Tuesday, August 09, 2011
A House of Prayer for ALL People-A Biblical Base
The Cleansing of the TempleEven people who don't know much about Jesus know that he drove the money changers out of the Temple. Why this event is so memorable is anyone's guess, but I suspect it satisfies something deep in the human spirit. Something in us suspects the Temple authorities of corruption at the heart of religion. Jesus often looks askance at the super religious and sees hypocrisy, and a tendency to be exclusive, and sometimes even hateful, especially of those who are "different". There is also the sniff of money in the so-called holy places and Jesus gets pretty riled up when his Father's house is used for anything other than prayer.
There are so many left out in the cold when it comes to religion. Notice the poor if you will, notice the prostitute, the tax collector, the ordinary working folk be they fishermen or farmers, servants or slaves; notice the sick, the dying, the weak, the blind, the lame and the lepers. Even those of you who don't know much about Jesus, know that these were the very ones Jesus sought out to be his disciples.
So let me set the scene for you. Jesus enters the holy city, Jerusalem. There in tow with him are these very outcasts laying palm branches at the feet of the savior's donkey. When he arrives at the Temple gates his disciple remark at how impressive they are. Not Jesus; he wasn't one bit impressed. "Not one stone will be left on stone before all will be cast down".
We know that he Temple authorities were keeping close tabs on him. Remember the Pharisees, the Sadducees, The Scribes and the Sanhedrin. The literalists still like to run their mouths against the outcast like the scribes of old. Again, lots of my non religious friends know even this much about Jesus. That's why many like him just fine but look askance at his church. But I digress...back to the story!
He arrives at the Temple gates, and enters the Temple precincts and there they are; a slew of money changers right there along the main entrance to the Holiest place of faith for the people. They were peddling pigeons and anything else by way of religious trinketry that would appeal to the simply faithful folk of the time.
Jesus cannot take it any more. The very outcast he worked so hard to love and bring within the saving embrace of God were subjected to peddlers of the sacred, as if you can sell such a thing, a thing that is more precious than the pearl of great price, reduced to the profane profit motive of corrupt crooks.
Enraged, he turns over their tables, and the money is scattered everywhere. He drives the charlatans out of the place while saying these words: "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people, but you have made it a den of thieves!" This is what finally earned Jesus a spot on the cross, as the scriptures notes right there in black and white. Even there, in the heat of the moment, he goes right ahead and heals the blind and the lame and the children sing "Hosanna to the Son of David"! It was that following Friday that they trump up charges against him and lift him on the cross for all the world to see. By the way, all you biblical scholars, you can read all about this yourself. The story is in all four Gospels; Matthew 12:21-27, Mark 11:15-33, Luke 19:45-20:8, and John 2:13-16.
So the question then arises, when Jesus says "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people", does he really mean "all", or are there some exceptions, lets say gay people for instance? If we listen to the scribes and literalists of our own time, there seems little doubt of where gay folk are headed. Leviticus says that their behavior is an abomination. (18:22), and that both men doing such a thing deserve to be put to death. (20:13) Seems we have lots of killing to do, even though Moses tells us not to murder people. (Exodus 20 & Deuteronomy 5) Paul says they deserve to die (Romans 1). You can see where the literalists and the scribes get their nasty dispositions.
Here's what interests me. Jesus spent lots of energy on outcasts, and you can't get much more outcast than gay folks. Most religious people all the way up to this present moment have a big hang up about gay folks.
Jesus based almost everything he said on biblical material. We have no exception in this case. The expression; "My house shall be a House of Prayer for all people" comes from the most quoted prophet of Jesus; the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 56.
Read the chapter for yourself and make up your own mind. The prophet tells us to maintain justice and to do what is right. Then he tells us to be mindful of the foreigner who is fearful of being separated from his people (verse 3) and in the very same verse, the prophet is worried about the eunuch who fears that he will become just a "dry tree".
God then speaks to the eunuchs who do God's will "I will give within my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off." (verse 5). Wow! Eunuchs are specifically forbidden from worshipping God as are blind, lame, dwarfs and folks with broken feet! (See Leviticus 21 if you think I'm making this up), and here they are given an everlasting name that will never be cut off in the book of the prophet Isaiah. Which is it? And notice too that foreign folk are given this reassurance; "these will I bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer". (verse 7) Compare that to the evangelical right wing who want to deport all the illegals out of this nation, "under God".
When the Levites cleansed the Temple of all the unclean, they made it fit only for certain folks. When Jesus cleansed the Temple, he made it fit for all folks, eunuchs, blind, lame, dwarf, and folks with broken feet too! That together with all the others the Levitical code specifically excluded; these were included by Jesus. It was this very inclusivity that was at the heart of Jesus' ministry. Even folks who don't know much at all about Jesus, know this.
So then, let me ask you this; who are eunuchs? There is a great deal of speculation about this question and many are merely satisfied that we're talking about those who are literally mutilated by themselves or others for service in a harem or an official in the King or Queen's court. Other scholars see that the Hebrew makes room in the word "saris" for a more figurative and metaphorical meaning, and some scholars will even argue that we may indeed be talking about gay folks when we are talking of eunuchs in the bible
When we look at what Jesus taught about marriage, we find him teaching that divorce is forbidden under any circumstance (Mark 10) But in Matthew, a Gospel written a bit later on than Mark, Jesus seems to cut us some slack at least in the case of adultery. Then in one of the most extraordinary insertions of all scripture, that seems way out of whack of the context, Jesus said "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."
Notice that Jesus is talking about marriage here. Then he is talking about eunuchs who were born that way...who do you think he's talking about here? You can't cross-breed self mutilation into a new born baby, no matter how hard you try. Some of us are just plain born that way. And most telling of all, Jesus points out that not all will be able to accept this teaching. If ever there were an understatement, that's it!
Many biblical scholars argue that the word "eunuch" used in this sense, particularly in the sense of someone "born that way" is a reference to what we have come to know as lesbians and gay folk, bi-sexual and transgendered, LGBT for short. There are many biblical scholars that will argue against the mere suggestion that Jesus makes any room at all for gay folks within God's great salvation plan.
So the question remains; when Jesus said "My house shall be a House of Prayer for all people", did he mean all people, or everyone except gay people? Given what he says of marriage and eunuchs, I submit to you that when Jesus says his house shall be a house of prayer for all people, he meant ALL people.
There is just a tiny corner of the Christian world seeking to be obedient to the Jesus whose heart is big enough to be the perfect offering for our sins, and not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world. (paraphrase of 1 John 2:1-2)
The Episcopal Church is part of that tiny corner of the world of faith and I am so glad I stumbled into it when I was born. My uncle was gay so are two of my kids. And in my church's view, there is plenty of room in God's love for them, as there is their dad's heart.
I believe that there is a smile in God's heart for the emerging inclusive church. As the blessed Apostle himself said "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for we are all one in Christ" Galatians 3:28. When Paul says "Jew or Greek" he means any race or ethnic group. When he says slave or free, he obviously proclaims that the Gospel means rich and poor too. And when he says male or female, there is at least one corner of God's church that understands this; that means gay or straight too!
That all means that there is room in God's heart for you. No matter who you are. Now that is very Good News indeed!
Those of you with ears to hear, listen up!
Paul of King's Beach.