In response to a question raised over at the House of Bishops / Deputies list last week (basically, “Do gay and lesbian persons really mean the same thing ‘we’ do by monogamy?”) I responded, Yes, at least as far as most in the church are concerned. I know there are exceptions, definitely in the world and perhaps even in the church, and I know I don’t speak for anyone else — but I do know my friends and colleagues, and I do know what the General Convention has said thus far on the matter, and that this is what we are talking about as a church: the recognition of same-sex couples in accord with exactly the same standards demanded of mixed-sex couples.
Then, because I was working on the sermon, I was reminded of the gospel for this coming Sunday, in which we see Jesus in a moment of uncharacteristic harshness. (Matt. 15:22-28) A Canaanite woman cries out to ask him to save her daughter. He gives her the cold shoulder — not saying a word. The disciples complain, and Jesus says, essentially, “Not my problem.” She kneels before him, refusing to give up, and begs for his help. And he then says something so shocking it is hard to believe it comes from the lips of our loving Savior, “It isn’t fair to give the children’s food to dogs.”
Then comes the turn in the story, and the point that Jesus may be making, and what the church today might do with it. For the woman persists, this unrelenting woman with the sick child: she will be driven away neither by silence, nor by complaints, nor by insults: she reminds Jesus that even dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table. And finally, after ignoring her, shrugging her off, and even insulting her, Jesus relents, and acknowledges her persistence — and her great faith; and her daughter is instantly healed.
It may well be that in all of this Jesus was simply testing the disciples, renowned for their “little faith” as opposed to this woman’s great faith. He may have been waiting to see what they would do — if they would continue their approach of getting rid of troublesome people, appealing to Jesus to send them away: whether hungry crowds seeking spiritual and earthly food (Mark 6:36); innocent children (Mark 10:13); or even those exercising ministry in Jesus’ name though not part of his inner circle (Mark 9:38). It gives one pause for thought.
And one thought is to ask, To what extent do the heirs of the apostles continue their efforts at exclusion and dismissal? Or will they finally get the message of Jesus’ wish to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that all will be drawn into his kingdom, even the formerly hopeless eunuchs and unclean foreigners. (Isa 56:4-6) All, all, belong to the Bridegroom, and his Bride is not fully clothed until every soul God loves is included in her.
We who appeal to the church for understanding and compassion, do not do so in vain, I am sure. Even if we must keep knocking long into the night, we trust that the door will eventually be opened. For I am reminded of another saying of our Lord, (Luke 11:11-12, in the Authorized Version)
If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
You know the rest. I do not believe the church to be so hard-hearted, nor are those of us who are pressing the church to reexamine its past positions on sexuality asking the impossible. The church has shown itself to be remarkably flexible in its interpretation and application of any number of biblical injunctions and restrictions, down through the years, some of them even involving sex and marriage. It is not an earth-shaking abandonment of the gospel — the claims of some notwithstanding — to consider the possibility of recognizing and blessing the relationships of faithful partners in life, who wish to commit themselves to each other under that blessing and in that bond for life.
Those of us engaged in this patient and earnest appeal, though we be ignored, rebuffed, and labeled as less than worthy, less than human even, will not cease from mental toil, nor from prayer, nor from giving thanks for the scraps thus far cast in our general direction, nor from pleading our case, nor from claiming our blessing, though we must wrestle until dawn, and be put out of joint on its account.
Tobias Haller BSG