You Have Heard It Said…But Let’s Rethink It! Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Feb 16th, 2014 Pop Quiz: #1: In the creation myth, Satan takes the form of which reptile? Serpent? WRONG. Satan isn’t in the creation story. A serpent is the creation story, well, there are two contradictory, pre-scientific creation stories in Genesis and the […]
You Have Heard It Said…But Let’s Rethink It!
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Feb 16th, 2014
#1: In the creation myth, Satan takes the form of which reptile?
Satan isn’t in the creation story. A serpent is the creation story, well, there are two contradictory, pre-scientific creation stories in Genesis and the serpent is a character in one of them, but in the story the serpent is just a serpent, though strangely chatty. The human characters in the story don’t seem to know that as a rule snakes make miserably poor conversationalists. The serpent will MUCH later be identified as the boogey man by the writer of Revelation, but in the story itself, the verbose snake is just a snake.
#2: What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?
Sodom & Gomorrah is a horror story about violence and drunkenness and incest and all kinds of ghastly behavior, none of which is condemned in the story.
A biblical writer actually spells out what the sin of Sodom was and it had nothing to do with a rainbow flag or a Donna Summer dance mix.
Ezekiel 16.49 tells us, “This was the sin of Sodom – they were arrogant and self-satisfied and they did not help the poor and hurting.”
So, to use the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a weapon against same-gender loving people is a little bizarre. The truth is that love and attraction and covenantal fidelity and mutuality are not even part of the story, and certainly loving relationships of any gender makeup are not condemned. In fact, loving, mutual, adult relationships are never condemned in the bible regardless of the gender of the partners.
#3: Last one.
Where in the bible can we find the phrase, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”?
That phrase is nowhere in the bible.
The phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” is by Samuel Butler, who in the 1600s wrote a poem called “Hudibras”
(Joo-di-braes), which was a satirical poem making fun of religion and politics and even bad poetry itself.
The hero of the mock epic is Sir Hudibras, and Butler says of the hyper religious but not terribly reasonable Hudibras,
“For his Religion, it was fit to match his learning and his wit;
‘Twas Presbyterian true blue; for he was of that stubborn crew
Of errant saints, whom all men grant to be the true Church Militant;
Such as do build their faith upon the holy text of pike and gun;
Decide all controversies by Infallible artillery;
And prove their doctrine orthodox by apostolic blows and knocks;
Call fire and sword and desolation, a godly thorough reformation,
Which always must be carried on, and still be doing, never done;
As if religion were intended for nothing else but to be mended.”
Later in the poem, Butler actually becomes a bit ribald, making use of double entendre. Romantic affection is like a child, he suggests, and the rod is a bawdy metaphor for male anatomy. Butler basically says that if you want to spoil the baby making process, then one’s rod should be used judiciously, or sparingly. He writes,
“What medicine else can cure the fits of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets styled, then spare the rod and spoil the child.”
Nope, it ain’t in the bible, but if it were it would need to be in the Song of Songs.
Now, Proverbs 23 does say that if you beat your children they will not die, which (1) isn’t necessarily true, and (2) isn’t nearly as fun as the satirical poem which actually does say, “spare the rod and spoil the child”!
In any case, the phrase is only about four centuries old and comes from a comedic, English poem, not from ancient Hebrew scriptures, and the phrase is about romance, not about roughing up your children.
Now, we could have lots more fun exploring what the bible does and doesn’t say.
We could read portions of the Song of Songs, sometimes called Song of Solomon, an erotic collection of songs that talks about forbidden love, outdoor lovemaking, frequent lovemaking, explicit descriptions of body parts (and fun ways they can be used), and is exclusively about the love and passion two people share, never mentioning religion at all!
We could focus on Leviticus’ prohibitions against eating shellfish, pork, and getting tattoos as we compare tats while eating shrimp cocktail and ham sandwiches at the Knights of the Flat Earth and Biblical Literalism Hall.
