The rumours of his nephew’s recklessness reached the old monk. His relatives begged him to come and do something to stop the young man throwing away the family fortune on a life of debauchery. “He will listen to you,” they said. “You will show him the error of his ways.” So he set out to visit him.
The nephew was glad to see his uncle whom he had not met for many years. He welcomed him warmly and invited him to stay the night. All night long the uncle prayed in his room. Next morning, as he was leaving, he said to his nephew, “I must be getting old, see how my hand shakes. Will you help me please to tie my shoes?”
“Gladly,” said the young man and he bent down to tie the laces. “Thank you,” the monk said. “You see, a man becomes older and feebler day by day. Take good care of yourself.” And he blessed him and left the house. Not a word had been said about the young man’s lifestyle or the complaints of the relatives. But from that morning on the dissipations of the nephew ended.
Not many, I suppose, would have the wisdom that monk showed in relating with his nephew. His gentleness enabled the young man to get in touch with his best self and be converted to a new way of living. The uncle’s reverence for his nephew opened that latter to his responsibility to life.
We find similar story in the gospel where Zacchaeus too was met with reverence. Our Lord, who knew well his dubious undertakings, did not coerce him into a confession of guilt, but by honouring him with his presence touched the real heart of the man. “Zacchaeus stood there,” (Lk 19:8). He faced up to himself and his behaviour and, unasked, vowed to change his life radically.
God shows a deep reverence for all his creatures. Made in his image and likeness we are revered by him who, as the Scripture says, “delights in his people” (Ps 149). We experience our true selves in the presence of a God who out of respect for us never coerces but rather invites our receptive attention. To be open to respond to the non-assertive presence of God in our lives is our true vocation. With the tenderness of a mother, or father, who respects our freedom and intelligence, God coaxes us, as it were, and patiently waits for us to trust in him.
As our trust grows so does our reverent appreciation for all creation. We become tuned into that love which moves the sun and stars. A sense of wonder at the richness and variety of plants and creatures overtakes us and we sense deep in our heart how precious this world is to the Creator. As we grow in understanding and interconnectedness with nature, we become humble and reverent.
“You have made us little less than the angels,” the Psalmist cried out, but how far from angelic has our behaviour often been. The present ecological crisis, with the terrible ravages of large areas of the planet, is in no small way caused by a mindless irreverence towards nature. All over the world we see evidence of the harshness and greed of many. The race for ever higher profit leaves little room for a more thoughtful and caring approach to the earth.
If we lack that attentive cherishing so characteristic of all true reverence, our relationship with others will be less than whole. The Gospel calls us to this deep reverence for everyone, especially ‘the least.’ “…Anything you did for one of my brothers here, however insignificant, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). We can look at any incident in the life of our Lord and see what it is to be reverent. St Paul wrote that, “He was heard for his reverence” (Heb 5:11). Will we be heard for ours?
We all need that someone to help tie our shoes.