Today’s reading is drawn from 1 Timothy 5:1-8.
Not long ago I was somewhere — I think it was Phoenix, but I’m not sure since I didn’t ask for directions — and I was going on another adventure through a big shopping mall. This has been, for some reason, a favorite pastime of mine when I’m in a city that I don’t visit often. After a few wrong turns, I found the big, lighted mall directory. I did not ask for directions — “Excuse me, can you please give me directions to the directions?” I stood there for a few minutes, surveying the way the mall was laid out.
I decided to strike out toward one of the bookstores, but there was a problem — a very serious problem. Some practical joker had pulled the “You are here” sticker off the directory. “How can I possibly get to where I want to go from where I am, unless I know where I am?” I said out loud. No one answered.
The text you read today describes the landscape of your relationships as clearly as the directory at that Phoenix mall. “Do not rebuke an older man harshly . . . treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need . . . Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (4:1 – 3,8).
But all of these instructions are a waste of space unless you and I take an honest look at where we are. If, when we read this list, we say to ourselves, Respecting older men? I do that. Treating young men with friendship and not condescension? I do that. Honoring older women? I do that. Esteeming young women and revering their purity? I do that. Providing for my family’s every need? I do that, too. But if we say these things and don’t do them, we’re as lost as I was in Phoenix.
Life is a lot of hard work. People count on us. They watch us to see how we speak, how we react under pressure, how we honor others and them. We can never go on vacation from these responsibilities. We are always in the process of working on them. But if we haven’t taken a sober look at where we are in our relationships — if we have looked the other way rather than dealing honestly with our propensity for selfishness, dishonor and laziness — these relationships will never be healed. . . .
“Father in Heaven,” we may need to humbly confess, “I am impatient with my elders, patronizing to young people, unaware of people in need, and insensitive to my family. But Your presence helps me to admit my lostness, Your grace forgives me of these failings, and Your wisdom gives me the direction I need. Thank you. Amen.”