This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
EGYPTIAN DEMOCRATS PERSECUTED BY ARMY
1 Peter 1:1-12
1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:
May grace and peace be yours in abundance.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, 11inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. 12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!
The verb tenses describing the addressees are interesting:
Past Tense: The converts have been chosen and destined by God the Father: This choice is in the eternal counsel of God but promised by the prophets and revealed in Christ. God has given them a new birth into a living hope. All this has taken place.
Present tense: The converts are being protected, they love Jesus, believe in him and rejoice. This describes the present life and faith of Christian people.
Future Tense: Salvation is ready to be revealed in the last time. God’s definitive rescue is already taking place but it is not yet complete.
The writer has an acute awareness that the present lives of believing people are enclosed by the fathomless past of God’s loving choice of them on the one hand and the mystery of their complete salvation in the end time on the other.
These are important truths of faith worked out especially by Paul in his letters, but also in their different ways by the Gospel writers. By the time of this writing (85-95 CE) they can be used by an anonymous author, writing in the name of Peter, to give believers a perspective on their present trials: they are where they are by God’s choice but God will not abandon them to the powers of the present but is even now bringing about their future rescue and victory. This is a classically Christian perspective, just as helpful now as it was then.
19When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ 4He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, 5and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ 7They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ 8He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’
10 His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ 11But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’
Jesus speaks with conviction about the will of God revealed in creation. Marriage is the fundamental joining of a male and a female. The phrase “one flesh” refers to the basic unity of married life-emotional, familial, economic and sexual. Jewish marriage custom allowed the man to divorce his wife for almost any “fault” and to marry another woman. Matthew depicts Jesus as forbidding such divorce except where the wife has been unfaithful. The Mosaic Law is according to Jesus a permissive rule which waters down the will of God.
Many churches, including my own, have already softened Jesus position on this matter, by giving pride of place to the doctrine of forgiveness and renewal in Christ. Those who have repented of their part in marital breakdown are forgiven and are able to “make a new start” in a new marriage. Such a church may therefore not find it difficult to extend the definition of marriage to include homosexual partnerships.
I think that when I chose to be a disciple of Jesus, I meant to follow the Jesus revealed in scripture; that when I describe myself as saved from sin by God through Jesus, I mean the Jesus revealed by scripture-including this scripture. Of course I can and ought to see this scripture in its historical context. In Jesus’ society women had no independence and were dependent on husbands or families for survival. Some would encourage me to interpret this instruction as Jesus’ way of righting an injustice to women. In the societies of the Roman Empire, many found the Jewish morality attractive, and this instruction can be seen as no more than an intensification of that morality.
It’s clear from the text however, in the reaction attributed to the disciples, that this instruction was controversial, considered so strict that it might be better not to marry at all.
My conclusion is that the teaching is authentic, comes from Jesus and should be obeyed, at least by me, for this is the Jesus I chose to follow. I’m sure there are sincere believers for whom the teachings of Jesus are less relevant-for example those who focus mainly on his death for our salvation-and who may find no contradiction in setting aside any specific teaching in favour of a more general understanding of God’s love.
All this means, that although I find myself normally on the radical wing of Christianity, I cannot easily agree that marriage can be extended to include homosexual partnerships, although they might be included more easily than the serial monogamies whichy are practiced in many churches.
I believe that God blesses faithful homosexual partnerships, and I’ve carried out services of blessing for such couples. I believe that there should be absolute equality in society and in the church, including the ministry of the church, for homosexual people. But I’m not persuaded that admitting difference between heterosexual and homosexual partnerships is always unjust.
I’ll be very happy if readers can show me where my argument is wrong.