Friday, January 1, 2010

January 17, 2010. Second Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen

John 2:1-11

Few stories have been cited more than the Wedding at Cana to promote the doctrine of hetero supremacy. This was Jesus’ first miracle, we are told, and it was to bless heterosexuality!

Well, yes but….. There are problems with that interpretation. For starters:

  • That emphasis does not hold up under a routine close reading of John‘s narrative:

  • Jesus was not the groom. Jesus was not even the celebrant. Instead, he spiked the punch.

  • The guests had been drinking for three days. That is quite some wedding party.

  • Jesus turned the water into wine not as a spontaneous act of blessing, but as a concession to get his nagging mother off his back. With an impish sense of humor, he gave her more than she had bargained for. That many days into drinking the guests needed weaker wine to reduce inebriation: Jesus did not accommodate them: he gave them stronger wine than they had been drinking.

  • I’m told that when the canons were established, one principle to identify texts not to include was the presence of ‘show-off miracles.' The consensus, such as we can imagine it, was that such texts strayed into fantasy and failed to stay focused. Show-off miracles were tainted with adolescent braggadocio.

  • Later Herod was annoyed when Jesus would not do miracles on demand. Yet the Cana story is a miracle on demand, and a miracle by which Jesus knows that his mom is showing off.

  • The narrative does not focus on the vows the couple took nor on the solemn meanings of a life commitment. There are no fearsome pledges,such as those in The Book of Common Prayer.

  • The marriage at Cana bears little resemblance to marriages in Brides Magazine or those reported on society pages of the nation’s newspapers.

Other aspects of Jesus’ ministry fail to support a doctrine of hetero supremacy, as do aspects of ministry from Scripture and Tradition.

  • Jesus did not get married himself (yet was in all things like unto us).

  • Of his twelve disciples, only Peter is referenced as married, and that obliquely, in a reference to his mother-in-law.

  • Saint Paul said that marriage should be avoided except when lust otherwise proves uncontrollable.

  • For most of Christian history, marriages did not occur except for the wealthy, and for them primarily as a means of handling property rights. The poor had little property to negotiate: their marriages were something they agreed to privately, and to this day, ‘common law’ marriages are recognized in some jurisdictions, but not in others. See Wikipedia on common-law marriage.

  • For most of Christian history Roman Catholics thought marriage so problematic and spiritually draining that they have forbidden clergy to marry, thereby removing from the Catholic gene pool thousands whom they have identified as the brightest and the best.

Please do not misunderstand me.

I’m not a sourpuss regarding marriage. I cherish my husband. We will celebrate our 36th anniversary on February 2nd, 2010. See my early account of our modest ceremony. The picture at the left shows us in the East Orange City Hall moments after we registered our domestic partnership on September 2nd, 2004. We will move quickly to have a civil marriage as soon as the courts or the legislature in New Jersey make that possible. We do not consider that we are the ones who have been “living in sin” for the last 36 years.

Yet, as much as we treasure our marriage, Ernest and I believe that marriage is not the center of a Christian life: God is. Jesus said if you are not willing to leave your family and follow him, you are not worthy to be his disciples.

According to Jesus, there is no marriage in heaven.

We find it presumptuous of our enemies to suggest that by virtue of our life-long commitment to each other Ernest and I threaten the stability of heterosexual marriage. How does that work? Do heterosexuals think of us and as a result love each other less?! Why on earth? Are they admitting to secret homosexual fantasies? Are their own erotics so minimal or unstable that they fear competition?

I suspect they simply have not thought through the issues. Many are reacting irrationally, as one might on visiting a culture for the first time where the citizens eat dogs or monkeys or rats or … . In our minds we can rationally understand that such choices are no more bizarre than our choices to eat calves or pigeons or squirrels or rabbits or sweet breads...

Yet taboos seem to have an animus all their own. That why George Weinberg coined the term homophobia, to get at the level of irrationality some experience in response to lgbts. I call it the Ick Factor.

Or are they genuinely afraid that our kind of affection may spread and ‘infect’ their families? That does sometimes happen, but almost always when a gay male or lesbian has been persuaded to marry heterosexually in hopes of being ‘cured.’

A woman from Kenya asked me in a discussion group at the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Church in December 1998: “Have you ever thought about being cured?”

I told her I would answer her question but first had a question for her: “Do you want your daughter or son to marry a ‘cured homosexual?”

She paused a long time and then smiled kindly: “I would definitely expect the cured fellow to tell her before he proposed to her.”

