In today’s first reading from Paul’s Letter to Philemon, he clearly speaks of slavery as an institution that is a part of the culture. Paul does not challenge the actual practice of slavery but actually confined it as a given. This example is a clear indication of how Scriptures, the Bible, need to be continually interpreted, so that the basic underlying teachings and message are not obscured by outdated cultural practices. Many of these practices, like slavery, are now condemned as intrinsically evil.
Scriptures say much about the relationship between husbands and wives that we find totally unacceptable today, given how our understanding of the role of women has thankfully evolved. There are about seven verses in the Bible that condemn homosexual relations. These verses need to be interpreted and understood within their cultural context. Are these handful of verses speaking of a committed love between two people if the same sex? Hardly.
The image of God in both the Old and New Testaments often portray God in painfully violent terms. Things are said about people who aren’t followers of Jesus that can be very difficult to grasp and understand, just look at the portrayal of the Jewish people. Yes, the Bible can be offensive by today’s standards, which is why we must see Scriptures and religion as evolving in time and culture. They didn’t just plop down, sanitized by cultural evolution. How could the writers of each of the Books of Scriptures have known the position of women would change dramatically? How could these ancient authors know about psychology or the development of our understanding of human sexuality? Or that slavery would be condemned by all civilized cultures?
Our own church needs to adapt, not essential doctrines or teachings, but how we understand human nature, gender, sexuality, other religions and race. We need to hold fast to our belief in Christ, his church and the sacraments, but we do so realizing that our religion, faith and scripture are NOT contained in a hermetically sealed container!!!! Neither are our minds and hearts!!!
As we face yet another scandal regarding McCarrick and the cover up of his horrendous and criminal behavior by leaders of our church, the lid of the container must be lifted and destroyed. The medieval container must be removed, but not destroyed, and relegated to a museum of memory, so we never forget. We “sit” as a church in the container of the Spirit, Who is always pushing the walls and boundaries of the container to hold new understandings and developments, all the while holding fast to what doesn’t change.
We are a pilgrim church... a pilgrim parish, rooted in Christ, scriptures, Mary, the Saints, the Sacraments, but open to the guidance and inspiration of the Spirit. “Oh beauty ever ancient.... Oh ever beauty new...