Full Contact Bible Study Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Feb 12, 2017 I want to tell you a story. It’s difficult. It’s ugly. It’s also 100% biblical. Judges 19: A man traveling with his concubine (a “lesser” wife) stops in Gibeah to spend the night. He waits in the town square for someone to offer him […]
Full Contact Bible Study
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Feb 12, 2017
I want to tell you a story. It’s difficult. It’s ugly. It’s also 100% biblical.
Judges 19: A man traveling with his concubine (a “lesser” wife) stops in Gibeah to spend the night. He waits in the town square for someone to offer him hospitality, but no one does. Finally, an elderly man notices the couple and offers them a room for the night. The gentleman gives refreshments and a bed to the couple.
However, before too long, some horrible men descend on the old man’s house. They call out, “Send your guest out so that we may have our way with him!” The old man went outside to try to reason with the diabolical gang. He said, “Please, friends, do not be so wicked. This man is my guest and I am honor bound to protect him. Instead of hurting him, let me give you my daughter and his concubine. Ravish them, but do not hurt the man.” What??!!
The gang of evil doers was having none of the old man’s protestations, so the traveler comes out with his concubine in hand and tosses her out to the gang. He and the old man then go inside, bolt the door and go to bed for the night.
The gang did to the concubine what they had wanted to do to her husband…and they did it all night long. At dawn, the woman crawled to the door of the house and collapsed and there she lay until her husband opened the door. He looked down at her dirty, bruised, limp body and said, “Get up, let’s go.” And she neither moved nor answered. So, he placed her on his donkey, traveled the rest of the way home, took her body inside his house, grabbed a knife, cut her body into 12 parts…by the way, the story does not at this point say that the woman is dead.
He then sends her body parts throughout the territory, saying to the leaders of the various tribes, “Look what has been done to me! Now, what are you going to do about it?” That ends chapter 19. As you might imagine, more violence follows.
What do we do with such a blood curdling tale of horror? Most churches ignore it.
It is eerily similar to a story in Genesis 19 where two travelers come to Sodom, accept hospitality in Lot’s home, a gang of terrible men show up, pound on the door and demand that Lot’s guests be released to them so they can sexually assault them. Lot, the presumed protagonist of the story, comes to his guests’ defense and offers the gang his daughters instead. The gang isn’t interested, and so the guests who apparently have magic powers blind the would-be assailants and lead Lot and his family out of town. Shortly thereafter , the town is destroyed by some mysterious means, Mrs. Lot is zapped into oblivion for looking over her shoulder…looking back was unforgiveable but being willing to sacrifice your daughters didn’t even get stern finger wag in the story, and eventually Lot winds up drunk in a cave where he has incest with both of his daughters.
What do we do with such a horrific story?
Somehow that nauseating story has been used not to condemn incest or rape or mob violence, and not to condemn those who would abuse, ignore, target, or harm foreigners, travelers, or refugees. Instead, many churches chose to use that story of inhuman violence to condemn same-gender love and attraction. Somehow, people saw a story about gang violence and thought it was meant to keep gay folks from ever having a date.
That story has been used to demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people for centuries. A story about violence has been used to do spiritual and psychological violence against gay and lesbian people.
PS, if we read further we’d realize the story isn’t homophobic but racist…it is an origin story about the Moabites and Ammonites…you see, they were said to be the communities that were started by the children of incest between Lot and his daughters. It was a slur against enemies, not an attack on love. It was still mean, but just not mean to gays.
The prophet Ezekiel called out the sin of Sodom, and he didn’t pride parades or dance mixes. Ezekiel said the sin of Sodom was, “…they were unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” By Ezekiel’s definition, it’s haters, not lovers, who are the true Sodomites.
What are we to do with these graphic, dehumanizing stories in our sacred book? What are we to do with what feminist scholar Phyllis Trible called, “Texts of Terror”? I’m glad you asked!
These stories are examples of how cruel people can be, but they are not prescriptions of how we ought to behave or how we might honor God.
Jesus shows us what to do with these stories. We should do what he did in the sermon on the mount – we should declare, “You have heard that, but I say this.”
You have heard that Genesis 19 condemns same-gender love and attraction, but I say, that’s a damn lie!
You have heard that God loves you but, and I say, God loves you period!
Jesus isn’t disrespecting the sacred texts, and neither am I…I appreciate that the ancient writers and editors left in stories that show humanity at its worst, to show us how ugly that is. These stories aren’t in there for us to emulate! The late night horror flick that the Sodom and Gomorrah story is, or that that the story of the traveler and is concubine in the book of Judges is, aren’t meant to be used to justify our being cruel to gays or travels or refugees or anyone else. They are there to show us how utterly against our divine nature such myopic cruelty is. These stories aren’t a how to guide, they are a warning sign…DON’T BE LIKE THESE MONSTERS! Try compassion and peace and justice and community…value relationship more than rules, peace more than power, hope more than hate.
Jesus is saying, Instead of using the old stories thoughtlessly, let’s engage them, wrestle with them, argue with them, redeem them, and find hope and healing in them rather than using them to cause more pain.
So far in the sermon on the mount, Jesus blesses those who grieve and cry and feel like they’re running on empty. He tells them they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Then he says, “you’ve heard scripture used like rules; now let’s focus more on relationships, on kindness, on generosity, on building community, on treating one another as if all people were the children of God.” That’s what all the anger management and don’t resort to name-calling stuff was about in today’s gospel passage. Jesus knows the scriptures, he just offers new and more liberating ways of engaging them.
We’ve heard some terrible things from religion, but now we choose to present religion as progressive, positive, and practical. And this is the good news! Amen.
©Durrell Watkins 2017
Heal us from religion misused.
Let faith bring us peace and joy.
Bless us to be a blessing to others.