Thursday, November 1, 2012

Defined By Fairy Dust (Mathew 18:21-35)

Prayers and Love to all those affected by the Super Storm Sandy.

Peter came up and asked Jesus, “When a sister or brother wrongs me, how many times must I forgive? Seven times?”
                “No,” Jesus replied, “not seven times; I tell you seventy times seven. And here’s why,
                “The kindom of heaven is like a ruler who decided to settle accounts with the royal officials. When the audit was begun, one was brought in who owed tens of millions of dollars. As the debtor had no way of paying, the ruller ordered this official to be sold, along with family and property, in payment of debt.
                “At this, the official bowed down in homage and said, ‘I beg you, your highness, be patient with me and I will pay you back in full!’ Moved with pity, the ruler let the official go and wrote off the debt.
                “Then the same official went out and met a colleague who owed the official twenty dollars. The official seized and throttled this debtor with the demand, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’
                “The debtor dropped to the ground and began to plead, ‘Just give me time and I will pay you back in full!’ But the official would hear none of it, and instead had the colleague put in debtor’s prison until the money was paid.
                “When the other officials saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and went to the ruler, reporting the entire incident. The ruler sent for the official and said, ‘You worthless wretch! I cancelled your entire debt when you pleaded with me. Should you not have dealt mercifully with your colleague, as I dealt with you?’ Then in anger, the ruler handed the official over to be tortured until the debt had been paid in full.
                “My Abba in heaven will treat you exactly the same way unless you truly forgive your sisters and brothers from your hearts.”
Mathew 18:21-35

Forgiveness Map by Paul Foreman
used by permission
This parable is about primary expectations. This parable is also about relationships, both primary and secondary. And this parable is about secondary relationships with primary expectations.

“The empire of God is like a ruler” who undertakes an audit of the books and discovers an official who embezzled such an enormous amount of money that it can never be repaid. Even if generation after generation of the family worked to service the debt it would still go unpaid. Instead of doing the expected thing, or even the just thing, the ruler forgives the debt.

The ruler and the official define themselves in relationship to each other. The bureaucrat at first is defined by his actions as a cheat and a swindler. Yet, when defined by the relationship with the ruler the bureaucrat is understood as worthy and valuable. This definition comes not from the debtor’s behavior, but from the ruler’s decision to forgive the debtor.

What we behold between the ruler and the bureaucrat then is not their individual identities. What we observe is who they are together. We understand their relationship invites some form of mutual solidarity. Separately one is an offended ruler and the other an embezzling bureaucrat. Together they are friends cemented by the gracious act of forgiveness. Forgiveness as Paul Foreman’s “map” indicates, draws upon multiple areas of our lives. Forgiveness is never an act in the life of a singular individual rather forgiveness is a relationship defining act.

The primary relationship is this intimate throne room act of forgiveness.

At this moment I want to make sure we who self-identify as queer side-step a straight conundrum. Queer folks are often defined in relationship to heteronormativity. The very label “queer” (meaning odd or non-normative) testifies to this relational identity. In correlation to heteronormativity queer people can only hope to be validated as the “other.” Any association that defines another as “other” is at best a vestige of colonialism which gives those defining the norm the right to harass and subjugate those who are defined as having less value (historically females, non-northern European males, and queers). This is not a mutual relationship and we should resist any attempts to be defined by our detractors.

On the obverse, the straight community needs queers so that they may define what “healthy” or at least “normative” heterosexuality is. This brings us to the second act of the parable. The ruler and the debtor have defined what a mutual relationship is. Their actions have placed forgiveness at the heart of their relationship which helps us to regard them as friends.

The plot thickens as the debtor in turn meets a colleague who owes the debtor a debt. It is a sum that while no readily at hand, can be raised in a reasonable amount of time. At this juncture, having received forgiveness from the ruler, the bureaucrat is in position to pay forward the tenderness and reconciliation received. The debtor can in essence also define this secondary relationship by primary expectations and allow these two to also be defined as friends. Yet, the bureaucrat acts in the very manner he pleaded to avoid with the ruler: a lesson taught, but not a lesson learned.

When the ruler hears about the actions of the official, the official is hauled before the throne to give an accounting. The primary expectation is now explicit “The ruler sent for the official and said, ‘You worthless wretch! I cancelled your entire debt when you pleaded with me. Should you not have dealt mercifully with your colleague, as I dealt with you?’”

Here’s the rub – the expectation of the ruler is that the ruler’s semi-private throne room definition of the bureaucrat would also be the public definition. Unfortunately for the bureaucrat the ruler now defines the bureaucrat by the relationship with the colleague who was treated not as a friend, but as an enemy.

What can queer people learn from this parable? The general invitation of the text calls to us – as God loves and accepts us so we too should love and accept others – even those we define as “other.” This alone can take a lifetime of spiritual practice to achieve, but the goal may be the most honorable of all.

I also see in the dynamic between the privacy of the throne room and public definition a parallel with queer life. Depending upon the culture in which we live there can be a tension between how we are defined by our lovers and most intimate of friends and family and how we are defined by the public. For example my spouse defines me in beautifully affirming ways, while certain areas of my public life insist on defining me in more degrading terms. If you are wrestling with this dynamic then the parable invites you to understand the private definition as primary over the public definition, and, to tie into the rub of the text, to make public this private definition, or to use other language to spread our fairy dust in public.

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