Divine things and human things;
A matter of perspective?
Homily delivered on September 13, 2015
By Colleen Hartung
In one of the last scenes of my favorite movie, The Sound of Music, Sister Margaretha and Sister Berthe approach the Reverend Mother as the Nazis spread out across the Abbey to search for the Von Trapp family. “Reverend Mother I have sinned” says Sister Margaretha. “I too” says sister Bertha. The Reverend Mother asks the sisters what sin they have committed. The sisters lift their robes revealing the distributors and coils they have removed from the Nazis’ cars. I’ve seen this movie more than 50 times and every time I laugh. Sister Margaretha and Sister Berthe are indeed breaking the letter of the law—vandalism and stealing violate the 10 commandments and civil law. But it is clear in this movie that their actions are a good, brave and even divinely inspired response to the great evil of their time. At great risk to them themselves and to the Abbey, they outsmart the Nazi’s and save the Von Trapps. They have their mind on divine things, as today’s gospel puts it, while the Nazi soldiers are set on the human pursuit of power. Here, in this movie, the line between a divine orientation and human things is clear.
However, in real life this distinction is not always so neat and clean. The events unfolding in Rowan County, in Kentucky in the last month or so, illustrate that the claim that someone has their mind set on divine things and not human things can be problematic—especially as this claim supports a demand for an exemption from civil law. Kim Davis, the Rowan county clerk, has repeatedly refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. She claims divine inspiration and “God’s authority” as the basis for her actions. After being jailed for five days last week for her defiance, she emerged from the Rowan County jail to a hero’s welcome. Addressing the crowd, Kim said “I just want to give God the glory. His people have rallied and you are a strong people.”
Kim Davis might as well be reading from, the prophet Isaiah today (Isaiah 50: 4-91) when he says,
“God helps me:
Therefore I have not been disgraced;
Therefore I have set my face like flint,
And I know that I shall not be put to shame;
The one who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is God who helps me;
Who will declare me guilty?
Or from today’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-38), where Jesus calls to the crowd,
“If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me…. Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed….”
It is easy to imagine Kim Davis, and those who support her, reading today’s scriptures and finding inspiration, solace and justification for their actions. Kim Davis’ supporters, waiting for her outside the jail, took up their white crosses and waved them back and forth as they sang “Amazing Grace”. And they marveled at her courage and conviction in the face of the powerful court judge who put her in jail for acting on her beliefs.
But it is also easy to imagine Kim Davis’ detractors holding these same scriptures close to their hearts as they confront her condemnation. The writer of the Letter of James (James 3:1-12) says, “the tongue is a fire…. With it we bless God and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” And it just so happens that I have my own cautionary tale in relation to this kind of appropriation. Facebook is a wonderful invention that connects us in amazing ways to family and friends but it also has this crazy, sort of interesting way of connecting us to national and world events in surprisingly personal ways that we could not have imagined just a decade or so ago. This past Monday I was scrolling down my feed checking for pictures and commentary from the kids’ Labor Day Weekend adventures when I ran across a post from my cousin Beth.
Yesterday was my last day at Harrington’s. I was sad to leave the Farm as I enjoyed my work and have met so many wonderful people, both volunteers and our visitors. The Farm is currently involved in a spiritual battle. As a practicing Catholic, I cannot in good faith or clear conscience, be involved in same-sex ceremonies that may be hosted by Harrington’s. I ask that you pray for the Board members as they continue in this struggle.
I support Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky…. I will continue to pray for her and would sit in that jail cell if I could. Thanks for your support and your friendship.
And then the comments begin.
You will be rewarded and a different door will open!
I am very, very proud of your stand for Biblical principles. I also support Kim Davis! Christians need to take a stand! Love, Hugs and Prayers!
We are under attack. Our nation will fall if we continue to turn from God.
And then my response:
While I appreciate your personal struggle, the Jesus I know is an open and compassionate presence that journeys with all of us in our joys and struggles. When you post things like this on Facebook, it assumes that your life experience is everyone’s experience and is a reflection of God’s opinion. You are making judgments about good people that other people love and the God I know is not that kind of presence.
It would have all been good if I had stopped there. But the story goes on and I must confess, in the words of Sister Margaretha, “Reverend Mother, I have sinned.” The next morning, I got up stewing over the whole interaction. As I was drying my hair in the bathroom I kept coming up with one witty response after the other. And then, even though I knew I should not, I walked to the computer and added another comment.
Oh yes. And in terms of biblical principles, in Christian Scriptures Jesus comes to transform the letter of the law as it was interpreted by the religious leaders of the time. He transformed the law in light of the one great command–Love God with all your heart mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus ate with and served the outcast and the sinners who judged them.
I paused a moment. Did I really mean to call them all sinners? “Click” and send. A few minutes later there was a “Ding”. I clicked again to see my cousin’s response. She had deleted both my comments. I didn’t even know you could do that! And then I tried to rally my supporters. I messaged Mary Kate part of the exchange. “You posted that?” “Yes, I did.” I called my mom. After I read her the exchange she said, gently, “Why don’t you read the first part to me again, slowly this time.” I had known before I had reached out to both of them that I had crossed a line. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” In my first response to my cousin, I say that Jesus is an open and compassionate presence that journeys with all of us in our joys and struggles. But then in my second comment, I take Jesus’ words and claim the authority to condemn my cousin and her friends as judgmental sinners. And with that the whole thing turns into a sort of tit for tat.
In today’s scripture, Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah but he rejects Jesus’ understanding of this identification. Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, is a Messiah that proclaims the good news by touching people; the sick, the possessed, the unclean, the blind, the lame, tax collectors, Gentiles, women and the least of all, children. Looking ahead, in chapter ten of the Gospel of Mark, against the rebuke of his disciples, Jesus pulls a child into his arms and proclaims the Kingdom. “’Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10: 13-16). And for all this Jesus will “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed….”
When Peter rebukes Jesus in today’s scripture, Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” For Mark’s Jesus, power and judgment, whether claimed and administer from the right or the left are human things. For Mark’s Jesus, to have our mind set on divine things is to engage in a ministry that embraces those we consider to be the least of these in our own midst, here in the assembly, in our everyday lives with our families, our cousins, our co-workers and our happen stance acquaintances and in the larger world around us, no matter the cost.