We’ve all seen big A authority in action. Physicians who treat their staff and patients like plebeians. Clergy who wear their robes as emblems of power. Politicians who operate like they’re above the people who elected them. Professors who respond to classroom questions with smugness. Supervisors who pull rank to mask their insecurities. Those who insist on reminding us of the letters before or after their names (Rev., Dr., Honorable, Ph.D.)
Big A authority shouts EGO (edging God out). It is the province of small minds, small hearts, small spirits. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, it is a delusion from which its practitioners have not yet awakened. Many of them never do.
When I encounter big A authority, I flee in the opposite direction. If I see it in a physician, I find a new clinic. If I hear it from a pulpit, I find a new church. If I sense it in a professor, I drop the class.
Thankfully, there is also authority with a small a. It is a quality we willingly bestow on others, not a surrender to forcible demands. You can see it many ways.
- Physicians whose bedside manner is like a warm hearth, their genuine compassion working in tandem with staff and patients.
- Clergy who, like Jesus, metaphorically take off their robes and lift up the basin and towel to wash the feet of others.
- Politicians who regularly spend time with the neediest of their constituents, not just for photo ops at campaign time.
- Professors who believe there are no dumb questions, and that learning of any type is an advancement in life’s miracles.
- Supervisors whose doors are always open and who make it their mission to see others succeed.
- Anyone who shows us—without pretension—that what they have to share with us was learned in the school of life, sometimes painfully, and not just in the ivory towers of academia.
Obviously, I’m talking about humility, a quality we obtain when we are least aware of it. As Martin Luther once said, “True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.” It happens when we lose ourselves in Spirit and service rather than self-promotion. Call it self-forgetting, self-denial, or even bliss and joy. By any name, it is the hallmark of a highly developed character.
I adhere to many faiths; no “religion” has a corner on truth. That said, I have always loved the closing verses of what Christians call The Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’s teachings in the Gospel of Matthew. It crystallizes the core principles of the Nazarene’s life and ministry, including his call to love our enemies.
At the end of those verses, we hear, “The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
I get that. I really get that. The challenge will always be to live it.