Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Eleventh Day of Lent

I must admit that I am seldom good at being politically correct. For some reason, my 'filter' that should keep me from putting my foot in my mouth is broken. That is to say, I very often finding myself saying exactly what I'm thinking. Generally, I don't think I'm being hateful or hurtful but, at times, I curse myself for not being able to reel in my words.

One word I rather like, use too frequently, and realize that it's now inappropriate for use is the word queer. Growing up in an Irish cultural milieu, the word queer did not have the connotation of anything involving sexuality. Rather, it indicated that something was very peculiar. So to hear Tom Byrne, a great flute and whistle player from Cleveland, say, "Ryan, that was a queer tune you played" said nothing of its sexual identity and spoke, usually, to the fact that I had just played something very strange before him. Given the fashion trends of some of my students, I sometimes fail to catch myself before blurting out, at seeing hideous plaid pants, "Those are the queerest pants I've ever seen!"

Today's first reading and Gospel are linked by what I would regard as how queer, or peculiar, Christianity truly is. Given how charged that word is I suspect it better to say how peculiar it is. In the first reading, Moses addresses the gathered people:
This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.
Today you are making this agreement with the LORD:
he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways
and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees,
and to hearken to his voice.
And today the LORD is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you
 For Moses, being the LORD's people is not simply paying lip-service to statutes or laws. It is a way of being a people, a style of being an assembly that stands out from other groups. This doesn't mean that God doesn't love other people, or neglects them, or has no regard for them. It means that, of all the world's people, this gathering is called in a peculiar way. It is a way that stands out from the ways and styles of other peoples, a manner that would appear....well, queer.

Turn, then, to the Gospel. Matthew recounts Jesus' words:
Jesus said to his disciples:
"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies,and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
What emerges in this passage is that discipleship demands a certain strangeness, or peculiarity. Christian discipleship involves far more than simply parroting back propositions about Jesus or the involves living out what these propositions mean. Discipleship demands that we enact, here and now, the values of God's Kingdom. Unfortunate it is, then, that it is precisely this set of values that succeeded in getting Jesus killed.

Being a committed Christian does involve being peculiar. This shouldn't be a shock - Moses saw that fidelity to the covenant was peculiar and Jesus saw that living out the culture of the Kingdom was unusual. Christianity puts us outside the realm of the normal, of the expected and accepted, and gives a glimpse of another style of living. Rather than being ashamed of our Christian style, we should embrace being out of step with the rest of the world and live out our peculiarity boldly and joyfully. 
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