Stand by to be impressed.
Just 100 metres from where I am now typing this blog is the birthplace of the mother of Auguste Bartholdi, at #6 rue de l’Eglise. You will know Auguste, of course, as the creator of the world-famous Statue of Liberty.
This is one of the features which makes Ribeauvillé special. At least this is the claim made by the tourist office for this delightful Alsatian town. This world-reknown American icon was somehow conceived in these very streets.
For we all crave significance, the sense that we are special and therefore valued and respected.
“Significance is the quality of being worthy and special,” argues Ronit Baras. “Everyone is different so everyone wants to feel special in some way. Significance is not a desire but a need that people cannot live without. We all have this need to feel unique and different.”
The problem is that can so easily seek our significance using the world’s means. We name-drop, buy to impress, we display our decorations. Napoleon, who had some influence in these parts, observed that “soldiers will fight long and hard for a piece of coloured ribbon.”
And we are all prey to our little pieces of coloured ribbon. We wear them with pride. They make us special, or so we think. In reality they often appear absurd, even comical.
The apostle Paul enjoyed considerable social status. After all not many people were Romans citizens at birth and had also sat at the feet of Gamaliel. I assume he owned some of the best tents in town.
However, something extraordinary happened.
“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash along with everything else I used to take credit for,” he informs the members of the Philippian church, the very people who would have understood the high status of Roman citizenship.
“And why? Because of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)
His encounter with Jesus the risen Lord changed everything, not least how this high-born Jewish high-flyer saw himself. His immense value as a person is demonstrated by the cross of Christ: this is how much he is worth before God. For God has chosen to redeem him, even with the life-blood of his Son. Amazing.
So the apostle continues:
“Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.”
Paul is no longer taken in by the false promises of status so valued by the world. His significance as a person is to be found in his relationship with the risen Christ. So he regularly introduces himself as “a slave of Jesus Christ.” He self-consciously mocks the social pretensions of Roman society – for slaves, of course, are at the bottom of the heap.
And in doing so he refers us to the person of Jesus “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a slave . . .” (Philippians 2:7).
This very day no one knows which street in Tarsus was the birthplace for Paul’s mother. Today his significance is found elsewhere.
So to quote the New Testament scholar F F Bruce in his dedication for his book Paul: apostle of the heart set free – “that the day was to come when men would call their dogs Nero and their sons Paul.”