Disagreeing with Respect

November 8, 2020; Matthew 25:1-13; 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

It is important to realize that today’s gospel parable is given to us from God’s perspective, and God knows everything. Therefore, we actually know more about the characters in the parable than they know about themselves. From God’s perspective, there were five virgins who were wise and five foolish. But we should not presume that the virgins in the parable knew that they were so designated. The wise did not walk around saying “We are smarter than anyone else. We always make the right decisions.” The foolish did not consider themselves dense and compromised or think that no one should trust whatever they say. All ten virgins probably thought that they were making the best decisions they could in their particular circumstances.

We are all like those virgins. We see the world, choose to act, and make decisions based on the best knowledge we have at the particular time. Are our decisions wise or foolish? One day we will find out. How close we come to reaching what God wants will one day become apparent. But until that day we act with partial knowledge, because only God sees completely.

Now in light of this, the most important lesson in the parable is how the ten virgins deal with one another. They disagree but treat one another with respect. When the foolish ask the wise to share their oil, the wise do not agree. They refuse because they feel that everyone should be responsible for his or her own oil and bear the consequences of the decisions they make or failed to make. But even as the wise virgins disagree with the foolish ones, they treat them with respect. They do not demean or belittle them, saying, “You foolish virgins. Why didn’t you think ahead? How often have we told you that you should have some extra oil just in case?” The wise virgins simply express their disagreement and then let the foolish virgins find their own solution.

There are circumstances in our lives where it is proper to disagree with respect. When we meet a person of a different faith tradition, it is proper for us to disagree about the role of Jesus. We hold Jesus to be fully human and fully divine. Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do not. It does us no good to pretend that all religions are the same. We disagree about important spiritual truths. But even as we disagree, we should still respect people of other traditions because they are people of faith.

As we continue to face the coronavirus, we do not all see things the same way. Some people question the number of cases and the reported deaths. Others question the role of government to limit business or large gatherings. Not everyone feels that wearing a mask is the best way to proceed. We cannot pretend that we all agree, but as we disagree, we should not deny others the dignity that is their right.

We just finished an election that clearly shows that we are divided as a nation. Politicians will now all call us to unite, and unity is good. But unity does not mean that we all agree with one another. We hold radically different visions of the role of government, the definition of injustice, and the kind of country we think America should be. But as we disagree with one another, it is important not to demonize others. We should offer them respect.

Only God sees everything. What is wise and what is foolish is only partially in our sight. And that is why today’s gospel asks us to use that partial knowledge as a basis for humility. Then, even as we disagree with others, we can still extend to them the respect we all deserve.

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