Respect (3)

AndrewWashingFeet - CopyThe situation of the cellarer of the monastery providing for people who depend on his solicitude is quite the opposite of the person who approaches God in prayer “humbly and respectfully.” The cellarer himself would be on the other end of the stick on this one. Here is the danger of projecting worldly power on God when God is approached humbly and respectfully. If we picture God as a whimsical potentate who grants favors or withholds them in plays of power the way we do if and when we get a chance, then we slip into playing these power games with people who depend on us. This is precisely what Benedict forbids the cellarer to do. Benedict forbids such behavior because it goes against the Gospel.

St, Benedict famously insists that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” Benedict goes on to quote Matthew 25 to emphasize the point. Likewise, the cellarer, in attended to fellow monastics and guests should do the same. Benedict also says that “care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ.” Once again, Benedict quotes Matthew 25. “The Lord of all things” whom we approach in prayer with our needs, who is greater than “a powerful man” from whom we might ask a favor, identifies with the humans who approach us in need.

We all have a hard time respecting people in positions subordinate to us, especially if they are needy. We instinctively look down on them because we think we are the ones with something to give or withhold. In other words, were are in the winning position and we like it that way. However, if Christ assumes the “losing” position, and Christ is the King whom we should obey, then we should be obedient to the needs of others in a respectful way. We might say that Christ makes other people respectable even if they have no respectability within themselves. The implication of this, of course, is that we also lack respectability within ourselves and it is Christ who gives us respectability.

The theological principal for saying that a person is entitled to respect just for being a human being is that we are each made in the image of God. That is true, but Christ’s identification with each person in need, and we all are in need in some ways at some times, is superadded to our creation in God’s image. This super-addition is based on Christ’s redemption of us, Christ’s having died for us. Since Christ died for everybody, Christ identifies with everybody. By identifying with each of us, Christ takes the rivalry out of the relationship. The way we relate to one another has nothing to do with winning, with having the upper hand in some way. Christ has leveled the playing field. Christ is focused on the needs of each one of us. That means Christ is focused on our own needs and also the needs of the people we encounter. It is doing what we can with another’s needs and having a kind word when we can’t. (And we often can’t fill another’s needs.) In all this, we participate in Christ’s respect for us, which makes us more respectable than we were.

Two Ways of Gathering

A strange gathering of devout Jews from every nation took place a little over two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. These Jews were bewildered to hear a group of Galileans speaking in each of their languages. A new and exciting gift of understanding was unfolding in their midst. In their perplexity some thought the Galileans were drunk.

Peter explains this strange gathering by telling his fellow Israelites about a very different gathering that had taken place just a few weeks earlier where everybody conspired to crucify an innocent man. The Pharisees, Sadducees and the Roman authorities, constantly at loggerheads about just about everything, suddenly and miraculously came to an agreement to put Jesus to death.

Peter goes on to say that this man was “handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” and killed “by the hands of those outside the law.” That Jesus was killed unjustly, by those outside the law, indicates that God’s plan and foreknowledge should not be equated with God’s will. To the contrary, Peter insists that the execution of Jesus was contrary to God’s will. Peter’s next announcement was even more startling: “God raised him up, having freed him from death.” The risen victim, “sitting at the right hand of God” has poured out the Holy Spirit that everybody was seeing and hearing. In declaring that the crucified and risen Jesus was the Messiah, Peter was claiming that a radically new understanding of life was being given through the Holy Spirit.

Quotations from the psalms that accompany the apostolic preaching indicate that the story of people at enmity making peace by agreeing to persecute a person is then blamed for the discord in the community is actually an old story. The opening verses of Psalm two express this old story succinctly: “Why did the Gentiles rage . . . . the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.” Children do the same thing on the playground every day.

What was truly strange about the gathering by the Holy Spirit was that people were being gathered without creating a victim. Instead, the victim of just a few weeks past has risen from the dead to gather God’s people in a radically new way based on sharing God’s love for every person.

 Tools for Peace explores how Benedictine spirituality helps us live in the gathering in the risen forgiving victim.