Our Eagerness to Be the One to Cast the First Stone

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126: 1-6; Philippians 3:8-14; and John 8:1-11. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

Today’s Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery is, ironically, a favorite of those who like to castigate LGBT people.  They say that because Jesus says “Go, and from now on do not sin any more,” that they are justified in telling other people–specifically, LGBT people–how to live their lives.  It seems the rest of the story is lost on them because they think they have found a Scripture text that they can use against others.

In holding onto this one line of Scripture, such people are doing exactly what the scribes and Pharisees in the story have done: isolating one bit of text and, in the process, losing the whole spirit of Scripture’s message that people should not judge one another, but should love one another and offer each other mercy.  The gospel writer is clear that their purposes are vengeful, not religious. The author says they brought the woman to Jesus “so that they could have some charge to bring against him.”  People use the act of judging not only to bring harm on their targeted victim, but to trap others, as well. Human beings are always way too eager to cast the first stone.

In the gospel story, Jesus’ first response is to write in the dirt.  Some commentators say that this action is a message from Jesus:  by doing so, he is telling the accusers that the letter of the law is as transitory as letters written in the sand.  They need to find the law’s deeper message, which is a message of acceptance and mercy.  More importantly, they should look to their own lives to discover sin, not to search for it in other people’s lives.  Indeed, this same message, so important to Jesus’ ministry, appeared in the gospel story two weeks ago.

Only Christ can tell us to “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Other human beings don’t have that authority.  Christ will speak to us in the depths of our heart, in the privacy of our consciences, when all other judgmental people have disappeared, and when we are alone with Christ.  Only Christ  knows whether we have sinned or not.  If other people try to point out the sins of others, they fall into the same trap as the scribes and Pharisees in today’s story.  They open themselves up to the same rebuke that Jesus gave them:  “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The scribes and the Pharisees in today’s story can be forgiven for their error because of their ignorance.  They were doing what they had been taught to do.  I think of that lesson when I am confronted with church leaders who oppose any sort of progress for LGBT equality.  It is not necessarily evil and hatred that motivates them.  Instead, I think, most of the time they are held captive by the narrowness of their own upbringing.  That is why we must constantly seek to educate such people. We must continue to tell our stories, even when they don’t want to hear them.  We must continue to speak out so that others can learn the deeper messages of God’s Word.

Our job is not to point out whether we think other people have committed a sexual sin, the sin of homophobia, or any kind of sin.  Our job is to examine our own lives, recognize our own need for God’s mercy and forgiveness, and to try to offer that same mercy and forgiveness to others.  If we think of ourselves as in this story, we certainly should not picture ourselves as Jesus.  We don’t even need to think of ourselves as the woman.  The scribes and Pharisees, the ones who are too inclined to judge others and to appeal to the authority of the law, are the people that I think we most reflect.

In today’s first reading from Isaiah, God tells us that we need to give up our habitual patterns and our penchant for always doing things the way they have been done for so long.  We need to be aware that our old ways of thinking need to be transformed:

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

God is always calling us to something new.  Isaiah continues with a message that even the situations which seem most hopeless for renewal can, in fact, be renewed by God:

In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
Wild beasts honor me,
jackals and ostriches,
for I put water in the desert
and rivers in the wasteland. . .

God does not give up on us–ever!  And God does not give up on those who are opposed to LGBT equality–ever!  God is always wanting us to renew ourselves, to examine our lives–not the lives of others–and to be open to “something new.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Without An Experience of Extravagant Love, We Have No Hope to Become Better

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64:2-7; Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 33-37.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Advent originally was a 40 day fast that helped Christians to prepare for Christmas.  While most Catholics have dropped the penitential fasting, we have retained a mood of sober reflection.  In the excitement of shopping and planning holiday parties, the readings for the first Sunday of Advent – in particular, the first reading by Isaiah — give us a space to reflect briefly on our need for God’s extravagant love.

Isaiah mourns the sinfulness of his people.  He claims they have strayed so far from God that they are like “withered leaves” without life and that their “good deeds are like polluted rags.”  But “no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen” such greatness as God.  Isaiah praises God’s true greatness by starting and ending his lament with the bold proclamation that God remains the people’s loving parent despite their hardened hearts.  Though the people stray from righteousness, God waits with outstretched arms to embrace them like a father or mother would embrace a beloved child.

