Monday, January 04, 2021

Read the Bible with Me!

Welcome to the Pauline Family's "Year of the Bible"! I'm reading the Bible clear through this year, and I invite you to read along with me. But first, let us pray: 

I praise you, my God, with all people.
May they thank and adore you!
You have written your greatness in creation,
your Law in consciences,
your eternal promises in the Bible.
You are eternally faithful and always lovable!
As I read Sacred Scripture today, open my mind to hear your voice and understand your loving message.

Today's three chapters are Leviticus 20-22.

One verse in today's selection gets misused and taken completely out of context, resulting in incredible hurt for a lot of people. It is Lev 20:13, which speaks of homosexual activity as an "abomination" which is to be punished with the death penalty. That is pretty drastic. The death penalty was also prescribed in the case of adultery, child sacrifice, bestiality, and certain forms of incest. (“Abomination” was often used with regard to idol worship). There are a lot more verses in Leviticus detailing the penalties for every variation of incest than on homosexual activity, which gets a single mention in chapter 18 and again here where the same basic content is repeated. That context is important. Leviticus is not singling out gay people: It is a lawbook, and we have reached the pages on laws affecting family life, the basis of all society. 

We are looking at some very primitive material here, witnessing the way God led the Chosen People step by step from a completely pagan life, with family idols and child sacrifice (20:2-5) and multiple wives to the realization that there was only One True God, and that he could not be represented by an idol, and that he created each and every human being in his image. The family based on the marriage of a man and a woman is, in God's creative wisdom, the best place for developing his image in every person to the full. Whatever threatens that beauty in any individual threatens the person at his or her deepest level. All the laws concerning family life are ultimately ordered to protecting that, but sometimes the Bible resorts to "cave man language," like the death penalty. All of this was a process of Divine Revelation, preparing the way for God to come in person, in Jesus. 

We have to read every Old Testament passage in the light of the New Testament, the way St Paul did. Some passages, like the specific penalties for certain sins, are related to the times and way of life of the people at that stage. Truths, including moral truths, remain true. Social norms, such as the stoning of adulterers, can be modified: “Go and sin no more” (see John 8:11).

For a deeper look at questions concerning homosexuality and Catholic life, I recommend Courage International. You might want to start, in fact, with their FAQ section.

Eden Invitation is a solidly Catholic ministry by and for young adults who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.

Start reading here.

If you are looking for a solid but approachable companion to the Bible, I can wholeheartedly recommend A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament by Brant Pitre and John Bergsma. Although the authors are top-level Scripture scholars, they write for "real" readers. Notes include recent findings from archaeology and ancient manuscripts.


Anonymous said...

The people needed two things to grow and flourish, land and children. Could the condemnation of homosexuals stemmed from the fact that they don't provide children?

Sister Anne said...

I think we need to be attentive to the way the law is written. It addresses behavior and nothing else. (Actually, good law can only address external behavior!) There is no condemnation of "homosexuals" at all. The law only forbids a man lying with another man "as with a woman." In a culture in which people married quite young, this behavior would have always been in violation of a marriage bond; it would have compromised a family's integrity. The typical connection with cultic prostitution is also significant: pagan shrines often offered communion with the gods through sexual rites with the priest or priestess.