Monday, April 2, 2012

12-04-01: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Mark 11:1-10 / Isaiah 50:4-7 / Psalm 22 / Philippians 2:6-11 / Mark 14:1-15:47

If you had seen the Oscar winning movie, The Artist, you might have assumed it was making allusions to that heartthrob of the silent screen – Rudolph Valentino. It’s my understanding that Valentino, like the leading man in The Artist, lost out when sound came to cinema: not so much a problem of foreign accent which both men possessed but, for Valentino, because he had an unusually high-pitched voice. Suspicion about Valentino’s sexuality, verbalized at the time as doubts about his masculinity, hounded Valentino till his early death at thirty-one in 1926. It seems Valentino was a bit avant-garde when it came to fashion as well. He began to wear an item which men judged effeminate. After WWI this particular item of fashion became quite common and remains so today; but when Valentino sported it, he was judged a danger to the idea of what an American man ought to be. No, it’s not an ascot, not a monocle, not even that questionable cigarette holder – the kind FDR would constantly hold. It was just a wristwatch. Some say that pegged Valentino’s “deviant” orientation more than anything else. Times have changed – thank God.

Those who embody sexual difference, or what others might judge as sexual deviance, have always been a part of every culture. Take today’s Gospel which begins Jesus’ Passion. The account opens with the scene of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive nard. Very early on the Church Fathers would identify her as a prostitute and the ointment she used as something bought with the money she earned in “the world’s oldest profession.” What is Jesus’ response: “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her?”

Then, almost incidentally, a very interesting thing occurs. The disciples ask Jesus where he would like to celebrate the upcoming Passover meal. “Where should we go?” they ask him. “Go into the city,” Jesus says. “And a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him.” It would have been very unusual, in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day, for a man to be walking about carrying a jar of water. Why? Because that was what women did; work was gender-specific. Men simply did not carry jars of water about; a man doing so would have seemed very strange. What the gospel is describing here might be called, in modern parlance, a trans-gendered event. Yet, Jesus tells his disciples something extraordinary: “Follow him.” It must have taken more than a bit of courage for those two disciples to follow this man-acting-like-a-woman. But they obeyed Jesus so that the Passover meal could be prepared as he wished. This incident which could be perceived as an example of an inversion of nature would prepare the way for the great conversion of nature into supernature, of bread and wine into the Lord’s body and blood. The disciples were able to know where to go because they would have recognized the man easily; his ‘difference’ made it all possible.

These days the so-called culture wars, and presidential politics as well, remain concerned with issues surrounding sexuality, be it soccer moms moonlighting as high-class madams, those seeking the right to same-sex marriage, or those same-sex couples seeking to adopt. Today’s hot-button issues make the wearing of a wristwatch seem a very minor affair. Sticking with the analogy some might contend that some of these issues have become, in the minds of the more liberal, as innocuous as wearing a wristwatch. But for many, especially the religious, issues involving sexuality can still rattle more than a few feathers. The Church, the Body of Christ in the here-and-now, has the right and the duty to teach as Jesus did in matters of morality. But timing can make all the difference. Jesus did not condone prostitution, yet he saw the innate dignity of the woman who anointed his feet with her ill-earned ointment. And while it doesn’t seem likely Jesus would have been turning water into wine if the feast at Cana was a same-sex wedding, he still recognized the innate dignity of the man carrying the water jug, the man acting like a woman within that cultural context, and used him to lead his disciples to their appointed task and their ordained destiny.

Was it Flannery O’Connor who once remarked that it remains a sublime paradox that many enter the Church by means the Church does not allow? Perhaps there are lessons yet to be learned by all parties, religious and secular, gay and straight, in this mystery we call human sexuality, on this Sunday we dedicate to passion.

No comments:

Post a Comment