Lent concludes at sundown. Indeed, as this is posted, a good chunk of the Eastern hemisphere is already into the Triduum, washing feet and transferring the Eucharist for adoration and prayer.
I’ve been noting the heightened discussion the past few days as the American SCOTUS considers anti-gay laws. One of the more laughable tracks in the argument centers on the biblical foundations of marriage as set down in Genesis. Have any of these people actually read the whole book? Or are they fixated on the charming quote Jesus pulls out to urge people to fidelity?
I’ve spent the last several months in Genesis as part of my daily practice of lectio divina. At times it has been a struggle. A serious struggle. There’s a lot of behavior by traditionally sympathetic characters that I’ve found distracting, disturbing, and not directly conducive to prayer. In my own life these past several weeks, it has led me to a long consideration of compassion. Compassion for people long-dead. Compassion for people who put up with me on a daily basis. Compassion for the situation in ministry in which I find myself: a university town in the 21st century.
That said, can we bad-mouth the patriarchs? Can we criticize Abram’s panic at his wife’s barrenness, and Sarai’s initiative to topple her servant into her husband’s bed? I’d like to think so.
This is an episode as dysfunctional and salicious as any tv soap opera. And we honor Abraham as a Father in Faith for it? The purpose of Abram’s dalliance was to produce a child, and there was nothing special about Hagar in his or his wife’s eyes, except that she was a convenient, nearby fertile woman in their power.
The Genesis philosophy is clear: build a family by any means necessary. Especially if you are an aristocrat who can afford it.
Now for the compassion. The moral of this patriarch’s adventures is, of course, faith in God. But Abram was also given a great burden. God promised him a nation, but he had no idea how this could be accomplished with an unable wife. So he and Sarai took matters into their own hands. And while I shudder at the thought of Ishmael (or anyone) not ever being born, what was the point of this? Enmity sown between woman and servant, the separation of brothers (and some might say alienation), and for what? God worked his grace through Sarai in the end.
There are good arguments to be made in the pros and cons of same sex unions. But I don’t see many of them. I don’t really see any of them in Genesis, a book more difficult to pray through than I had imagined. Maybe I need to reflect a little more deeply on these men. But I genuinely felt sorry for the women on the sidelines: Hagar, Rachel, Dinah, among others. The callous treatment of women–family members even–leaves me with a very dissatisfied taste.
So what do you think? Can a Christian honor the roots of our faith in Judaism while criticizing the patriarchs? Are we obligated to hold pen or tongue and just mutter to ourselves, “I can’t see that being right.”?