Reflection on Respect

A photo of two figures in gold leaf sculpture, one the Pharisee, the other the tax collector.

Reflection for the ‘Aha Mokupuni
Hawai’i Island Association
November 9, 2019
Church of the Holy Cross UCC, Hilo

Luke 18:9-14

by Eric Anderson

In 1054, a group of ecclesiastical diplomats from Rome, representatives of Pope Leo IX, presented a letter to Archbishop Cerularius of Constantinople. To tell the truth, the contents of the letter were the same-old, same-old: demands that the churches around the Eastern Mediterranean defer to the Bishop of Rome, demands that they use only unleavened bread in the celebration of communion, and the refusal to acknowledge the Archbishop’s claimed title of Ecumenical Patriarch. Cerularius refused.

In response, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida excommunicated Archbishop Cerularius. In return, Archbishop Cerularius excommunicated the delegates and Pope Leo IX, who was beyond such things by virtue of having died three months earlier. It was not the first time that bishops had pronounced other bishops as unwelcome to share the table of Christ. To a reader of early Church history, it seems as if the primary tool of theological debate in the fourth century was excommunication. If you don’t agree with my finely reasoned, meticulously crafted, and therefore very difficult to understand theology: you’re out.

To revise a line from Seinfeld: “No communion for you.”

The fourth century. The fifth century. The sixth century. The seventh century. The eighth century. And then oh-good-heavens the ninth century with the desire of some to add the word filioque to the Nicene Creed.

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “Excommunications galore.”

So life could have gone on in this same way after 1054. Excommunications come and excommunications go. But not this one.

Not this one.

And nobody knew it. Nobody knew it for decades. Such a huge thing, to pass nearly unnoticed. To let go as unimportant. To glance up later and wonder how it had gone.

In Jesus’ story, the Pharisee could have let the tax collector pass unnoticed. Instead, he folded him into his self-satisfied prayer. Most of us have more in common with the Pharisee. We’ve got a bunch of ministers here, and though Pharisees did not fill the role of pastors they were two things that we are supposed to be: they were respected teachers of the faith, and they were the ones whose actions as well as words showed what faithful living was.

All of us here, leaders in our congregations, we fit that description.

It’s good to hear these words of Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on Twitter: “…when people use “Pharisee” to describe what someone horrible is doing, it implies that Jewish law somehow condones that thing (since Rabbinic Judaism came from the Pharisaic tradition historically). And I will tell you, in the cases I’ve see it used? Jewish law does NOT.”

And indeed, the Pharisee didn’t do what law and practice of the first century required him to do: take the tax collector seriously. He didn’t take him seriously as a person of faith, someone who prayed. He didn’t take him seriously as a penitent, someone who wanted to change. He didn’t take him seriously as a human being, someone to be honored as the image of God.

Thus the fracture between the one whose prayer was heard, and the one who prayed only to himself.

Pope Leo and Cardinal Humbert didn’t take Archbishop Cerularius seriously. Archbishop Cerularius didn’t take Cardinal Humbert seriously. It seems nobody around them paid enough attention to take their spiteful struggle for advantage seriously.

Thus the Great Schism of 1054 in the Church of Jesus Christ.

I suggest that we take one another seriously. That’s not the same thing as agreeing. If I disagree with you and dismiss you, I will not understand your commitment and your determination. I will take some accustomed, easy way through our dispute and you will surprise me when you pop up and say, “No! No farther! This stops here!”

If I disagree with you and dismiss you, I will expect you to give up and go away. That’s insulting, and it’s likely to be wrong.

If I disagree with you and respect you, you may still surprise me, but the surprise will be at the things you’ve thought of that I hadn’t, or the arguments you’ve advanced I never considered: it will not be that you’re still in the debate. If I disagree with you and respect you, I have to consider other possibilities, because if recognize your dedication, I won’t be fooled into believing that you’ll just give up and go away.

If I disagree with you and respect you, we can live as uneasy, cautious neighbors – but not as neighbors where one – me – has insulted the other – you.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ story dismissed his neighbor as a person of faith, as a penitent, and as a human being. His prayer was not heard.

Let us respect our neighbors as people of faith, as penitents where that makes sense, as persons of commitment and determination, as human beings, as Children of God.

Let our prayers – all our prayers – be heard.


Photo of ornamentation in Saint Gall Cathedral in Switzerland by Rama – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on November 10, 2019

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