Sunday, March 20, 2011

11-03-06: 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 11:18,26-28,32 / Psalm 31 / Romans 3:21-25,28 / Matthew 7:21-27
It’s comforting to know that Catholics, at least in this diocese, don’t take the Bible too literally. There’s even proof of this. You just need to take a trip to Breezy Point – that gated beach community on the western tip of the Rockaway Peninsula - where everyone has obviously not heeded Jesus’ warning in today’s gospel and all residents have deliberately built their houses on sand. The rains have often come and the wind has many a time howled but houses are still standing, albeit with frequent use of multiple sump pumps.

The metaphor, though, is a solid one, urging us to build our lives on solid ground and not passing fancy. But solid ground is made of many different kinds of rock. Taking the metaphor a bit further we might wonder, in this day and age, if it indeed matters which “rock” we choose to build upon.

The reading from Deuteronomy explains that the Law (Torah) is the rock by which we are saved, while the reading from Romans makes the radical claim that the Law is itself useless in regard to salvation. The rock on which to build your life, St. Paul insists, is faith in Christ. Yet, as an observant Jew, Jesus himself would have donned the phylacteries, illustrated in that first reading, and bound his wrist and arm and forehead with small black boxes containing snippets of the Torah before he began to pray. Seeing Orthodox Jewish men preparing to pray in this fashion always reminds me (no offense intended) of the Borg – that sci-fi amalgamation of human and machine. But, as those Bible-belt evangelicals are wont to say, if it was good enough for Jesus

This deliberation between what we, as Christians, follow in the Old Testament Law, and what we discard, has always been problematic. Though the Church teaches that the Old Testament remains valid, we obviously have not kept many of the precepts it imposes. We’ve changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, we don’t keep kosher, we eat forbidden foods, and we don’t circumcise male children as a religious rite. On the other hand some of us claim the Bible reveals things it obviously doesn’t. Take all the fuss about marriage of late. The government no doubt has the right to define marriage as it wishes, but it’s stretching the truth more than a little when legislators suggest that the Bible tells them that marriage should be between “one man and one woman.” Homosexuality notwithstanding, you have to read pretty far into the Old Testament till you get to a time when monogamy was the norm.

Last week the Revered Peter Gomes of Harvard died. He made quite a stir decades back when he declared himself to be gay. Gomes spent a good deal of time writing about the Bible, pointing out that it can prove a very dangerous thing to take the Bible all by itself, out of context so to speak. After all, the Bible was used to defend slavery as well as the liberation of slaves; to support the racism of apartheid as well as contributing to apartheid’s demise. Gomes claimed that religious fundamentalism, evinced by a literal interpretation of the Bible, is dangerous precisely because it cannot accept ambiguity and is thus inherently intolerant.

“The Bible,” Gomes said, ‘is not a book – it’s a library.” It’s a group of books that need to be interpreted in the context of their particular time and circumstance by each succeeding generation. Otherwise we’d still be practicing polygamy and stoning women for committing adultery. Oops, come to think of it, some people still do. But they’re the type who tend to claim Intelligent Design as scientific fact, believe the earth to be no more than ten thousand years old, and see racial segregation as a biblical injunction. They tend not to be Catholic, thank God, and they’d probably never buy real estate in Breezy Point.

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