“Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord” (Luke 1:67-79)

In today’s Gospel, I see two key take-aways from the words of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist:

One is a reminder that the promise of the Lord that he “that he would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us” applies to all his people – and that most certainly includes those of us who experience hatred and discrimination in church, allegedly but spuriously in the Lord’s own name.

Another is implied in Zechariah’s words to his son, the instruction to “prepare a way for the Lord”. He is speaking here directly to his son, John the Baptist, but the words are equally applicable to all of us. It is not enough simply to wait passively for the Kingdom of God: it is incumbent on all of us to prepare the way in our own communities, spreading the word that the Kingdom applies to all, excluding none:.

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The Bible In Drag: “Relax, Let Go, Trust” (Luke 12:22-31)

Then (Jesus) said to the disciples, “That’s why I tell you, don’t worry about your life and what you are to eat. Don’t worry about your body and what you are to wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Take a lesson from the ravens. They don’t sow or reap. They have neither a food cellar nor a barn, yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds? Can any one of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why worry about the rest?

“Notice the flowers grow. They neither labor nor weave, yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was robed like one of these! If that is how God clothes the grass in the field – which is here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow – how much more will God look after you! You have so little faith!

“As for you, don’t set your hearts on what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink. Stop worrying! All the nations of the world seek these things, yet your Abba God well knows what you need. Set your sights on the kin-dom of God, and all these other things will be given to you as well.”

(Luke 12:22-31)

by AlicePopkorn

I start with a confession – I have always wrestled with these words: don’t be anxious, don’t seek to control, trust. This advice is hard enough in general, yet from a queer perspective they seem to have even more weight. There are a thousand things to fret about. For those just discerning their orientation the whole issue of managing the closet, of who knows, who doesn’t know, when do we want someone to know, and each and every individual with which a potentially difficult conversation needs to take place with the risk of rejection. For those yearning and fighting for marriage equality and the constant and seemingly unending battle for respect and legal justice. For those who’ve mourned quietly over a break up, or even the death of a lover – not understood, or simply ignored by others.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.November 11, 2013

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The Lord Seeks Out Outcasts, Dining With Us. (Luke 19:1-10)

The story from Luke’s Gospel, telling of Zacceus in the sycamore tree, has a direct parallel with the situation of gay men and lesbians in the Christian churches. Zaccheus is a tax collector, and so seen as an outcast, an obvious sinner, in Jewish society. Yet even so, Jesus not only accepts him, he invites himself to Zaccheus’ home.

zacchaeus in the sycamore tree

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

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Saint Luke, the Evangelist, 18th October – an Example for Queer Christians

=October 18th celebrates the feast of Saint Luke the Evangelsit, with many notable lessons for modern queer Christians in the readings for the day, both those from the daily Mass, and from the Divine Office. (As I read these texts and their significance for the LGBT Christian community, I do so in the context also of some recent observations of Pope Francis).

Luke

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Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Historically, October 7th was the feast of Saints Sergius and Bacchus – and so of particular relevance to same – sex lovers, and to all gay or lesbian Christians. In the modern Catholic lectionary, however, it is celebrated as the “Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary”.

rainbow rosary

The lectionary readings for today’s Mass (which do not refer directly to the rosary), have much fruitful material for queer reflection. Continue reading

Catholic Responses to Sex and Greed (18th Sunday of O.T,)

Anybody paying attention to press reports of Catholic Bishops’ public pronouncements, could be forgiven for thinking that the most important parts of Catholic identity, and of the Gospel message, is an obsession with sex (especially of the same – sex type, including gay marriage). The reality is quite different.

Today’s lectionary readings put things into clear perspective. Take this verse from Paul, for instance (as presented in the missal translation for the church in England and Wales):

That is why you must kill everything that is in you that belongs to earthly life: fornication, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires, and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshiping false gods.

Colossians 3:5

Especially greed.

Sexual sin is certainly in there, but note that fornication does not refer to sex per se, but to the trivialization or commercialization of sex. Impurity and guilty passions, evil desires can all be interpreted as referring to sex – but only to inappropriate sex. Sex is not necessarily impure,guilty, or evil. In the right context, it can equally well be healthy, life – giving, and an experience of the divine. It all depends on the context, on the quality of the relationship, and on the attitude underlying the experience. It is hard, however, to imagine any circumstance in which simple greed is good, as we are reminded in the Gospel.

Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.

