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?

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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.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 14th February

14th February: 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 17: 5-8

Psalm 1 1-4, 6 ; R 39:5

1 Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20

Luke 6: 17, 20-26

The first reading, from Jeremiah, reminds us to put our faith in the Lord, not in works of man, and on “things of the flesh,” which are arid, like dry scrub in the wilderness.  Instead,  we are advise to put our trust in the Lord, for then we “will have no worries in a year of drought, and will never cease to bear fruit.”
These are wise words indeed, but we could also do well to remember that works of the flesh are not the only works of man.  Sadly, the same can be said of the institutional church, which in its teaching on sexuality is also arid and devoid of life giving sustenance. However, if we pay attention instead to the words and example of Christ himself, and develop through our prayer life a personal relationship with Him, we too can find a source of life-giving nourishment, and “shall never cease to bear fruit”.

“Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord” (from the responsorial psalm).

The Gospel of the day is Luke’s counterpart to the renowned Sermon on the Mount. For those of us so often unjustly condemned by the Church for living honestly with the sexual or gender identity given to us, the central verse is especially signifcant:

“Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven.”

For a more extended discussion on today’s gospel from the perspective which is both gay and catholic, see Gosple for gays, where Jeremmiah  (quite rightly) calls his post,  “Blessed Are You!”

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon…. Then he looked up at his disciples and said:  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” Luke 6, 17; 20-26.  Gospel for Sunday, February 14.

Sunday Readings, 17th January: the Civil Partnership Celebration at Cana.

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On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”  So they took it.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (although the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2, 1-11; Gospel for Sunday, January 17.

For a specifically gay reflection on the Gospel, Gospel for Gays” is exactly what it says:  a site with a particular focus on Gospel  reflections by Canadian Catholic blogger Jeremiah. For this week’s Gospel on the wedding at Cana, Jeremiah asks us to imagine the scene as a “gay” wedding. 

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This is not as far-fetched as it might at first appear. There is an intriguing little bit of history buried in the name of the village – “Cana”.  This is not the same as the “land of Canaan” we know from the Old Testament, but if it were, the idea of a miracle at the gay wedding feast would have been entirely feasible.. Canaan is one of several middle eastern lands where it is known that same sex marriages were recognized in law.  (Egypt and Mesopotamia were some other examples). We must also remember that for Jesus Himself, it is highly unlikely that a same sex marriage would have bothered him in the least.  We know for example, that he did not hesitate to heal the Roman centurion’s “pais“, or slave almost certainly used for sexual purposes, and probably with an emotional component added to the relationship;  among his closest friends were the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, who at the very least represented a most unusual household by the strictly gendered standards of the time,  but for whom the reported relationship of “sisters” may have been a euphemism for a lesbian relationship; He explicitly stated that “eunuchs” (the closest equivalent to the modern idea of “gay men”) were welcome in the Kingdom of heaven.  At this evening’s LGBT Mass in Soho, our celebrant, Fr Sean Middleton, introduced his homily with a (jocular) reference to the “civil partnership” at Cana.

Fr Middleton also raised some important points which struck a chord with me, in connection with the reading from Paul, and the recent observations of Pope Benedict on creation and homosexuality.  Recall that the reading from Paul to the Corinthians was the well-known passage on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Listening to the words, I remembered how many psychotherapists and spiritual directors state clearly that sexuality is a gift, and that to is a gift that comes to different people in different forms – one of which is a homoerotic orientation. Elsewhere, Paul teaches that celibacy too is a gift, not given to all. Referring briefly to Benedict’s claim that “homosexuality” is a threat to creation, because if the whole world were gay, humankind would become extinct, Fr Middleton pointed out that exactly the same argument applied if the whole world were to embrace celibacy (and I’ve never read that Benedict has condemned celibacy as a “threat to creation”. )

Out in Scripture” is an interdenominational enterprise with a full set of readings, and reflections by a team of theologians and pastors, covering all the readings of the day from the “common lectionary”. For more on their methods, history and approach, see their home page.  Follow this link for today’s reflections. (For last week, which they confusingly label this week, go to this page)

Share your own reflections, on the readings or on the week, in the comments thread.