Coming out of our pre-Vatican spirituality, it is difficult not to follow Ayn Rand instead of Jesus. A sense of community and justice was severely lacking in much that passed for spirituality in those days. It was about “me-and-Jesus.” WIFM (What’s in It for Me) was the rule of thumb. What must I do to save my own soul and gain eternal salvation at some near or distant point in the future. There was no concept that the Kin-dom is here now and is still coming.
Overriding the concept of morality was the ever present obsession with sex as dirty. My friend, former teacher, mentor, and moral theologian par excellence, Daniel Maguire of Marquette University, has written his memoirs. His sense of Irish mirth leads us to deeper theological understandings. The second chapter deals with Augustine and sex and how the church has always obsessed with pelvic morality. Sex was not a joyful participation in God’s creative activity. It was dirty. Sexual intercourse with one’s spouse was all right as long as you did not take any pleasure in it. (Augustine also said you could kill the barbarians at Rome’s walls if you had love in your heart.) Do what? Unfortunately, we know the excessive preoccupation with matters pelvic has led the church into the present crisis. The book, A Merry Memory of Sex, Death and Religion, takes its title from a statement by G. K. Chesterton, “Life is serious all the time, but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in your neckties, but in anything important (such as sex, death, and religion), you must have mirth or you will have madness.” I hope Dan’s book will lead us away from madness into mirthful understanding of life’s great realties.
Back to Jeremiah and Luke. Jeremiah is not addressing fallen away individual sinners. Sin for him is a corporate affair:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.
Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech.
Salvation has a communal dimension. Sin has communal consequences. Sin goes beyond pelvic morality to address important issues such as justice for the widows, orphans and immigrants. Sin is all about justice, all about right order in our lives, in our communities, in our nations. While most moral theology books traditionally have dwelt on sexual morality, Jesus did not preach one sermon about sex that I can recall. His inaugural address in Capernaum dealt with liberating captives and freeing the oppressed. When he dealt with the woman at the well (a person he not even supposed to be talking to lest he incur ritual impurity because she was a Samaritan) and the woman caught in adultery, he did not launch into a diatribe on the evils of sex. He let both women know in a gentle fashion that their lives would be better if they refrained from promiscuous sexual behavior, not from all sexual behavior.
Excessive preoccupation with matters sexual can keep a person from commitment to the important issues Chesterton is talking about. To get a view of real sex (not the HBO variety!) read and re-read the Song of Songs which extols the beauty of sexual love. No wonder some people cannot figure out how it got in the canon of scripture. When is the last time you heard a sermon based on the book?
Jesus cures a man possessed by the demon of muteness and the man speaks. The evangelist does not tell us what the man said but I bet it was something like, “Jesus, thank you for being with me in my pain and for setting me free. Praise God!” Immediately the religious authorities accused Jesus of casting our demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons. How ridiculous! Jesus lights into them. The Kin-dom is about being with people in their misery. Richard Rohr gives us great insight into the purpose of Jesus’ healing ministry (and all involved in healing ministry should listen carefully):
Jesus hung in total solidarity with the pain of the world and the far too many lives on this planet that have been “nasty, lonely, brutish, and short.” After the cross, we know that God is not watching human pain, nor apparently always stopping human pain, as much as God is found hanging with us alongside all human pain. Jesus’ ministry of healing and death, of solidarity with the crucified of history, forever tells us that God is found wherever the pain is. This leaves God on both sides of every war, in sympathy with both the pain of the perpetrator and the pain of the victim, with the excluded, the tortured, the abandoned, and the oppressed since the beginning of time. I wonder if we even like that. There are no games of moral superiority left for us now. Yet this is exactly the kind of Lover and the universal Love that humanity needs.
This is exactly how Jesus “redeemed the world by the blood of the cross.” It was not some kind of heavenly transaction, or “paying a price” to an offended God, as much as a cosmic communion with all that humanity has ever loved and ever suffered. If Jesus was paying any price it was to the hard and resistant defenses around our hearts and bodies. God has loved us from all eternity. (Email from the Center for Action and Contemplation, March 7, 2013)
Like Jesus we hang with all those who are suffering and, in the power of the Spirit of the Risen Cosmic Christ, bring healing where we can. We bring healing to individuals and also to institutions which cause pain and suffering—the the victims and to the oppressors.