– Luke 12:15

For LGBT Christians of any denomination, it’s important to keep this in perspective. Although we are often told that homosexuality is “obviously”  contrary to scripture, this is simply not true. Christ himself had nothing at all to say in opposition to same – sex relationships, and little enough on any kind of sexual matters, but a great deal to say, as here, on the evils of greed ( Think of the rich man told to sell all his goods to follow him, or the aphorism that it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of heaven, or the instruction to consider the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field). In the entire Bible, there are only a handful of texts, of dubious relevance, that even appear to condemn same – sex relationships, but many, many more that strongly condemn greed.

Even the infamous story of Sodom, so often used to support claims of biblical opposition, and which gives its name to the legal offence of sodomy, has nothing at all to do with sex. Instead, the bible is clear elsewhere, on the nature of the sin of Sodom:

Ez 16: 49-50

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread, and prosperous ease…..; 

“prosperous ease”  : again, too much obsession with material comfort, not sexual sin.

This does not let gay people off the hook. It’s an uncomfortable fact of gay reality, that for too many of us, once we find some personal peace with our orientation and come out as gay, we slip from one closet into another. Rejecting the perceived hostility of conventional religion, we may reject religion altogether. Rejecting the conventional norms of suburban family life, we may enter instead a ghetto, geographic or mental, of the urban gay stereotype – obsessed with the socially approved fashions, home decor, and gourmet foods – to say nothing of clubs, pubs and designer drugs.

Gay men in particular should take comfort in today’s readings, in the reminder that their sexual lives are not implicitly the great sinful evil that the popular imagination presents. But we must also guard against the very real danger of the sin of greed, and preoccupation with material comfort and pleasure, at the expense of more spiritual lives.

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Lepers, Social Outcasts – and the Church

In today’s Gospel, we read “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha”. Who are the lepers in the Church of today? My parish pew leaflet this morning has the important observation:

The message of Jesus is inclusive, it is Good News for everyone, Jews and lepers alike. His townspeople didn’t like this; it was too much for them, and so they set out to kill him.

Would you react any differently to the people of Nazareth if you were told that God welcomes immigrants, people of a different colour, and background, the social outcasts of today? In the eyes of God, all are welcome, everyone is equal.

And we could adapt the question above, to

Would you react any differently to the people of Nazareth if you were told that God welcomes people of a different affectional orientation, or gender minority –  those who are far too often, the social outcasts inside the church of today?

*******

At Gospel for Gays, Jeremiah Bartram has an extended reflection on this Gospel passage:

  Finding the gay Jesus  

gfg_iconThen he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’  And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

– Luke 4, 21-30; reading for Sunday, January 31.

Commentators

NRSV:  Jesus gives examples showing that “foreigners sometimes experienced God’s aid when Israel did not.”  V. 28:  “The hostile reaction comes in response to Jesus’ references to Gentiles, not to his apparent messianic claims (v.21).

Hardy makes the interesting observation that “there is no obvious reason why these people would have thought of casting this well-known proverb in Jesus’ teeth” – but that the taunt was thrown at him later, during his crucifixion (Mt. 27,42).  He thinks that Luke is using this scene as a “trailer” for the treatment Jesus was to receive elsewhere.  Likewise, he notes that the two Old Testament examples cited by Jesus – which so enrage the crowd – are more relevant to his later activity than to the present situation.

Those two examples:  Elijah, the widow of Zarephath and her son survive a famine because God miraculously extends her meager supply of flour and oil to feed them all (1Kings 17); and Naaman, a Gentile military commander, is healed of his leprosy when he follows Elisha’s instructions and bathes seven times in the Jordan (2Kings 5).

– continue reading at Gospel For Gays.

Bible Thumping Liberal: Gays & Lesbians in Luke

Introduction

Most people believe that Jesus never mentioned homosexuals. I have discovered that not only did Jesus mention gays and lesbians, he used two gay and lesbian couples to illustrate his teaching that celibacy for gay and lesbian believers was a non-issue.

The Evidence for the Same-Sex Theme

Luke 17:20-37 contains four pieces of same-sex thematic evidence.

  1. The story of the destruction of Sodom, a major element of which is man-on-man sex. (This is true, despite the core issue of hospitality.)
  2. The lightning and the eagles (verses 24 & 37), the primary logos of Zeus and his mortal companion Ganymede, who together were the ultimate cultural emblem of same-sex relationships in Roman culture.
  3. The “Two men in one bed” of verse 34, whose only O.T. antecedents were the Levitical prohibitions against a man laying with a man as with a woman.
  4. The “Two women grinding together in one place” of verse 35, whose double-entendre “grinding” is confirmed from both the O.T. and the Greek actually in use in the time of Christ and Luke. The word “mill,” which is present in Matthew, is absent from Luke, which absence leaves the ”grinding” ambiguous.

