Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Michaelangelo Allocca, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.
Today’s liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found here.
Good news, bad news: when asked to write a reflection about this Sunday’s readings, I looked at the lectionary and said, “Great, the 1 Corinthians ‘love passage,’ what an excellent thing to write about!” That thought lasted about ten seconds, when it was replaced by “What is there NEW to say about one of the most well-known readings in the entire Bible? And what to say about it that relates to LGBTQ issues, without conflating ‘love’ and ‘sex’?”
Fortunately, I’ve learned in such cases to elbow ego out of the way, read, pray, and listen to the Spirit. As I meditated on the Corinthians passage with the other readings for today, I learned this: love is intimately connected with knowledge; hate and prejudice most often arise from ignorance, or distortions of “knowledge.”
In today’s gospel, we see Jesus rejected – a mild way of saying they tried to kill him – by those who should be throwing a ticker-tape parade for the hometown boy made good. Though it is early in Jesus’ ministry, Luke told us shortly before this story that “news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.” (Lk 4:14-15) The stage is set for a good reaction from his neighbors, his reputation having preceded him, and at least some “spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (4:22)
But then the drama begins, oddly, not with anyone objecting to the audacity of declaring himself the fulfillment of prophecy (as he did at the start of today’s reading, with “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”). Tellingly, the objection Luke quotes is, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” Meaning, “we know this guy” – or at least they think they do. This is an example of what I have called distorted knowledge: the idea that you can sum up a person’s entire being by saying “we know where he was raised, just a little down the road from here, and who his relatives are, and how he grew up; he’s no prophet or scripture scholar!” And when this distorted knowledge is exploded, it creates confusion and uncertainty, which breed fear, and then hostility.
The other readings show what true knowledge is, the kind tied directly to love. God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This is not the kind of “knowledge” the Nazarenes think they have of Jesus. The Hebrew verb used implies intimate, direct contact, and also can mean sexual union. When English translations of the Bible say “knew” to mean “had sex with,” it isn’t a euphemism: it is actually a reflection of this Hebrew word which can mean both things. The way God knew Jeremiah – knows all of us – is the way we know someone with whom we have maintained intimate physical contact, for a long time.
I only recently realized how much Paul says about knowledge, as he teaches about love. Near the beginning of his praise of love, he calls it greater than prophecy and knowledge of mysteries. Near the end, he says that prophecy and knowledge will pass away, but love endures forever. He concludes by contrasting now, as an imperfect time, with then, when we all will achieve the perfection of love. His comment about how these times are different is all about knowledge: “At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” ‘Partial’ is the way the Nazarenes ‘know’ Jesus, leading to misunderstanding and antagonism: knowing fully is knowing “as I am known” – that is, as God knows Jeremiah, knows Paul, knows us.
These readings display the root of the Church’s traditional rejection of our LGBTQ community: it “knows about” us in a catechism sort of way, the way that leads to such pronouncements as “intrinsically disordered” and “God cannot bless sin.” But it is only beginning to know us, in the kind of loving-intimacy knowing that Jeremiah and Paul speak of. To illustrate the long-delayed movement from dismissive, Nazareth-neighbor style “knowing all about,” to “as I am known” knowledge, we need only look at the examples of the two most recent popes.
During their now-legendary chance encounter on a plane, Sister Jeannine Gramick asked then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who at that very moment was investigating her pioneering work with LGBTQ ministry and had refused requests from her Superior General to meet with her because that would be outside the official process) if he knew any homosexual people. He answered that he had seen some, demonstrating against Pope John Paul II – apparently the closest he came to “knowing” any gay people. This, from a man who was older than 70 at the time, and had spent his entire adult life in the Church, where rumor has it a few gay people can be found among its leaders.
Contrast this with Pope Francis, who not only has hosted official meetings with gay and trans people, but has friendships with gay people whose gayness he has acknowledged as part of their God-given identity.
Whatever complaints some may have about this pope’s sometimes fitful progress towards acceptance, there can be no denying that when it comes to LGBTQ people, he has the sort of spiritual knowledge today’s readings speak of, tying it directly to love – and he publicly celebrates this knowledge. This knowledge – the type that proceeds from a person encountering another person, each acknowledging the other as a person – is the real prophetic sign that Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul all show us today.
—Michaelangelo Allocca, January 30, 2022