What do a healthy tax collector, a child who has died, and a woman who has been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years have in common? In Jesus’ culture, they are sinners.
When I was in college in the San Francisco Bay area, my best friend was a Lutheran seminary student named Margie. We were both active in our churches, myself being an Episcopalian and her being an ALC Lutheran. We both loved philosophical discussions, and we were both lesbians who believed that same sex relationships were sinful.
The American Psychological Association had just three years before declared that homosexuality was not a mental illness. The Church, for the most part, treated this as grave error, and Margie and I agreed. We were willing and determined to cut off a huge, healthy and vibrant part of ourselves in order to meet the standard that we thought God had ordained, the hetero-normative one. Self-loathing was an insidious part of our psychological experience. We were bad, pure and simple, consumed by evil impulses. It was up to us to deny what was in us through willpower and prayer.
One night we were talking in the chapel of the college I attended, where I was employed for a few hours a week as a secretary. It was a warm night, and we had french doors open to the garden outside. Suddenly a swarm of bees buzzed into the room. Frightened, we rushed outside into the darkness. Then, deciding the bees had been attracted to our light, I dashed back inside to turn off the switch. The bees left. We returned inside, closed the doors and windows, and turned on the light again. To our dismay, the bees came back, crawling under the crack between the door and door frame. This time we left for good.
Talking to my psychotherapist about it later in the week, I asked, “does God hate me so much that I am not even allowed in God’s house?”
I can only imagine what went through my therapist’s head as she tried to decide how to talk to this misguided client of hers. What she said was, “Bees are natural creatures, but they were doing something very unnatural that night. The artificial light was the problem. It confused them. Maybe God wants you out in the darkness away from that light that humans created, so that you can find a more natural light and find your right place in the world, just like the bees needed to do.”
May I have such wisdom when talking to those who come to me with such issues! It was the right answer. I began to ask where the authority to judge – that the church had taken upon itself – had really come from. Was it from God? Or was it simply discomfort with the unfamiliar? Where was the natural light of love to be found?
The healing Christ offers always has this aspect of love to it. Jesus is always telling people who are ostracized and self-loathing that they are good, faithful souls whose trust in him has healed them. They are not stripped to fit the status-quo, but are healed into their full stature. They become who they most deeply are meant to be.
May the healing we offer reflect the same. May we pray to be loving as we are beloved.