Challenge, Change and Pushing Boundaries

Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

We Anglicans make quite a big thing about being inclusive. We like to be welcoming and accepting of people. We like to be nice to people! We have a rainbow flag here in our cathedral, and our great South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu taught us all to speak of the Rainbow People of God.

And we enjoy saying that Jesus was a particular friend to the poor and to outcasts and not to the religious elite, – he called the Pharisees a brood of vipers.   In fact he seems to have gone out of his way to speak and eat with the kind of people that the religious elite despised.

Not that his disciples understood the message, even thought they too eat and drank with him!  In the Gospel reading today they think it is a very bad idea Jesus getting into a heavy conversation with some Canaanite woman he happens to meet on the road.  Send her away for she keeps shouting at us – they say.   I sympathise. I too don’t like it when people shout at me!

But Jesus – being Jesus – listens to what she asks, gets into a bit of a difficult conversation with her – she answers him back with quite a bit of nerve – and in the end she gets what she wants – her daughter is healed.

But I don’t think Jesus just being a nice good-mannered Anglican – being nice to the outcast – I think something else is going on.   Challenge, Change, and pushing boundaries.

And so, – I believe – our lovely Anglican inclusivity is not just more of our rather nice Anglican niceness, because we’re kind and generous and nice people – it is a real social doctrine and part of our Anglican faith.  To put it bluntly – we are nice to women and gays not because we’re nice people – and we are really no nicer than anyone else – no, we are inclusive and welcoming because we believe that inclusivity and welcome is a Jesus imperative and a Bible believing necessity.

You see Joseph – and we heard just a little bit of his story in the first reading – has a rather interesting life  – We’re used to thinking of Joseph as the pretty young one in the colourful coat and with all the best tunes – but he was actually a very queer figure – in the most literal sense of that word ‘queer’.

He was different to his brothers, he is repeatedly called a ‘lad’ in Hebrew, even though he is 17 years old and therefore technically an adult like all the rest.  And just to prove that I’m not reading 20th Century ‘queer’ theology into a very old story – Rashi – the great Jewish commentator of the 11th century writes: that Joseph dressed his hair and touched up his eyes so that he should appear good-looking.  And Midrash Genesis Rabbah dating perhaps from about the 4th or 5th centuries says that Joseph – although a man, ‘behaved like a boy, penciling his eyes, curling his hair and lifting his heel’  – and the Bible tells us that he snitches on his brothers! Whatever he was, he was an odd one out – he was a bit queer.

So, when he finally does come out to his brothers as a dreamer of fancy dreams, it is not surprising to find him both despised by them and an outcast – a victim of discrimination and the lynch mob – queer bashing in its broadest sense – and Joseph’s story has been the story of countless women and men throughout the ages who are in some way different and who are brave enough to dream dreams of a different world and speak out about them:

the discrimination and violence against people of colour, against women who speak out, call for rights, or claim spiritual gifts, against Jews, foreigners, refugees and of course against all sexual minorities. Our history has always been for the majority to gang together and do exactly what Joseph’s brothers did to him – beat him, imprison him, sell him into slavery and then deny it all and fabricate lies.

But the Bible does not leave this story here – Joseph’s story has a happy ending for those who have ears to hear and a heart to change.

do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

The one who was the outcast – the queer one – was sent by God to preserve the life of the others.  That is a very radical statement for the powerful majority to hear in any society and in any century.

The people of colour, sold into slavery and abused not only challenge and change the prejudices and misconceptions of the white man – but by challenge and change they save the majority.  Martin Luther King’s dreams were not just freedom for coloured people amidst racial discrimination, they were dreams of freedom for all people – they hold the key to my freedom too as a white male.  The cry of the famous five women who fought to prove that women are persons did not just emancipate women they emancipated men too from a distorted and distorting system.  The cry of refugees to find peace and security and a roof above their heads is not just charity from us – the rich – to them – the poor – – it challenges and changes our own perceptions of life and humanity and diversity and true human values – our whole society is enriched.  Einstein, Bartok, Chagall, and countless other women and men refugees have challenged, changed and enriched our societies more than we can evaluate.

And so too sexuality – can we hear the voice of the lesbian, the gay man and the trans person – the voice which challenges our preconceived ideas about gender, gender roles, identity and personhood, – dreams of a new and different world from a prophet in a rainbow coat – dreams which will lead us to see all humanity in a broader and richer light.  One day perhaps.

For St Paul and for the Jewish Christians of his day, the struggle was with the gentiles – the non-Jews. They were to be avoided, ritually impure they were outcasts from the Jewish Covenant.  And yet their inclusion into the covenant did not destroy the covenant with God, – as was feared – by challenging and changing the old ways of Kosher, Circumcision and Sabbath into new ways of Eucharist, Baptist and the Church, the boundaries of the covenant grew and the worship of the God of Abraham extended to millions.

In the conversation with the Canaanite woman both Jesus and the disciples are challenged and the mission is transformed so that it goes far beyond the lost sheep of the house of Israel – beyond the people of our own church, our own denomination and even our own religion – and now extends to the lost sheep of the whole world – in today’s Gospel Jesus becomes not only the Messiah, but becomes also the Saviour of the whole World:

Do not be distressed, or angry with yourself: Jesus could have said to the woman – because you argued with me ; for God sent you before me to preserve life.

And one day we Anglicans will not be distressed or angry with each other – rather we will hold our heads up high and proclaim that our liberal and generous inclusive theology of men and women in ministry, towards people of different and differing sexualities and gender understandings, towards people of different faith and beliefs is not liberal wishy-washiness trying to please everyone and hurt no-one – but rather it is the challenging and difficult journey of following the road our Christian faith sets before us in the words and stories and teaching of the bible – that there is no choice but to be truly inclusive if we are also to be truly biblical.

Post a comment