In His discourses, His miracles, His parables, His sufferings, His resurrection, He gradually raises the pedestal of His humanity before the world, but under a cover, until the shaft reaches from the grave to the heavens, when He lifts the curtain, and displays the figure of a man on a throne, for the worship of the universe; and clothing His church with His own power, He authorizes it to baptize and to preach remission of sins in His own name. - Edward Thomson, (1810-1870) Bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church (1864-1870)
We seem to live in a world of idols. We appear to enjoy building people up, putting them on pedestals, in a sense. Then we take equal or even more joy out of tearing them down. A prominent politician has an affair, and all of a sudden his pedestal disappears and people begin to vilify him. A well-known minister is convicted (or possibly even just accused ) of being guilty of mismanagement and fraud, and all of a sudden the grand column on which he had been put becomes rubble under his feet. Movie stars? People can only handle other peoples' sins for so long before they to start to dissolve the pillar.
Even Jesus had his would-be pedestal-builders. Take Peter, for instance. During the time we call the Transfiguration, Jesus suddenly changed from a human being, pretty ordinary-looking, to one with a dazzling white robe and along with him two other figures, equally dazzling. Recognizing Elijah and Moses standing on either side of Jesus, Peter, James, and John were totally awed, Peter most of all. He asked Jesus to allow them to build three booths, one for each of the glowing figures. The booths represented a desire to stay so close to the site of the miraculous event, but it was also a desire to create a kind of pedestal for those whom they held in awe and reverence.
There are many who we could say we put on pedestals, some quite worthy of those honors, but not all of them. Often we find the people we raise up are just as, if not more flawed than, we are. In this time of political campaigning, each candidate is clambering up on the pedestal their supporters build for them, then the candidates (and their supporters) try their best to knock the opponent off. Sometimes it isn't hard; things come to light in a political fight. Sometimes, though, lies, innuendoes, even irrational comments can do the same thing without any help at all. Still, the pedestals keep getting rebuilt, and the slugfest continues until it all ends in one emerging the winner. Happening every four years, this should almost be an Olympic sport.
The lesson I think we are to learn from Peter's enthusiasm is that shrines may be nice, but they are also very impermanent. Jesus built his own pedestal by who and what he was; he didn't need someone else to do it for him. His pedestal lasted because it was built on truth and grace, not someone else's opinion or perception.
What lasts for us is the example of the ones who live for others rather than just themselves. Even though they may be flawed human beings, they can still be capable of righteous lives, deserving of honor but not total adoration. Even the most flawed can be remembered in this way. As Shakespeare said in Cassius' speech over the body of Caesar, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." While we remember the saints, we sometimes remember the sinners more easily.
Most of us hope we will never get put on display. For us, standing on a chair to change a light bulb is risky enough, but being put on a marble base out where people can see us and either throw flowers or stones, depending on how they perceive us, is a little too risky. Pedestals are unnecessary and often cause us to fall further than we might have otherwise.
Thank goodness no one will ever put me on a pedestal. The perceived honor is too hard to live up to. Jesus reminds us to look to him and how much the world needs to emulate him. It is also a reminder of how little we need our individual pedestals. Being on a pedestal won't get you to heaven, any more than you can collect Workmen's Comp because you fall off a pedestal--unless you work at a museum.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, August 13, 2016.