“. . . RANK ME WITH WHOM THOU WILT.”
Today’s Scripture Reading
8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I believe that this part of the prayer has mostly to do with our reputations -- the beliefs or opinions that people hold about us. Each one of us desires to have a place of standing in society where we are measured by success, influence, intelligence, power, or achievement. Some of us want to be considered funny or hip. Some of us want to be considered important and impressive. Others want to be considered attractive and talented. Still others wish to be known for their wealth and prestige. Whatever it is, we all struggle to let go of control over manipulating our reputations. We care how we are perceived by others.
A few weeks ago, I was leading a meeting of discipleship pastors and directors in Denver, Colorado. We were discussing various ways to engage younger generations (specifically millennials and Gen Z) in discipleship using digital methods, such as apps and online tools. I had invited the attendees to the meeting, many of whom did not know each other or who knew of each other but had never personally met. One of the attendees, a friend and colleague whom I have known for over two decades, was in the room and seated next to me. We were having a casual conversation, when another person I had invited walked into the conference room. This person was immediately met by a small group of the other attendees and engaged in conversation. My friend leaned over the table and said something like this: "You didn't tell me the so-and-so was going to be here. Had I known he was coming, I would have spent way more time on the design of the slides in my deck. I would have done more research, and I would have most definitely refined my presentation."
I clearly must have looked confused or puzzled because my friend looked me square in the eyes before I could respond and said, "What?! I want him to like me." I responded saying, "He's not going to like you less or more based off of your slides and your polished or unpolished presentation. He's going to like you less or more based on how true to yourself you actually are. Just be yourself."
Clearly, my friend wanted this person to leave the meeting later that day thinking the best of him and hopefully making a lasting impression on him. My friend wanted to control his reputation with this person and, therefore, any other person that person might come into contact with. We all have a propensity for trying to control, and often even over-control, how we are viewed or thought of by others.
"Rank me with whom thou wilt" means we are giving up our pursuit to be known or identified for anything in particular, good or bad. To pray, "rank me with whom thou wilt", is to place ourselves before God to be used by God for God's purposes, regardless of the conclusions that people make about us, either explicitly or implicitly impacting our reputations.
Our reputation should matter to us, of course. A good reputation reflects good character in most cases. There are times when people fool us, and we are surprised by the truth or by their true selves. We've all been surprised to learn that someone isn't who we think they are. However, in most cases, as we identify the character of others, we associate a reputation with them, whether good or bad. Therefore, it should matter to each of us what others think about us -- to the degree that our reputation is built on our life mirroring Jesus's life and not built on a certain platform or a favorable position in society.
Our reputation, however, shouldn't keep us from doing what's right. This is what the Wesley Covenant Prayer is getting at. When we humbly offer ourselves to be ranked with anyone, we open ourselves up for ridicule, judgment, dislike, disapproval, and insignificance. This is why we often say no to the impression the Holy Spirit leaves on our minds and hearts, because many times the word or deed the Holy Spirit is directing us to say or take on is in direct conflict with the beliefs or opinions that we want people to have about us.
Jesus, a friend of sinners, did what was right, not what was best for his reputation. This is what "rank me with whom thou wild" means -- we do what is right, regardless of the labels put on us or the categories in which people place us. To be friends with tax collectors and sinners, as Jesus was, is to let your character and what is right guide your steps of action, regardless of how you will be seen by others. Irrespective of the opinions people may form about you or the beliefs they may develop about you or the rung in society in which they place you, to be ranked with whomever is to live in pursuit of mirroring the life of Jesus. This will, without a doubt, make you a conduit of God's mission and likely a question mark in the minds of onlookers.
How important (or overly important) is my reputation to me.
What do I want to be known for? Is what I want to be known for aligned with God's mission?
God, as your Son modeled what it means to a friend of sinners, we pray that we would be known as a friend of sinners. Regardless of our reputation or the rung on society's ladder on which we are placed by others, give us strength, courage, and commitment to do your work as you see fit. Amen.
Ask a coworker, relative, or friend (someone who knows you quite well) to describe your reputation -- the story others tell about you.
The Wesley Prayer Challenge book is available from these book sellers: