Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 Philippians 3:4b-14 Matthew 21:33-46
Is respect becoming an old-fashioned idea we remember only when we miss it? Today’s readings left me thinking a lot about respect. Wonder along with me about wanting respect, offering it, changing the criteria for it, and losing it. What did you think respect was and what do you think it is today?
The Exodus version of the Ten Commandments opens with the premise for respecting God enough to obey the laws that follow. The laws themselves include how we respect God, ourselves, and our neighbour. The event finishes with a display of natural power making it clear these laws aren’t up for debate. As I read each commandment I was struck by how they touched many raw nerve endings today. How easily are we falling away from their wisdom?
In Philippians the writer talks about setting aside all the reasons he might have earned the respect of others in his religious practice as a righteous believer. He now follows a righteousness not of his own making, but received by faith in Christ. He speaks of “pressing on” toward this goal with humility, allowing that suffering and death may be part of that story. He has changed how earning respect and showing respect in his spiritual practice worked. It’s almost like the writer had backed himself into a corner—isolating himself with the law instead of deepening his relationships with respect. What risks is he taking now? What passion do you hear in the story he tells?
Then Jesus tells a parable that his listeners want to resolve. They end up revealing the assumptions that have back them into a corner, too! The parable describes tenants who have no respect for the owner of the vineyard or their emissaries. Their disrespect becomes violent. Jesus moves his listeners from problem-solving an “asset management case study” to asking “What’s wrong with these relationships?” Why we would expect any different result without changing any assumptions about those relationships? Has respect become entitlement? How and when? Is this where we understand what a systemic problem looks like, as opposed to an episodic incident? Who has lost respect in the parable and in the conversation? What criteria for respect is being changed?
What questions of respect arise for you in the news, ministry, your life? Where do you hear people talking about it, looking for it, offering it? How has the criteria for respect changed within you as you minister and in your personal lives? When do we need to move from a case study approach to the big picture questions about how episodic disrespect becomes or became systemic? Are there assumptions being changed for us as they were changed in the conversation Jesus had with his listeners?
Respect as a spiritual practice in these readings isn’t being passive or subservient. And it’s not static. It’s about engaging God, yourself, and each other with a dynamic range of wisdom, faith and risk.
I am thinking differently now about respect as a category of spiritual practice unfolding itself in Torah, epistle, and gospel. Might this help manage the chaos and confusion of these days with a dynamic interactions of wisdom, faith and risk?
Diane Strickland is approaching her 33rd year as an ordained minister now serving in The United Church of Canada as retired clergy. She is a Certified Community and Workplace Traumatologist, Compassion Fatigue Specialist-Therapist, and Critical Incident Responder in private practice.
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