For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry. Today’s post is from Angie Hollar, who received her Master of Divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in 2015. She currently teaches Catholic theology at a high school in the Seattle area.
Scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent can be found by clicking here.
Whenever a gospel passage features the Pharisees, I brace myself. They are the sticklers for the rules: the finicky interpreters of all the nitty-gritty details of Judaism. Pharisees seem to look quite easily past the raw vulnerability of the people right in front of their faces and see only legal case studies. They ask leading questions; they attempt to pigeonhole their interlocutors; they use their institutional privilege to belittle, bully and silence others. And so, predictably, whenever I encounter them in the Scriptures I can feel myself get riled up. I know a conflict is brewing and these guys don’t fight fairly.
The Pharisees had basically turned God into their very own Rubik’s cube. They were convinced they had worked all of the kinks out of God’s algorithm. They served a God who had clearly defined for them all of the rules of engagement. The covenants within the Hebrew Bible are not terribly complicated recipes for harmony between God and the Israelites. Do the prescribed good things and avoid the outlined bad things and all will be well. Therefore, the Pharisees were quick to take on anyone who even thought about rotating one of God’s color blocks. Their fear of losing what they perceived to be their control of God ultimately overtook their lives.
In these Pharisees vs. Outcast moments I want to identify with the outcast. I want to read these stories through the lenses of the marginalized and oppressed. As a social worker and theology teacher, I want to diminish the power that the Pharisees wield and advocate for those who have the misfortune of tangling with them. I fancy myself a good liberal; this is what we do, right?!
However, much to my chagrin, this week I have been fixated on the Pharisees. Therefore, my prayer for the past few days has gone like this: “Dear God, PLEASE don’t make me empathize with the Pharisees—especially not in public!” And yet, when I keep praying with the story of the healing of the man born blind, I find the Pharisees to be my primary point of connection.
I feel like the Pharisees because I can relate to being fearful of a God of surprises and to desiring the same sense of predictability and stability for which they longed. I find myself wary of what God could call me to that might disrupt my life, and so I frequently attempt to keep God at an arm’s length. In my relationship with God I am sometimes the equivalent of one of my students who sits in the back of the classroom and avoids eye contact with me because she dreads being called upon to answer a question.
I wonder how many of us are standing squarely in the tension of desiring a radically more just and loving world yet are fearful of losing our privileges or comfort in the process of change. It’s ugly to admit, but it’s real. After all, how many immigrants have been deported because they spoke out about unjust immigration policies? How many LGBTQ+ persons working in Catholic environments have been fired because of whom they love? How many people of color have been brutalized or killed because they demanded equity? How many women’s careers have been derailed because they rejected a boss’s sexual advances? How many theologians have been censured or silenced because the theological issues they explored threatened the ecclesial status quo? The list goes on and on. Actively discerning the ways that God might be drawing one toward greater authenticity and freedom can sometimes have very difficult and painful consequences.
Humanizing the Pharisees leads me to reflect upon more than my own spiritual challenges, though. Seeing them as individuals with their own sets of baggage also requires me to contemplate what other groups of fearful people I am called to love. I don’t know exactly what it means to love those family members, friends, acquaintances, and strangers within my speck of the universe who are completely consumed by their fear of those who look, love, speak, and think differently than they do. While I don’t know exactly how to love them, I do know that connecting to them is exactly what today’s Gospel is calling me to do right now. In this intensely divisive world, perhaps recognizing our shared humanity and shared fear is a decent starting point. But if I could be nudged to empathize with the Pharisees this week, then my hope must spring eternal that God will show us the way forward.
—Angie Hollar, March 26, 2017
REGISTER BY MARCH 27TH TO AVOID A LATE FEE! New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.