Throughout my life, there have been a lot of people telling me that I couldn’t do one thing or another. The first time I remember hearing this, I was six or seven. It was summer and the town had a T-ball league. My mother found this out and realized that for a small fee, both my brother and I could play T-ball for several weeks. She signed us both up. At the team’s first practice, I heard a father tell his son that they would be finding another team for him because “girls don’t play baseball.” Fortunately, the coach was having none of it. He told me he was happy I was on his team. I played baseball for several years and got to be pretty good at it.
Another memorable occasion in which I heard “girl’s can’t” was when I told the senior pastor of my childhood church that I wanted to go to seminary. He said, “Oh, you want to be a DCE (Director of Christian Education).” Without hesitation I said, “No, I want your job.” He thought for a moment and said, “Women aren’t good senior pastors.” The conversation went on from there. I’ve been ordained since 1992.
Fortunately for me, I’ve had a strong streak of resistance since early childhood. As soon as someone tells me that I cannot do something I want to do, I set out to prove just how well I can do the thing. I get angry when arbitrary societal “norms” dictate what a person can or cannot do. Why limit the dreams of children by endorsing gender norms that are outdated and inhibiting, and fail to include the full range of human diversity? Why define people by race as if we haven’t learned that skin color indicates nothing about a person’s skills, talents, or intelligence? Why dismiss a person or fail to see their value because they have a physical disability, a mental health challenge, or embody some form of neurodiversity?
The streak of resistance (some call it rebellion) has served me well. It also makes me bristle at the question the Temple Authorities posed to Jesus. “Is it lawful…?” Apparently, the disciples were hungry enough to gather grain and eat it on the Sabbath. For strict adherents to the Law, the disciples’ behavior looked a lot like work which is forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus responded in a typical Jesus way by not really answering the question. Rather, he implied with his words and deeds that anything that supported abundant life was lawful enough. The Temple Authorities didn’t approve of this answer, but they probably didn’t ask the disciples or the man who was healed for their opinions.
Christianity has a history of legalism that would make any old-school Pharisee proud. This legalism essentially says, if the Bible says it, then it is true and it must be done. The problem is, of course, that things that were social norms in biblical days are not normative now. It’s impossible to hold up all that the Bible contains for those of us living in the modern era. It really is time to leave literalism and legalism to the past.
Let’s think about this in today’s context. Is it lawful to call police when a Person of Color is encountered in a hallway or in a student lounge or in a coffee shop? Is it lawful to throw racial epithets at unsuspecting restaurant patrons? Is it lawful for police to arrest a Person of Color for no apparent reason? Is it lawful for children of immigrants or refugees to be separated from their parents at the border? Is it lawful to limit access to healthcare? Is it lawful to allow some people to hide their hatred and fear in religious garments? Is it lawful for our refridgerators and cabinets to be full while our neighbors go hungry? Is it lawful to continue a reliance on fossil fuels while the world grows warmer? Is it lawful to use all the disposable plastics we want while the ocean fills with floating islands of trash? The answer to all these questions is, unfortunately, yes. However, it hard to believe that any of this is in keeping with what God desires for humanity.
We have distracted ourselves from the power of the Gospel by confusing secular law and biblical literalism with justice. Jesus clearly indicated to the Temple Authorities that what was good and lawful, even on the Sabbath, is that which supports abundant life on which the Realm of God thrives. When we are faced with decisions about what to do and how to behave, ought we not to be wondering what will facilitate the coming of God’s Realm here on earth? Ought we not to be thinking of loving our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if set aside the question of lawfulness and instead asked, Is it just and does it bring Love into the world for me and all my neighbors?
RCL – Year B – Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 3, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1–10, (11–20)
Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18
2 Corinthians 4:5–12