course, no one says, “Sar-gent,” as the dictionary might suggest. In Army-speak we slur the word into one syllable: “Good morning, Sar’nt.”
As Children of God...
As Christians we are called to look at everyone, and to greet them according to their rank - as children of God. There is no higher calling than to be a child of God, no loftier title, no better privilege. To the extent we see rank with the eyes of faith, it is an inverse of how the world sees things. Saint Paul writes that the believers in Corinth weren’t wise or powerful “by ordinary human standards,” but “God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
Mary, Mother of our Lord, sings praises to God describing how God upends the rank structure of our world. “He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). We see this throughout the Old Testament, too, where the Lord chooses little Israel to be his chosen, holy people above other, much more powerful nations that surrounded it. The duel between David and Goliath is just one vivid example of how this dynamic plays out in the Old Testament.
Sometimes we confuse roles in the church with rank. We’re tempted to place bishops and pastors, the church board presidents and staff, youth directors and musicians on a pedestal, and to give them a higher status than other members of the church. Yet such a tendency to “rank” the various roles in the church falls far short of Saint Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12, where he describes the church as a body in which all parts are essential. “There are many parts but one body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:20-21). All parts, all members of the body of Christ, are essential for the life and vitality of the church. When we put some roles up on a pedestal, we rearrange the body according to our vision rather than God’s, and we put the whole thing at risk of falling down.
Saint Paul concludes the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians with encouragement to strive for the greater gift of love. The “flashy” gifts of tongues and prophecies have their place - as do the gifts of preaching and teaching and leading. But the greatest gift, the highest calling in the life of the church, is love. And love, dear friends, neither recognizes nor possesses any rank whatsoever.