By: W. Bro. Jay B. McCallum, PM
Bernice Lodge No. 239
The rich and poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all. – Proverbs 22:2
We are reminded by the Senior Warden, at the close of every meeting, that we as Masons should meet upon the level. As with most admonitions in masonry and life we give little thought to the fuller meaning of the statement. These words are more than just a reminder for the officers to leave their respective stations for the floor. They should have a deeper significance.
Class distinctions and friction caused thereby have been responsible for much social upheaval and destruction. The French Revolution is a good example. Every civilization and every historic period has known the clash between rich and poor. Even the Church has not been free from fault in this area. Thankfully the distinction between the cushioned squire’s pew and the bare benches of the villagers no longer exists.
To the altar of Freemasonry all men, regardless of their worldly wealth or power, bring their most votive offerings. Within our walls all men, so long as they believe in the universality of the fatherhood of God and the universality of the brotherhood of man, meet upon a common level.
The level is the insignia of the office of Senior Warden. It teaches us that we are all descended from the same stock, partake of the same nature, and share the same hopes and dreams. This implement of Masonry teaches us that although distinctions among men may be necessary to preserve subordination and order in a society, no eminence of station should make us forget that we are brothers. These distinctions only make us different than our other brothers, they do not of themselves make us better than they.
The Level further teaches us that Death is the Grand Leveler of all human greatness. It is appointed unto every man to die. We know not when that time will be, but are certain that death shall reduce us to the same common state.
In the grave all fallacies are detected, all worldly ranks are leveled, and all distinctions are done away with. In the grave the scepter of the prince and the staff of the beggar are laid side by side. Masonry teaches that we are born into this life with nothing – no wealth, no worldly position – and that death soon repossesses from us all that we may have acquired. Eventually someone else will sit in our favorite easy chair, someone else will drive our car, and someone else will spend the money we leave behind.
Why then, if we enter and exit life as paupers, do we place such importance upon the amount of wealth or worldly status a man accumulates during his life? This is the question which Masonry and the Level teaches us to ask.
Wealth and poverty each have their risks. The rich should not despise the poor (Pro. 14:31). The poor should not envy the rich (Prov. 3:31).
The wealthy should be humbled by the fact that, “To him to whom much has been given, much shall be expected.” The poor should be humbled by the fact that by the standards of much of the world, even the poorest American Mason is rich. There are those in the world who have no food, no shelter, and no clothing. None of us should take pride in our facade of destitution when there are those who every day live and die in the reality of pitiable poverty.
All classes are equally low before God. The highest mountains of earth are as ant hills when considered in astronomy. The highest earthly potentate and the humblest peasant are each as lost sinners before the Great Architect of the universe.
The humble who do not seek honor shall have it, while the proud and haughty shall eventually be brought down by death. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Masonry delights to honor selfless merit. However, the highest honor comes from God who discerns the heart, puts down the proud, and exalts them of low degree. We would be wise to remember that this applies equally to the proud poor as well as the proud rich.
If there are to be rich and poor in this world, then these social inequalities can be used for wise purposes. The one may and should help the other. The labor of the poor helps make the wealth of the rich and the wealth of the rich enables him to employ and aid the poor.
Each of us is a vital link in the chain of Masonry. We are spokes in the same wheel. To recognize our unique position and part in life brings humility. To do our unique work is to do something that none but we can do. Each of us is an original creation of God, fitted for unique tasks. Success in that which is peculiar to us brings more honor than success in a matter of greater difficulty in which we are but imitators of another.
Much of the antagonism between the classes is a result of ignorance. By bringing the rich and poor together, on the level, Masonry seeks to remind us of our common traits and to diminish our differences.
By meeting upon the level we are better enabled to work together for the service of God and our fellow man.
Written by: Jay B. McCallum, Past Master of Bernice Lodge No. 239, Louisiana.