Jesus presented another parable to the crowds: “The kindom of heaven is like the mustard seed which a farmer sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows it is the biggest shrub of all – it becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come to perch in its branches.”
Jesus offered them still another parable: “The kindom of heaven is like the yeast a baker took and mixed in with three measures of flour until it was leavened all through.”
Mathew 13: 31-33 (Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-21)
It is almost cliché to note that these two parables are about “humble beginnings.” It is cliché until we take a look at what “humble” refers to: insignificant and rag-tag. That is, out of dismissible events and people grow God’s great Empire.
For example, few observers would have suspected that a hole-in-the-wall tranny-bar would become the match to light the modern Gay Rights Movement in the United States. Yet the name Stonewall is now known the world over. In its wake queer sexuality is seen less and less as a predilection and more and more as a life-affirming path.
McCoy-Snell’s painting reminds us that the greatness of a person or even a movement is often masked by the circumstances of their conception and birth.
Jesus presented another parable to those gathered: “The kindom of heaven is like a farmer who sowed good seed in a field. While everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and then made off. When the crop began to mature and yield grain, the weeds became evident as well.
“The farmer’s workers came and asked, ‘Did you not sow good seed in your field? Where are the weeds coming from?’
“The farmer replied, ‘I see an enemy’s hand in this.’
“They in turn asked, ‘Do you want us to go out and pull them up/”
“‘No,’ replied the farmer, ‘if you pull up the weeds, you might take the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until the harvest, then at harvest time I will order the harvesters first to collect the weeds and bundle them up to burn, then to gather the wheat into my barn.’”
-Mathew 13: 24-30
Growing up in and among Kentucky farmers – a long and glorious family lineage – I know how important a good harvest is to the stability of the family. What the enemy has done not only “bests” a rival, but demoralizes and subverts the family as well. Twice the “enemy” is mentioned and the parable develops around the action of this adversary. The concern is the outcome of the enemy’s action and how to neutralize the opponent’s influence.
This parable about the Empire of God appears in the midst of a section of Matthew’s gospel dealing with the nascent rejection of Jesus and his message. It is an early warning that not all will turn out satisfactory in the Jesus story.
I think there is a lesson here for the LGBTQIA community. We certainly know about enemies – those detractors who for one reason or another still point to us as “unnatural.” We are familiar with the weeds they seek to plant among us – hateful and hurtful attitudes which serve only to destabilize our innate orientation. We have set about pulling these weeds with great energy and hope. Yet the weeds spring back.
One day, a farmer went out sowing seed. Some of the seed landed on a footpath, where birds came and ate it up. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. This seed sprouted at once since the soil had no depth, but the sun rose and scorched it, it withered away for lack of roots. Again, some of it landed on good soil, and yielded a crop thirty, sixty, even a hundred time what was sown.
-Matthew 13:3b-9 (Mark 4:3-8; Luke 8:5-18)
It can be hard for queer folk to here this simple parable of seeds and soil. Typically we are cast as the inhospitable ground with the kingdom (or better empire) of God rejecting us or being choked out by the weeds of our “queerness.” The conformist tradition makes it clear that the realm of the Sacred is hetro-centric and only straight people enjoy the bounty of this terrain.
However, such understanding of the kingdom has missed what it is all about. Today we have smoothed out and made palatable to people of democracies the radical notion of God’s realm. The translation above drops the idea of kingdom all together and substitute the notion of a “kin”-dom, a place where we gather because of kinship ties and common ground. Jesus was much more radical. In the face of the Roman occupation and of stubborn religious hegemony Jesus declared the Empire of God – a bulwark of justice and liberation amidst the injustice and oppression of his time.
There is cause for rejoicing here. You may, for a time, have to suffer the distress of many trials. But this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears.
-1 Peter 1:6-8
The christian community was on the ropes. A suspect group within a larger social matrix, the majority of which thought of christians as “those people.” Here is a parallel with the queer experience as marginalized, suspect, and outside the mainstream. In a ironic twist of history (or is it the hand of God at play?) contemporary queers know better the experience of the early church then do the many christians who raise their voice against us. At what point did the persecuted become the persecutors? The answer is always when power corrupts.
The thought and attitude expressed in this text has caused me much frustration. For a number of years I understood the metaphor of refining gold and suffering persecution as a poor excuse for submitting to torment and affliction. I tended to resonate with Dada’s understanding as portrayed above – bigotry contorts and mangles the lives of good people. The present suicide rate among queer teens is a tenacious witness to the crushing effects of bigotry.
Over the years though I’ve come to find this metaphor strangely wise.
Then God showed me Yehoshua the high priest standing before the Angel of Adonai, with the satan standing at the Angel’s right hand, harassing Yehoshua about various things. And the Angel of Adonai said to the satan, “May Adonai silence you, Satan! May Adonai, who chose Jerusalem, silence you. Isn’t Yehoshua a stick snatched from the fire?”
Standing before the Angel, Yehoshua’s clothes were covered in excrement. The Angel said to the attendants, “Help him take off those filthy clothes.”
Addressing Yehoshua, the Angel said, “I have taken away your guilt, and I will clothe you in splendid priestly robes!” Then, to the attendants, “- and put a clean turban on his head!” They dressed Yehoshua as instructed them, as the Angel of Adonai stood nearby.
Clichéd are court scenes before the Holy and Righteous Judge of the living and the dead. Such rhetoric and images as the painting by Stefen Lochner are used to scare and to scar queer people. A tactic which has been around for as long as homosexual, bisexual, and transgender dynamics have been condemned in the name of the of Holy and Righteous Judge of the living and the dead.
Joshua (Hebrew – Yehoshua) standing before the Sacred with the adversary (the satan) standing at his side leveling accusation after accusation is a dynamic well known to us. In an ironic twist religious traditions are the modern Satan, accusing us of wickedness and painting dark pictures of the queer “lifestyle.” Like Joshua we stand in the heavenly tribunal with rags made filthy by the overwhelming onslaught of slander flung at us.