“Graciously in the Presence of Our Neighbor”: Reflections for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ Catholics writing on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in church contexts.  This series is entitled ” ‘Fear Not to Cry Out’ : Challenging White Supremacy and Anti-LGBT Prejudices to Prepare the Way for Our God.”  The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent are 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38. You can read the texts by clicking here.

Katie Grimes

Today’s reflection is from Katie Grimes, an assistant professor of theology at Villanova University, Pennsylvania.

This week’s readings seem to tell a rather straightforward story: Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises God made to King David, in particular, and to the people of Israel, in general. And surely this is how many Christians typically read this set of texts.  Some of us may even go further, adopting supersessionism, which is the idea that, more than simply being the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, the church may seem to have replaced the Jewish people as God’s chosen people.

I have to admit, I do not know how to interpret this week’s collection of readings. They make me uneasy because they seem to write Jewish people out of their own story.  Jewish people were cast in a role, but they did not get to finish the play. But the events of last century have made many Christians uncomfortable with this supersessionist understanding of salvation history. Especially after the Holocaust, Christians began to recognize how certain anti-Jewish church teachings helped to create a culture in which so many Christians perceived Jewish people as a “problem” to which the Nazis had a “final solution.”

Since then, many Christians have been reading our sacred texts in a new way. For example, the bishops who gathered at Vatican II denounced supersessionist theologies when they affirmed that the Jewish people remain God’s chosen people. After all, how could we continue to hope in a God who breaks Her promises? In a similar way, New Testament scholars emphasize the Jewish character of Jesus’ teachings: Jesus was Jewish not just by birth but by belief as well.

Ultimately, then, I do not know how to reconcile what I believe God has revealed to us in this reading from the Gospel of Luke with what I believe God has revealed to us in the horrors of the Holocaust.

Similarly, LGBT Catholics have been on both sides of the church’s sacred texts. They know how Scripture can both console and terrorize; they have experienced it as both balm and bludgeon. They know what it’s like to be pushed out of their own families, friend groups, and church communities.

But LGBT Catholics also know that the Word of God is not a time capsule whose contents must be preserved in some well-guarded museum. They know it is a living person, whom we can only encounter. Thus, Advent is not just a time to wait for God to do in the future what He has promised in the past. Advent reminds us that we are still only in the middle of the story. We are not Luke the Evangelist writing after Jesus has come; we are David the King or Mary the virgin awaiting Jesus’ coming.

While God fulfills God’s promises, in advance we cannot know exactly how these will happen.  And, although we have hope for a happy ending, we will still be surprised along the way. Sometimes God will even reveal to us that we have been wrong about Him. Yet, incredibly, with God, our error is not the end of the world. History, both that recalled in Scripture and that which has unfolded after it, reassures us of this. God keeps Her promises even when we misconstrue them.  God abides even when we misrepresent Him.

Perhaps we ought to read this week’s readings in the way the great Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine counsels us to: “graciously in the presence of our neighbor.” How different would our church be if we read our sacred scriptures graciously and in the presence of those whom Scripture calls us to be neighbor to—the poor, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, and, dare I say, the Muslim or Jewish person? LGBT Catholics are waiting for many other members of the body of Christ to be neighbor to us. Until that day comes, let us read about others as we would have others read about us.

Katie Grimes, Villanova University, December 24, 2017

2 replies
  1. John McDargh
    John McDargh says:

    Thank you Katie.. I am grateful for your reading of these texts … and especially for your attunement to how these sound when read in the presence of loved and respected fellow seekers who are Jewish or Muslim. Blessings on your work at Villanova.. John


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