In a similar vein, Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th century Christian author, creates a humbling picture of God’s extravagant love and desire for relationship with us as revealed through Jesus:

“Jesus clings lovingly to those who even depart from him… [He] makes excuses for them, and further promises to serve them, and runs towards and meets even those who hold themselves aloof… when his entire self has embraced their entire selves, he kisses them, and does not reproach them for former things, but rejoices over the present, and holds a feast, and calls together friends…”

I cannot help but to think of God’s extravagant love made manifest between human beings in the scene from Les Miserables where Valjean is given a meal and place to sleep by an elderly bishop.  In the middle of the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver, strikes the old man when confronted, and flees into the darkness.  When Valjean is apprehended the next morning and returned to the bishop’s residence, the bishop dismisses the police and helps Valjean to pack up the rest of the silver.  The bishop realizes that, without an experience of extravagant mercy and love, Valjean has no hope to transform into someone better.

I think it is the same for us – without an experience of extravagant love, we have no hope to become better than we are.  In the midst of making Christmas present lists and writing cards, perhaps each of us might reflect on how we have experienced God’s extravagant love in our own lives, give thanks for that experience, and, like the elderly bishop from Les Miserables, find ways to share that same love with others.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry




Good Friday: Oppressed, Condemned, Taken Away

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?
When he was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
a grave was assigned him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
though he had done no wrong
nor spoken any falsehood. . . .

Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
and he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.

–Isaiah 53:7-9, 10-12





Choosing Between Mercy and Judgment

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72: 1-2. 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15: 4-9; Matthew 3: 1-12.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

“Slay the wicked.”  “Crush the oppressor.”  “Coming wrath.”  “Unquenchable fire.”  In today’s readings, Isaiah and John the Baptist use some strong language about God’s impending judgment and wrath.  And I like it. 

I would not mind seeing some hardcore divine judgment fall upon people who perpetrate evil in our world.  I am tired of reading in the news about hungry children, homeless families, corrupt politicians, war-torn countries, and corporate greed.  I am angry that the strong and influential exploit the weak and unknown.  How long, O Lord, until the oppressors are crushed and the wicked are slain?

However, contrary to Isaiah, John the Baptist, and my own deeply flawed heart, judgment and wrath are not the way of Jesus or the God he proclaimed.

Through Jesus, we see that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  God overwhelms all of us with love that exceeds our ability to sin – that is mercy!  It is not asked for or deserved, but freely and lavishly given.  Judgment and wrath bring only sadness and death into our world, not life – and our God is one of abundant life.  Mercy brings true justice and wholeness into our world.   

What does this mean to us?  As Catholic LGBT people and allies, we can create a more inclusive Church by welcoming God’s abundant mercy into our own hearts, and then by sharing that love with others–particularly with those fellow Catholics who may say disparaging things or create discriminatory policies against LGBT people.  It is our own experience of undeserved mercy that compels us to generously extend mercy to others. 

For example, if a bishop or pastor condemns marriage equality, I think denouncing him as a bigot who hates lesbian and gay people is not consistent with what Jesus taught.  Our culture encourages us to attack those who disagree with us, but angry words and vitriol will only magnify and perpetuate the mistrust and rancor in our Church.  Instead, perhaps we should focus on building relationships – invite the bishop or pastor to have coffee or lunch to share our stories.  Send him a Christmas card with a family photo.  If he keeps us at arm’s length, we should keep the doors open by periodically reaching out to him.  Our task is to build bridges rather than throw stones. 

Our loving witness and patient invitation to dialogue will give others the opportunity to experience God’s mercy – and possibly change their hearts about LGBT people.  We pursue justice for LGBT people by changing hearts through showing mercy in personal interactions, not through judgment and wrath.

There is power in mercy.  As we continue our Advent preparations, perhaps we can reflect on how God’s “mercy triumphs over justice” in our own lives – and how we can show mercy to others.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

‘He was not the light’

On the third Sunday of Advent, the gospel focused on John the Baptist.  The people around John are confused as to his identity, and ask if he is the Messiah.  John responds:

“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

While we often think of Advent as a time of waiting, another less emphasized theme that runs throughout this season’s liturgies is the theme of recognition.  Yes, we are waiting for the Messiah, preparing the way, but will we recognize the Messiah’s arrival when it happens?

What makes John the Baptist a great model is that he can recognize the Messiah because he knows  that he is NOT the Messiah, even when others try to make him such.  He knows that he is a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Messiah.  John knows what his role is, and he knows that he does not have to do everything.   His job is to prepare the way, and also to recognize the Messiah. Remember in the Visitation gospel that John moved in Elizabeth’s womb when the pregnant Mary arrives. He was the first to recognize the Messiah.

In the reading from Isaiah 61, we learn how to recognize the Messiah by hearing how the Messiah’s arrival is proclaimed:

“[God] has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.”

As we work for justice for LGBT people in the church and society,  our job is to recognize and celebrate when God’s saving power and justice are made real in the world.  While we may sometimes grow wearisome of  being voices crying in the wilderness, we should remember that we are not called to save the world, but to prepare the way for the One who does the saving.   Our job, like John’s, is simply to testify:

“He [John] came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

–Francis DeBernardo