We need to recognize the striking same-sex element of each individual part before the meaning of the passage is clear.  The repeated phrase, “one shall be taken, and the other shall be left,” refers to the members of the gay and lesbian couples, who seem romantically involved ”in that night” (verse 34). Thus, according to Luke’s Gay Apocalypse, some non-celibate gays and lesbians are acceptable to God, and some are not.  Lesson: homosexuality is not among the criteria for non-acceptability to Christ or to God. (Note: this separation may or may not refer to what is known as the rapture. The nature of the separation is irrelevant to the argument.)

-full exposition at Bible Thumping Liberal

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The Gay Centurion

In Catholic tradition, Longinus is the name given to the Roman centurion at the crucifixion who pierced Christ’s side with his spear.  Some writers, like Paul Halsall of the LGBT Catholic Handbook, also identify him with the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his “beloved boy”, who was ill. It is this second person that I am interested in here.  In this persona, he is one of my personal favourites, as his story shows clearly how the Lord himself is completely not hostile to a clearly gay relationship, and also because we hear a clear reminder of this every time we attend Mass – if only we have ears to hear.

It may be that you do not recall any Gospel stories about a gay centurion and his male lover, but that is because cautious or prudish translators have softened the words of the text, and because the word “gay” is not really appropriate for the historical context. You are more likely to know as the story as the familiar one of the Roman centurion and his “servant” – But this is a poor translation. Matthew uses the word “doulos”, which means slave, not a mere servant.  Luke uses quite a different word, “pais”, which can mean servant boy – but more usually has the sense of a man’s younger male lover – or “boyfriend”.

Whichever of the two words or their senses was intended by the authors, the conclusions we should draw are the same. If “pais”  was intended here to indicate a lover, the conclusion is obvious.  If the intended meaning was either “slave ” or “servant” – the conclusion does not significantly change. To see this, let us consider the cultural context. For three centuries before Christ, the Jews had been under foreign military occupation, first by the Greeks (which is why demotic Greek had become lingua franca across the region, and was the language of the New Testament), then by Romans. These military overlords were about as well liked as any other military invaders anywhere – which is not at all.  The Jews hated them – but will have been quite familiar with Greek and Roman cultural (and sexual) practices.

First, consider the sense as “slave”. It is important to know that as a soldier on foreign service,, the centurion will not have been married: Roman soldiers on active service were not permitted to marry.  It is also important to know that for Romans, the crucial distinctions in sexuality were not about male or female, or about homosexuality or heterosexuality, but between higher or lower status.   Roman men would have expected to make sexual use of their slaves, especially if as here they were unmarried.  Far from home, this is likely to have been a sexual relationship, which could easily have developed also as an emotional one. And if the sense was not “slave”, but the softer “servant”, much the same conclusion follows. Roman citizens expected to take their sexual satisfaction from anyone of lower status  under their control – including the “freedmen”, or former slaves who had been released. In the words of the well known Roman aphorism:

“For a Roman citizen, to give sexual service is a disgrace; to a freedman, a duty; and to a slave, an obligation”.

So, if we are talking here about a male lover, a sexual relationship is obvious.  If it is a servant boy or a slave, it is entirely probable.  But even if this is purely an arrangement about domestic service,  the conclusion does not change:   All those present and hearing the Centurion’s request would have been familiar with Roman sexual practice. For the Jewish bystanders, as for Jesus himself, there will have been an assumption that a homoerotic sexual relationship was at least possible, even probable. But this did not in any way affect Jesus’s willingness to go tot he centurion’s house – even though this in itself would have horrified traditional Jews.

The lessons we draw from this story are two-fold:  one, that Christ was not one bit disturbed by this approach from a man for help in having his (probable) male lover healed, but instead was immediately ready to go to the couple’s home.  (This of course, is entirely consistent with the rest of the Gospels. It is totally characteristic of Christ that he should be happy to talk, eat or drink with anybody, including those that were shunned or resented by mainstream Jewish society.) All those who argue that we are not welcome in God’s house have completely misunderstood Scripture – as He would be completely comfortable in ours.

The second lesson is the standard one usually drawn from the story, of the importance of trust in God.   The Centurion after putting his request makes it clear that it is not necessary for Jesus to actually go to his home, for all he needs is God’s word, and his servant will be healed.  Faith in Jesus in God is enough to achieve healing. This is especially important to us as gay men, lesbians or other sexual minorities. Whatever the hostility we may experience at the hands of a hostile church, we know that God will not reject us.  Further, in turning to Him in our pain of rejection, we know we can find healing.

