Sometime in the next few weeks Australians will receive a ballot paper requesting us to vote in relation to marriage equality or, more accurately, marriage justice.
Despite the polling which indicates a positive response to this question by a majority of Australians, we can be sure that there will much rhetoric aimed at convincing people of the right or wrong of this question.
Now this is not a post aimed to convince any one to vote in any particular manner. That’s not my prerogative. I believe that people do have the capacity to consider the facts and to make an unemotional and rational response. Yet I also fear my faith in people to speak and act with dignity and justice will indeed not be honoured by some people, even by some who purport to follow Jesus.
In Matthew 15:1-20 Jesus suggests why. In the midst of a theological and cultural argument about what makes one clean or unclean Jesus sets a standard we will witness on more than one occasion in the coming weeks:
That what we say exposes what is in our heart, that is, what we think and believe about others and their right to be treated as equals.
Much of the argument he was encountering suggested what goes in from the outside contaminates what is on the inside. Types of food and drink in this case, and in discussions about marriage equality whom one chooses to love, contaminates a persons right to be treated as a human being. This is about religious practice and living a life influenced by faith.
Jesus bluntly squashes the argument with some rudimentary physiology. In other words he stated the bleeding obvious, what you eat and drink provides you with the nourishment your body needs and is then flushed down the toilet. It cannot contaminate you ritually or in terms of your faith and life.
What he does say is what contaminates you is already present within. In the discussion with the woman in this passage he applies this to relationships with others. It is what you believe about the world in which you live and those you share it with. If this is a positive life affirming set of beliefs, what is spoken and acted upon will be life affirming for all. If this is discriminatory, fearful and angry, when spoken it will not be life affirming for anyone.
What we believe about others will betray us through our speech despite any efforts we may make to act differently.
And it is not a good look- evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander – these are not the desires of a heart at peace with itself or with the world at large. Jesus touches on something we tend to ignore in ourselves but often see writ large in the lives of others – our ordinary humanity.
We are human and humans are the product of experiences, cultural mores and personal biases. Our hearts are not pure, free of malice for or of fear of others, not even when we go to church regularly or claim Jesus as our Lord and saviour. We continue to be a work in progress and will catch ourselves behaving badly if we are in any way self-reflective and self-aware. Unfortunately many have succumbed almost completely to their own interpretation of the world, of who is and what kind of acts defines one as a created being worthy of being treated as we would wish to be treated.
We may not set out to murder or slander another but the words we use betray our worldview. In a recent seminar a participant used the word: ”crazies” to describe those with complex mental health issues. When challenged he apologised for his choice of words. The problem wasn’t the choice of words but the mindset that thought such a word was an appropriate one to use. It left those of us in the room suffering such health issues wondering if we were his equals or whether we were less than human – crazies?
While we may shake our heads at this example because we do not speak like that, we must be careful not to delude ourselves. Are we truly welcoming? Do we accept each other without gossip or innuendo? Do we allow others to join us, including children, who challenge our comfortable worship or community space, without complaint? We are ordinary human beings and our words can betray us.
Words express our inner thoughts and feelings and they are not always life giving.
We will hear much that will disturb us coming from the mouths of those who purport to be Christians over the next few weeks. We need to be mindful of what we hear and what we say, of not allowing ourselves to fall into the trap of emotional rhetoric, regardless of our personal position on the topic. Our place to express that is through the postal vote and in how we live with the outcome.
Let us remember this process is not about a government fulfilling their promise but it is about people who have families, mum’s and dad’s, siblings and children. It is about people with aspirations and hopes, dreams and goals who are simply wanting the right to be treated as equals. This is all anyone wants.
What are we to do? Guard our thoughts and the words we say. See in the people involved the image of the incarnated Christ and act as one would if it was really Jesus. As Matthew, Mark and Luke report Jesus as saying: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’