The New Year seems a long time ago now – and a lot has certainly happened in just a few weeks! But cast your mind back and you might just remember the New Year’s Honours List. It was great to see various high-achieving sportspeople honoured, as well as former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, receive a knighthood in recognition of his chairing of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. But other appointments were controversial because of their political nature.
It makes you question how some of the decisions are made and what exactly is being rewarded. Why did Ken Dodd have to wait till the age of 89 to be knighted whilst Andy Murray’s a mere 29? Should honours be given to people who just do their job really well or should the emphasis be more on voluntary work and exceptional achievement in sport, arts or science?
The Prime Minister has said that she wants to overhaul the system and that it should have five priorities: recognise those who boost the economy, support young people in achieving their potential, aid social mobility, help local communities and tackle discrimination. Not a bad list, but I’d like to see a mention of those who’ve been sacrificial or courageous in things like international aid and development, too.
Meanwhile, on 5 January, Jill Saward died very suddenly at the age of 51. Having been raped in her father’s West London vicarage at the age of 21, she became a tireless campaigner on issues relating to sexual violence. I knew of Jill and what she’d been through, partly because I also knew of her father, Michael Saward. He was later a Canon of St Paul’s and wrote some fine hymns, including ‘Christ Triumphant’. But I must confess I didn’t know quite how much Jill had achieved and how highly regarded she was. Perhaps on some occasions this sort of admiration only really comes to light when someone dies. And so the question was asked, why hadn’t Jill been honoured for her work?
On occasions the Bible speaks of rewards, but I think we often find this a bit uncomfortable as Christians. We don’t do something to be rewarded, but because it’s the right thing to do. It seems to rub up against God’s unconditional love which is the same towards all people.
In Matthew 6 Jesus says,
‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’
I wonder what you make of that? Does God actually reward people either in this life or in the life to come? Or is doing the right thing a reward in itself? Whatever the reward, it seems to say that we’ll never get it by focusing on it, but only by doing things humbly and selflessly for others and for God.
Jill Saward was very public in speaking out about her rape when she could have remained anonymous. But it was the only way to change attitudes, and she did it at cost to herself for the sake of others. Perhaps she wouldn’t have wanted any special honour, but many people are extremely grateful to her – and that must be the very best of rewards.
With every blessing