Do not let yourselves be called Master,
because you have only one Master,
and all of you are brothers and sisters.
Matthew 23: 8
One thing that struck me when I began living here in Honduras is how people are often addressed by their titles: Doctor Manuel, Profesor Marcos, Abogada (lawyer) María, Ingeniero (engineer) Martín. If you’ve got a university degree (or a teaching degree), flaunt it – and make sure people know it.
I know part of my discomfort is due to the informality and façade of equality which is prevalent in the United States. But there is something more.
Titles separate us from others, make us appear better and more important than others. Titles are sometimes terms of honor for people who have taken the effort to pursue higher studies. But, at least in Honduras, they can also be seen as indications of not just inequality in a society but classism – in which the “lower” classes are treated as less important and less worthy of respect.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus told his followers not to be called “masters” or “teachers.” We often read this as an admonition to avoid making ourselves like God – a call to humility.
But I think this is also a critique of all classism, all discrimination against the “lower” classes, a call to radical equality.
For Jesus does not just call us to avoid being called masters but he reminds us that we are brothers and sisters.
We are all equal and our dignity comes from being daughters and sons of God, not from a degree we obtain.
And so I am proud of the name given me by kinds in the Suchitoto, El Salvador, countryside in 1992 – Hermano Juancito, Brother Jack.
That name is a constant call to remember that I am a brother to all and I need to treat all as sisters and brothers, serving them, in them.
What if we all started remembering that we are sisters and brothers and try to break down the barriers of class, race, nation, religion?
Of course, the use of titles can be seen as snobbery, and sometimes borders on the absurd (on first meeting, calling your accountant “Contralador Publico López” is a bit awkward to say the least!), I see the titles a matter of respect the accomplishment (I refer to all craftsmen as “maestro”) or the office (“Padre” for a priest, or, for that matter, “Hermano” for a Brother). But your point is well taken, that respect is a two-way street: manners without respect is but a sounding brass…
Good points. Different experience: when I was a new missionary in Mozambique trying to learn names, it was hard because people were called Mama secretary, Mr. Pastor, Mr. Treasurer, Mama of Zito, daddy of Zito etc – and sometimes when I asked “but what is their personal name, the person I asked would turn to another and say “Do YOU know?” Back story I was told is that in colonial times, it was often life-saving for the colonial administrator NOT to know your name – you could not be called out for forced labor on a plantation or building a road, for instance. After independence the custom continued of personal names being private and protected. Relationship or responsibility was what you were called by.