Where is the echo in the Mass?

Right at the key moment, immediately before the Communion

:”Lord, I am  not worthy to receive you.  Say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

This is an obvious echo of the words of the centurion, when Jesus was about to set off for his home:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  just say the word, and my boy will be healed.”

Also see:

Jack Clark Robinson:  Jesus, the Centurion, and his Lover

Bible Abuse : The Centurion

Would Jesus Discriminate?:  Jesus Affirmed a Gay Couple

LGBT Catholic Handbook: Calendar of LGBT Sainsts

 

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The Parable of the Good Faggot

Fr Geoff Farrow has a post on Delivery “Salvation”, in which he describes an encounter with two young men who came to his door attempting to deliver some salvation, in the form of a pep talk on heaven and hell. We are all familiar with the scenario. How many of us though, have the presence of mind to reply as he did, by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus was asked about the afterlife in the Luke 10: 23-37. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The question, by a lawyer, was prompted because there were 614 laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one law, was to break them all. In the rabbinic tradition of questioning/discussion this question was posited, “What does God expect of me?” “What is essential, or central?”
This question is applicable to contemporary people as well, regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), “What must I do to achieve my full potential, to be truly whole and at peace?”

 

In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with two other questions. “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” In addition, “How do you read it?” Incidentally, that second question is of critical importance, because our motive in reading any spiritual text, will determine its spiritual value/harm in our life.
The lawyer responded by citing a passage from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “Hear, Oh Israel!” that is prayed by observant Jewish people to this day, as Christians pray the “Our Father.” And Leviticus 19: 18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves the lawyer’s quotes and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”
Luke notes that the lawyer, “because he wished to justify himself” asked, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
Interestingly, Samaritans were regard as being beyond any hope of eternal life since they had comingled Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. Their theological beliefs and religious practices were seen as flawed, heretical and impious. Jesus deliberately selects a suspect minority group who were believed beyond hope of eternal life to illustrate what God expects from us. I suppose that if Jesus told this parable in the USA today, it would 

be the story of the Good Faggot.

 
He does not elaborate further on this idea of recasting the familiar Good Samaritan as a Good Faggot, but there is no need. It has been done before, for example by Richard Cleaver, in the introduction to his book “Know My Name“. I summarise his telling here:

Cleaver imagines a modern traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho, who is attacked by muggers and left for dead in the gutter. A bishop comes past  in his Cadillac, which had been given to him by a car dealer, one of the most generous financial supporters of the diocese. Seeing the half-dead body at the roadside, he first thought it was just a pile of litter. Realizing it was a human body, he considered stopping, but decided against: he saw that the body was naked, and feared that taking a naked man into his car might cause a scandal. So, he drove on, consoling himself that these kinds of social services were better left to the professionals.
He then describes another traveller passing by, a prominent Catholic layman. He too thought of helping the man by the wayside, but then considered the implications. If the man was already dead, it was too late for help, and he would find himself caught up in endless bureaucratic red tape. If he was not dead and recovered, there was a danger that the injured man might find a reason to sue him for any mishap en route to the hospital. There was also the problem of the man’s nakedness –  what had happened to his clothes? There was an assumption that the man obviously was not a man of god to be in that state, or must have done something to bring about his own misfortune. So he, too, went on his way.
Then a third traveller came past, a gay man returning home from his head office in Jerusalem, where he had just been fired, because someone had discovered he was gay, after his lover had beaten to death in a gay-bashing. When he saw the injured man, he immediately stopped, and was reminded of his lover’s beating and death. Realising the man was still just about alive, he applied what first aid he could, loaded him into the car and drove him to the nearest hospital.
“Later, the newspapers got hold of the story and came to interview him.  The bishop read the story and called a press conference, at which he announced that the diocese was giving its Good Samaritan Award to the man who had helped the mugging victim he himself had driven past.
At the award banquet, held at the episcopal palace, the bishop stood with this arm around the good Samaritan and gave a little homily about showing mercy to the neighbour in distress. This act, he concluded, showed a true Christian spirit. He turned to the man and shook his hand, adding, “God will bless you abundantly for this.”
“Oh, I didn’t do it for religious reasons. It just seemed to me like the human thing to do. I haven’t been to church since my priest refused me absolution when I confessed I was in love with the redheaded guy who was captain of the football team.” The gay man smiled at the cameras.
The bishop was trying to figure out how to deal with the question he knew was coming next.”

Cleaver, Richard: Know My Name: A Gay Liberation Theology

 

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