“Do you still want to know about my own experiences of being cured?” I asked. She returned my smile. “You have answered my question already.”

One more comment on the Cana narrative

At Baylor University (1954-58) I minored in Greek. I chose the minor originally because I intended to be a Baptist preacher, but in the advanced courses I became an atheist to the Baptist religion for a season. In one of the advanced classes we translated Xenephon’s Anabasis. In the next course we translated John’s gospel.

In no other class did I encounter cheating, but cheating in this class appeared to be almost ubiquitous. I remember covering my exams with my arms and head tight, allowing just enough light to let me write. Once a guy next to me tugged at my sleeve as he whispered, “O come on, brother. Jesus said we should share!”

The only professor of Greek at Baylor at the time was Dr. Henry Trantham. He had been a Rhodes scholar, and he remained a tennis champion at Baylor until well into his 50s. He was dispirited by the time I took his classes. The Koine Greek of the New Testament was a lingua franca -- tourist Greek -- to help barely literate folks talk when neither understood the other’s language. Koine lacks the vast literary brilliance of Greek classics, but the only reason Baylor kept Greek in the curriculum was to give cache to those training to be preachers.

I remember vividly the day we translated today’s text from John. Dr. Trantham had an impish smile (probably like the one Jesus manifested when yielding to his mother’s nagging), when he called on one of the older Baptist preachers, one long in the trenches without a formal education, now back for the veneer of one. When the preacher reached οἶνος (oinos, Greek for ‘wine,’) he translated it as “grape juice.”

Dr. Trantham cleared his throat several times, and asked the student to try again.

Again the student translated οἶνος as “grape juice.”

“Is this not the same οἶνος that we encountered last semester in The Anabasis?” Dr. Trantham asked, “and did not Cyrus and his men sometime have to recover for a day or more because of the amount they drank before they could continue marching more parasangs?” Dr. Trantham asked, with the hint of urgency.

“Yes,” the preacher replied, “but Dr. Trantham….”

“I think I understand your problem, young man,” Dr. Trantham interruped. “You find it hard to believe that the Holy Bible would contain a text in which the Lord of the universe gave fermented grape juice of stronger than usual alcohol content -- wine which he called ’good’ -- to people who had gathered for the wedding….”

“Yes, yes,” the preacher increased the pace.

“I find only one thing wrong with your position,” Dr. Trantham told him.

“What is that?” the preacher asked sheepishly.

“You are putting yourself in the position of telling the Lord of the universe what he can and cannot do. Furthermore, you don’t even know our own Baptist history. When I was a young man, many Baptists served wine at communion. It was only when the Prohibition Movement came along that they substituted grape juice. Now continue at verse twelve.”

Isaiah 62:1-5

Although I can manage to sing the “Stars Spangled Banner” as spiritedly as the next -- even when it is not war time (though when was that?), and although I rejoice that an earlier organist at my parish composed the tune used for “America the Beautiful” I do not much like Patriotic Gore. I am glad that we don‘t sport an American flag inside Grace Church in Newark, but we do have one on the pole in the courtyard, appropriately I suppose since we are in front of the federal post office. Also we are opposite a Federal Building, and we are one block from City Hall.

Isaiah today is rejoicing with patriotic gore of Israel, announcing how much they are God’s favorites and thumbing his nose for all the lesser nations who will have to pay obeisance to them.

Italians are much nicer as fat old men who like to eat pizza than they were when they terrorized the known world as the Roman Empire. I long for the day that America and Israel won’t act as if they have a mandate to lord it all over everyone else.

I am glad that God is fat and likes to hang out with her friends eating pizza or veal scaloppini, such as the veal on which I feasted at a restaurant in Joppa recently, after visiting the church where pigs were first offered to Peter on a sheet. Ernest and I looked out on Mediterranean trying to spot a spout on a whale such as might have transported Jonah from that place.

Psalm 36:5-10

Look closely at the sensuous details of Psalm 36. God’s love affair with human beings manifests the intensity of the erotic.

How priceless is your love, O God! *
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.

That’s some light indeed, bright but not blinding. Thomas Edison, “Eat your heart out.” (Edison’s lab was 1.3 miles from our apartment where I write this.)

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Has your parish ever taken an inventory of all the talents of the congregants? Does your parish give the inventory of talents the same attention it gives to pledge cards?

Have you reviewed your own talents? With an eye to evaluating your stewardship? See my reflection on ‘professional Christians’.

Sometime we need to turn off the tremolo, especially if we are trying to access the holy.

See also

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