I was at Wendy’s last week and ordered a pulled pork sandwich. I know that if this piece was a tweet that information would be enough. But I am an old guy and don’t assume that anyone else would care that I ordered a pulled pork sandwich unless there were other circumstances that make the story interesting. The girl behind the counter who took my order was wearing a hijab. I hadn’t noticed. A hijab is not an exotic fashion statement anymore – at least not in our neck of the woods, so she didn’t stick out in any way. I was salivating over the poster of the pulled pork sandwich piled high with slaw, and didn’t notice the girl behind the counter. The minute I looked down and saw what I had done I was really embarrassed. The last thing I wanted to do was order pork from a Muslim girl. She didn’t have to handle the pork at all. Someone else made my sandwich. But I felt really bad about it just the same.
There is a Muslim man who parks in the Church parking lot every so often to pray. He gets out of his car, carefully places his prayer rug on the ground, and kneels on it to pray. If I am mowing when he stops by I always turn off the mower until he is done. I do not want to be disrespectful.
In Acts 23 the Apostle Paul has been arrested, and is brought before the Sanhedrin. As he begins his defense, Ananias, the High Priest, orders that he be struck in the mouth. Paul declares:
God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck! (Acts 23.3)
The crowd is shocked. They ask “Do you revile God’s High Priest?” Paul immediately apologizes: “I was not aware, brethren that he was the High Priest; for it is written you shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” (vv.4-5). Paul quotes Exodus 22.28: “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” A curse is exactly what Paul pronounced, and he lost the attentiveness (and certainly the sympathy) of the crowd. His apology and his use of scripture regained it. No one will listen to you when you have disrespected things they respect.
When Jesus is faced with an identical situation in John 18, He issues no curses, makes no threats, indulges in no name-calling. He just speaks truth: “If I have spoken wrongly, then bear witness of the wrong. But if rightly, then why did you strike me?” (v.23) Jesus acted respectfully and had to do no back-tracking. The Bible makes clear that we should show basic respect to everyone (I Peter 2.17).
In the olden days, when I was a boy, I used to listen to the radio all night long. There was no digital tuning, only a knob. At night, on AM, you could find all kinds of exotic stations from distant signal towers by delicately manipulating that knob. It was like space exploration, there in the darkness – finding a Klezmer station from New York City, or a Mariachi band broadcasting from Juarez. You could only catch these far-flung stations for a brief moment before static swallowed them up in the darkness. There were ways to minimize the static and hold on to the station for a few seconds longer, but eventually the static predominated, and you had to move the dial in search of another colorful destination.
Disrespect is the loudest and most persistent form of static which obscures personal communication. The opportunities to really share the truth are fleeting and precious. They will be non-existent if we turn up the static with disrespect.
Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you – but with gentleness and reverence. I Peter 3.15