The more I travel on after coming out publicly as a transgender person, the more I feel we need to concentrate on healing rather than rage. Of course we must find ways to arrest, deflect and transform rage. Yet living always in the presence of rage is not possible. Like Jesus, sometimes we need simply to pass through the midst of the angry people and go on God’s way. For context is vital in the Bible, isn’t it? Today’s Gospel passage comes directly after Jesus’ reading of Isaiah’s prophecy and declaration of its fulfilment: that ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favuor.’ Immediately after this passage, Jesus also goes on to healing a man with an unclean spirit, and to further healings at Simon’s house. In this passage too, Jesus focuses on the story of the healings of the lepers by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Healing, not rage, is at the heart of this chapter, as it is at the heart of the Gospel as a whole.
Recently, as some of you know, I was interviewed by the ABC journalist Julia Baird about my transgender story. Towards the end she asked me what I thought about Christian opponents and their arguments from scripture. ‘I’d rather not talk much about them’, I said, much to her surprise. For ‘I don’t tend to think too much about them’, I said: ‘I’d rather concentrate on what gives life and heals, because this is what so many people need.’ Such opposition is an angry dead end. After her moment of surprise, Julia agreed. ‘I am sick and tired’, she said, in relation to women, ‘of being told about 1 Timothy 2 and having to argue about it.’
At least ten years ago, John Spong declared that he was unwilling any longer to debate same-sex issues publicly with opponents. ‘I don’t debate with the flat earth society either’, he said. Well, sadly, in the Church we still have to do a little bit of that, or perhaps a few of us do. Yet maybe, like Jesus, it is time to move on, when the rage rises and the clobber texts and other angry weapons fly. Our calling is to healing: to sharing the Spirit of the Lord, bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives and setting the oppressed free. It is very hard, like Jesus, just to pass through and go on our way: especially if, like Jesus, we are with some of those we thought were part of our own home and family. It is hard not to react. It is hard not be drawn into conflict with rage. We may indeed be tempted to fight back angrily, or simply flee away. It is all too hard, this living out of Isaiah’s prophecy, we may say, just as Jesus must have been tempted to say. Yet we have to remember that we are called to healing, for us and for others.
What is the trigger for the rage and rejection of Jesus in today’s Gospel story? It is when Jesus talks about the healing of the widow of Zarephath as the only healing of a widow in Elijah’s time, and when he says that ‘there were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ Of course he says that, for he is reminding his opponents that God heals outsiders, not self-satisfied, spiritually blind insiders. No wonder then that God is seeking to heal today’s religious outsiders – LGBTI+ people and the other metaphorical lepers of our day. No wonder then that the same rage and rejection is often experienced in places which should be our homes and families.
Jesus ‘passed through their midst and went on his way’. He was able to do this because he kept his heart, his eyes and ears, focused on God’s healing purpose and liberating promise. For whilst, temporarily, it can mar and harm, ultimately, rage can never win, because it is denying of truth, self-consuming, and thus faithless. It leads nowhere. Forty years of Mardi Gras tells us that. Indeed, before my recent media foray I asked a notable Anglican ally in Sydney whether I risked certain right-wing opponents unleashing their dogs of war upon me. No, he said, because actually they are ultimately toothless. They need facing down. For we may sometimes still feel we are being taken to the cliff top, ready to be thrown off. As Jesus found however, when we face them down, we come to realise their rage is fruitless. We can pass through and go on our way, for healing is our promise and our joy. In the name of the One who called outsiders friends. Amen.
by Jo Inkpin, for the Integrity Mass, Holy Trinity Fortitude Valley, Monday 5 March