We could talk about the so-called sin of Onan. As a child I was led to the believe the sin of Onan was a solo act, but Gen 38 says that Onan’s misdeed of spilling his seed (as sloppy gardeners do) happened during a conjugal visit with the Mrs.
So, I think that one was not really presented to me with literary integrity.
We could also then explore those same passages more deeply and discover liberating truths that exist even when the stories themselves are not factual or have been misunderstood or poorly communicated.
Yes, we could do that, and we should. That’s what Jesus is doing in the gospel reading today.
He tells his listeners, “You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times…but here’s what I say.”
You’ve heard it presented one way, but let’s look at it a little differently.
You’ve heard it said in the Ten Commandments that you should not commit murder, but I say to you that unreasonable anger that leads you to try assassinate someone’s character is also unworthy of you. Sure, if you assaulted someone you’d wind up in court, but the court of conscience and character would convict you at the soul level for trying to kill someone’s dignity.
Biblical literalism isn’t good enough (it’s also not possible; biblical literalism is selective literalism, always).
You’ve heard bible verses and stories, but I say keep thinking and go beyond what you’ve been spoon fed. That’s what Jesus is saying today.
Like Sirach, Jesus is telling us that we have the power to make choices, and if our choices have brought undesired consequences, we can make new choices. We can even choose new ways of understanding and approaching the bible.
People taking responsibility for what they bring to and what they take from religion is actually part of the gospel witness. Luke begins his gospel by saying, “I have carefully investigated” (not I received all this by way of angelic telegram)…I have CAREFULLY investigated everything (I’m writing about) from the beginning and I DECIDED (me, I made a choice) to write an account for you.” No hiding behind “God told me this” or “some ancient text told me that” but Luke just saying, “I have something to say, I’ve done some work on this, and I’m sharing my thoughts with you.”
And in Matthew 15 when Jesus is asked about divorce, he says, “Moses permitted divorce” not God or the church or tradition or some oracle or book, MOSES said divorce was OK, and then he adds, “but I tell you…” and then he goes on to discourage divorce. Moses thought this, but I think something else. God gave us brains, we get to use them.
Jesus, or at least the Jesus Matthew would have us consider, was no fundamentalist. Now, I will add that Jesus’ issue with divorce wasn’t to keep people trapped in miserable or unsafe situations. In Jesus’ day and culture women had almost no status apart from a man, so for a man to leave a woman was almost always to leave her destitute with no means of support. Jesus liked women more than that and said you don’t get to let someone starve just because you lost that loving feeling. Jesus doesn’t say divorce is wrong; he says it can be wrong for MEN to leave their wives in a society where women have a difficult time surviving without a man. Jesus’ issue with divorce wasn’t because marriage was more important than people, it was because women were more important than unearned male privilege.
If Jesus were to rework his sermon on the mount today, he might add a few more zingers, like:
You’ve read in Colossians 3.22 “slaves obey your masters” but I say to you do not use scripture to dehumanize anyone!
You’ve read in 1 Corinthians 14.34 “women should remains silent in church” but I say to you that Paul telling a few disruptive people in one church to behave themselves is not the same as telling all women for all time to just sit in a pew like a bump on a pickle; women are made in the image of God and are called to share in God’s work.
You’ve read in Ephesians 5.22 “wives submit to your husbands” but I say to you couples, whatever the gender identities in the relationship, support each other, lift each other up, be loving and generous and helpful to each other; it’s about love, not who does or doesn’t have a Y chromosome.”
Matthew’s Jesus tells us that we don’t get to hide behind tradition and dogma. We must make choices, and make new choices when the old ones prove to be less than ideal. We get to reexamine our scriptures, ask questions, try on new ways of understanding and employing the old teachings so that they can be relevant and liberating to new generations. You’ve heard a lot of stuff said in the name of God, but we can always rethink it. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
I give thanks for power of choice.
I give thanks that spirituality can be joyous and liberating.
I give thanks that no matter what I’ve heard…
I am free to rethink it;
because the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!
And so it is.