by Jeremiah Bartram on 25/09/09 at 9:04 am
I experienced a small moment of truth the other night when I took my dog out for his last walk before bed.
For many years I felt like some kind of ghost, like an exile, ordained to tramp dark city streets, past lighted windows and golden rooms where, in my imagination, other people lived charmed lives. Inside: light, warmth, the smell of food, loving conversation, peace. Outside: darkness, anonymity, solitude, cold, dread.
Why was I out there in the dark?
Why were “they” within?
But the other night with the dog, in a dark street, I looked up and saw my own windows. How inviting, how golden they appeared; how entirely like those enviable, other windows of my past.
And then I understood that I was no longer an imaginary exile. I had found my home.
Over the past few weeks, several of Mark’s gospels have shown Jesus treating outsiders in ways that surprise his group of insiders, the disciples.
In the reading for September 27, John wants Jesus to prevent an exorcist from casting out devils in his name, because the man was not one of “us”. Jesus refuses. Then there was the pagan demoniac who lived among the tombs, restored to his right mind by Jesus; and the pagan (gay?) centurion and his slave, whose faith was so praised by Jesus.
What I find interesting about these outsiders is the fact that Jesus makes no demand on them. He touches, accepts, welcomes, heals – but does not ask them to become part of his group, or convert, or change their mode of life and “sin no more”. Indeed, in the case of the demoniac, the man wants to follow Jesus but the Lord refuses him, sending him back to his own people instead.
Does that mean that these three are excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven? Of course not.
They remain outsiders, either as pagans or as people unknown to the group of disciples – but they participate in the life of the kingdom.
It is tempting to see this little group of isolated individuals as precursors of our gay experience of the church.
Like them, we are official outsiders, and like them we experience the healing touch and the liberating permission of Jesus, which reaches far beyond the official teachings and structures that seem to exclude us.
I think there’s value in that insight. But I also think that it overlooks a dynamic that underlies the Gospel stories: the fact that they are written from a post-Resurrection perspective, about the pre-Resurrection ministry of Jesus.
So at that stage in his ministry, Jesus touched those outsiders and did not invite them into his (exclusively Jewish) group. But after the Resurrection, when Jew and Gentile (with sometimes difficult conflicts) together formed a new church, a new group – it was different.
And it is natural to suppose that those individuals, originally outsiders touched by Jesus but remaining outside, would have found their way into the new group, which now was able to include them as members. In this sense, Jesus’ pre-Resurrection intervention in their lives was like a seed that could only blossom later on, under different conditions.
The same dynamic applies to our lives as gay Catholics.
Experientially, we encounter the Lord, and that encounter seems to contradict the precepts of the insiders. Does that mean that we should cherish the experience as something private and particular to us, and continue to live our own lives, in a kind of separate dispensation, apart from the larger church community?
I don’t think so. Not at all.
In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female, neither gay nor straight, neither outsider nor insider. In the deepest and most liberating sense, we are all one.
So it’s not enough for us to rejoice among ourselves in that healing touch, which tells us we’re OK. We need to share that experience with the larger community.
That’s hard, because the larger community may not want to listen to our experience, and accept our witness on truly respectful and reciprocal terms.
But that’s our call.