Several weeks ago, my husband emailed me a link to the short film, Fitna. It was produced by Geert Vilders, a Dutch politician and former colleague of Ayaan Hirsi Ali (author of Infidel, and recent speaker here at UNT...I've blogged about her before). It's not an easy film to watch, nor is it easy to find...it's been removed from many sources such as YouTube in response to threats from Islamic fundamentalist groups.
Husband was concerned because there were verses from the Qur'an listed that show a very violent and vituperative side of the Muslim holy book. For instance:
"They but wish that ye should reject faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing as they, so take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah. But if they turn renegades, seize them and kill them wherever ye find them, and take no friends or helpers from their ranks."
He was very horrified by this and wondered if it could be accurately translated? I got out my office copy of the Holy Koran and read along. Indeed, it was.
Here's the thing, though...the Bible has every bit as violent and ugly images in it. Just read the Psalms, I told him! I think we hear those words and they go by us via long familiarity. If we think of them, we say, "oh, it's just the bible of that day...a warlike people...we would never do such things!" Maybe not, but of course there was the Spanish Inquisition...(which nobody expects!)
Looking at this Sunday's gospel brings this to mind. What Jesus says to the woman of the demon-posessed child is...not a very nice side of Jesus. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild and kind and loving, is not being very Jesusy!
[Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit." But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us." Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."]
I shall be interested to see whether the first part of this Gospel is read in my church this Sunday. Personally, it seems tremendously important for context to the second part.
I imagine Jesus as just feeling "worn plumb out" by the conversation in Gennesaret. It was maybe even "working his last nerve." The Pharisees were so not getting it: Jesus had come to bring the Real Truth, which was not so very concerned about formats and niggly rules and laws about how to eat. Puh-leeze!
This text, to me, shows Jesus growing into who he really is meant to be...just as, I hope, I am doing a little bit each day. Do I always give the perfect answer? do I always respond in kindness and generosity? No!
And I, I am also very much in my box of "this is how it's done, because this is how it's always been done." Jesus' initial reaction reminds us of the Caananite genocide (Deuteronomy 7: 1-4) (also not such a nice part of the Bible) and that he had an idea of who those people were and how they were to be treated that had been part of his culture for centuries. Hum.
The Canaanite woman was allowed to question. Jesus was allowed to change his mind. Maybe we are, too.
My church currently grieves and groans under the weight of the issues of equal rights for gay, lesbian, transgendered and other marginalized people. The excuses for keeping them from the same sacraments that I may participate in are that "it's always been this way" and "this is what the Bible says." There is, of course, the fact that Jesus didn't say anything about LGBT issues. And so much else that he didn't address either.
I think we are allowed to question; I think we are allowed to change our minds. I believe this as I believe in the God of My Understanding (GAWUH as that entity is called in the 12-step rooms) .
And I believe that if the church doesn't change...it will die.