Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Being a Partaker of Hope

Paul uses an interesting image in describing the freedom of those who work for the Kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians chapter 9.  He references the Old Testament prescription (in Deuteronomy 25:4): "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn."

Now, presumably, one would muzzle an ox being used to tread out corn to prevent the ox from eating some of the corn that he treads.  To muzzle the ox under such circumstances would completely reduce the ox to the status of beast of burden, as if the ox existed only to satisfy the needs of the muzzler.  When you muzzle an ox that is being used to tread out the corn, you are essentially saying to the ox: "I can force you to do labor, but you will reap no benefits whatsoever of that labor."  The Deuteronomic prescription here is essentially an acknowledgment that to do so would be an act of animal cruelty.  Oxen have needs.  They get hungry when they work.  If you're using an ox for labor, you owe that ox some basic consideration, including the right to eat a little bit of the corn that it is treading out for you.

The ox does not in other words exist solely for the use of humans.  It has an autonomous existence in and for itself that humans need to consider.  Oxen, in other words, are people too!  There's a whole sermon in this alone, about the value of all life, not just human life, and what it means to be stewards of the planet.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul extends this principle of consideration for animals in the same way that Jesus did in Luke 14:5.  Jesus used the example of pulling an ox out of a pit on the Sabbath.  If an ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath, we don't just leave it in there because it's the Sabbath and we're not supposed to do any work then.  That would be cruel!  We pull the ox out, as soon as it falls in.  Jesus used this example to point out that fundamental human needs are more important than legalistic considerations.  If we'd pull an ox out of the pit on the Sabbath, how much more should we be willing to attend to basic human needs, even when to do so technically breaks the law?  "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath!" (Mark 2:27)

Interesting to me that Paul and Jesus both seem to be making a point here that we very often treat human beings worse than we treat animals.  Both Jesus and Paul are making a point about how human beings should treat one another, by pointing out that if we understand that it is morally right to give basic consideration to an ox, we should be willing to give at least that much consideration to a fellow human being.  Paul goes so far as to say: "Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes?"  In other words, God gave us this commandment about oxen specifically expecting us to understand that this rule applies to people too!

So if this basic principle applies to oxen, surely it applies to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

If oxen are allowed to eat the corn they're treading -- in other words, to meet basic, physical needs -- what about spiritual and emotional needs?  Aren't those more important?

And don't human beings have a fundamental, basic need for love, touch, companionship, intimacy and affection?  When we have those things do we not flourish?  And when we do not have those things, do we not wither?  Göran and I just recently became foster parents again, to a 10-year-old boy.  And having him with us reminds me once again how very, very fundamental those basic human needs are.  We are so much more than just machines that run on food.  Our bodies are temples for our spirits, spirits that need companionship, love, affection, touch.  These are spiritual needs as much as, if not more than, they are physical needs.  If a soul is body plus spirit, then it makes sense that they are simultaneously physical and spiritual needs.

But what if we tell LGBT people in the Church: "You may labor for the Kingdom.  But you may not have an intimate relationship.  You will muzzle that part of yourselves."  If we do that, aren't we treating LGBT folks worse than we would treat an animal?

As Paul says: "For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope" (1 Corinthians 9:10).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, more good thoughts.

I certainly feel a bit hope deprived at times and very much touch deprived. A challenge to be alone in this life.

Thanks for your blog.