PODCAST - Press sideways triangle below to listen
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B
February 4, 2018
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
How Do You Spell
By (Rev. Msgr.)
Nicholas P. Amato
Today I want to talk about respect.
One word – respect. It may sound simple, but it may not be.
The Word Respect
Our English word respect – like many of our words – is derived from Latin.
It is made up of two Latin words: 1) re (spelled R-E) which means back, as in going back, and 2) specere (spelled S-P-E-C-E-R-E), a verb that means to look at. And so, our word respect literally means to look back at, to take a second look.
And from this, the word has come to mean to treat someone with regard and esteem. Negatively, it means to refrain from injuring someone.
The connection between the original and the developed meaning of the word seems very clear to me. If we don’t just take a quick look, if we look back and take a second look, we are valuing others.
And then, we are much more likely to act out of that – to treat them with regard and esteem. And, of course, we are much more likely to refrain from any behavior or word that would injure.
Okay, so why am I so focused on this word respect today? Why? Because I see respect lying beneath what happens in today’s Gospel.
Jesus Respects Women
The context is that Jesus goes into Peter’s house.
Peter’s mothger-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. I have to wonder if it was something like the flu that has been going around this year.
At any rate, and here’s the key point, Jesus goes right up to this woman and takes her by the hand. Now to us, that may not sound like a big deal, but it was in Jesus’ day.
In those days, men were forbidden to touch any woman other than their wife. They couldn’t even shake hands with a woman.
Now it’s important to know that this prohibition did not exist out of respect for women. On the contrary, it existed out of disrespect for them.
It was a highly patriarchal and male-dominated culture. Women had no rights and were seen as at best inferior.
So, a point that’s easy to miss here is that Jesus, right at the start of his ministry, is breaking a barrier. I mean, this is chapter one of Mark’s Gospel – Mark talking about the first things Jesus does in his ministry.
And here, Jesus breaks the gender barrier. He respects this woman as a person with dignity, as a person in need, and he wants to help her.
Apparently, Saint Mark is really out to make a point about this. I say that because at the end of the Gospel, as Jesus ends his miniustry dying on the cross, Mark carefully notes, once again, the presence of women.
He points out that these women were disciples of Jesus. So Mark’s entire Gospel is framed or bookended with Jesus showing respect for women.
Respect Women Today
All of this got me thinking that Jesus would probably be supportive of the main thrust of today’s #MeToo movement.
Today his respect for women might be shown by speaking out against verbal cracks, jokes, sexual harassment of any kind, less pay for the same work and competence – Jesus would call out all of this.
He would call us to respond to this moment in time. He would want us to take a second look at what’s been going on.
He wants us to be respectful in our attitudes, our words, our workplace policies, and in our Church practices. So, yes, there is a spiritual and moral dimension, a Gospel-dimension to the women’s isue that is before us today.
I want to add one more point.
Jesus pushes this respect beyond the gender barrier which he breaks in today’s Gospel. In various other incidents, Jesus breaks through other barriers – religion, race, culture, and nationality.
And he always does this out of respect, respect for the dignity of all persons.
He wants to bring a wholeness and fullness to our lives. And he wants to do this for us as individuals and for our society and for all of humanity.
So, he treats with value and dignity, he respects each person, all persons, with no barriers allowed to stand in the way. His example raises the question: are we doing the same?