This past Friday I was at a graduation party. We were there fairly early and we watched as people trickled in. At one point, Uncle Joe walked in.
When Uncle Joe walked in, you sensed that there was a high level of respect that people had for him. He was an older Hawaiian gentleman, a kupuna as many in Hawaii would say. As he walked in people who knew him rose to greet him with a hug or a kiss. Before we started dinner, Uncle Joe went up to say a prayer. His words and his posture was one that explained the respect that many had for him.
In Leviticus God gives a bunch of laws to Moses for the people of Israel. Among the laws He says, (v.32) “You are to rise in the presence of the elderly and honor the old. Fear your God; I am Yahweh.” The law was not meant to develop personal holiness or righteousness, but to point all people to God’s grace. I believe one of the reason for the respect of elders is to teach humility. If we cannot stand in respect and humility before our elders, how can we before our God? I believe this teaching and practice of respect encourages a level of order in society.
Recent news stories have led me to fear the loss of respect in our society. Teenage boys choking out a 76 year old woman, dropping her on the floor and robbing her store. That’s absolutely detestable to me. Even the stories of tire slashing around Honolulu. Really?
When I was growing up it was instilled in me to respect my elders. I’m sure when I was a teenager (perhaps even a little beyond), I had moments of disrespect and rebellion, but I remember always feeling ashamed of what I had done. Older men and women were either Mr and Mrs/Ms or Uncle and Aunty. Just that title instilled a level of respect. It seems that is being lost. Not only in these stories, but in personal experiences.
Last week I was eating shave ice with Jonah and two high school boys, older boys, probably seniors, both taller than me, were throwing their football. An errant football rolled and hit a woman sitting nearby. The two boys acted as if they didn’t know who owned the football and the woman rolled it back to them. When I walked past one of the boys I said, “You guys need to be aware of other people around you.” He looked at me in an annoyed way and said, “What?” I repeated, “You need to be aware of people around you. When you hit someone with your football, you need to apologize. Don’t just act like it didn’t happen.” He sarcastically replied, “Oh, yeah, yeah.” As I looked back the other boy was staring at me as though he wanted to start a fight. I shook my head in disbelief and walked away with my son, saying a little prayer to myself, “Dear Lord, help me to effectively teach my children to have more respect for other people.”
I’m certain many would laugh at me and say, “They are just teenagers. You were a teenager once. Just relax, Jason.” True, they are teenagers. For hitting someone with your football, there should be enough grace forget it, but who will teach them? I believe we must. Our community, our society. Maybe parents are too busy these days. Perhaps some blatantly teach their children to disregard everyone else and worry only about yourself. In any case, our community needs to step up.
The laws of Leviticus were communal laws. The community was to hold each other accountable for the adherence to these laws of the LORD. At the heart of all of these laws we find, “Fear your God; I am Yahweh.” Respecting our elders will not make us holy or righteous. It’s not the solution to peace and order. It is a building block for it. It points us to the only One that leads to righteousness and holiness. It guides us into the presence of the One that is the author of peace and order. It leads us to humility that is the path way to God’s grace.
Let’s look out for each other. We can start with teaching the youth to have respect for their elders. We have so much to learn from them and from honoring and respecting them. Will you stand with me to instill the value of respect to our youth? -jason