May 6, 2012
Psalm 22: 25-31
“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matthew 19:12)
What, exactly, is a eunuch? Eunuchs were (and still are in some parts of the world) a class of male servants that were created by castrating – surgically removing the testicles from – pre-pubescent boys. The boys would then grow up with
testosterone deficiency, exhibiting feminine traits and being incapable of producing children. The reason eunuchs were created was so that royal families – in many near- and far-Eastern cultures – could have a class of servants that could be trusted with key positions, such as close servants to the Queen or guardians of harems, without the danger that the servants might have sex with the women being served. Even if they did, there would be no danger of illegitimate children being produced. In addition, because eunuchs could not marry, they would not have any familial loyalties that would compete with their loyalty to the crown. In spite of their “condition”, they were highly valued servants and – in some cases – occupied very prestigious positions.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) people are (thankfully) not eunuchs. However, there are many similarities between the two groups in terms of how they are treated by society. They are both “gender-nonconforming” – e.g., obviously not straight, or “Queer”. They are both often treated as second- or third-class citizens. They are both shut out of mainstream social institutions, such as marriage and the church (eunuchs were forbidden from entering the temple under Mosaic law). And they both frequently have occupations that place them in the trusted service of straight people and their families. My partner and I have often joked about the existence of the “Lesbian Social Worker Mafia,” whose dire agenda is to fix your family and your life and force you to take responsibility for your actions.
Homophobes who call themselves Christian love to cite the same six Biblical “clobber” passages again and again to confirm what they see as God’s wrath toward LGBT people (for critical analysis, see Sodom and Gomorrah, Revisited, Leviticus: Particular Laws for a Particular Time and St. Paul: Missing the Forest for the Trees). Even though these passages are a mere six verses out of thousands – most of which are far more concerned with the fate of the poor and the loyalty of YHWH’s people – and even though their homophobic use has long been refuted, they are still seen by the public as “the last word” on the Bible and homosexuality for believing Christians.
For those of us who are Gay (which I am, by the way – did I mention that?) and Christian, we either have to go back to the same lengthy refutations over and over, or we can point out the fact that Jesus said nothing on the topic of homosexuality – which is not exactly warm and affirming. I was beginning to despair of ever coming across an openly Queer-affirming, God-loving Scripture until I read this week’s Lectionary readings.
The reading from Acts this week is the story of the conversion of an unnamed Ethiopian eunuch by the Apostle Philip. The story begins with an angel of the lord commanding Philip, “‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.)” (Acts 8:26). There, Philip encounters a eunuch in a chariot, going back to Ethiopia from Jerusalem, who was apparently well-known as “a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury” (vv.27). The Holy Spirit then commands Philip to “Go over to this chariot and join it” (vv.29) (The Holy Spirit is being very specific here!) Since the eunuch is reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah, Philip assists him in understanding the passage, relating it to “the good news about Jesus” (vv.35). The passage reads: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth” (vv.32-33).
What is “the good news about Jesus”? The text does not say here. However, earlier in Acts, the Apostles are jailed by the Sadducees for preaching the Good News to the people of Jerusalem, which Peter testifies is that “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5: 30-31). Like a sheep before the shearers, God Almighty became one with the least powerful, most oppressed on earth so that they might be redeemed as God’s own people. When Israel and all nations repent of their oppression and treat the powerless – including the outcasts, the ostracized, and all “Queers” – as God’s children, the Kingdom of God will have arrived. The eunuch was so moved by the Good News that – upon seeing some water – he said “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Philip baptized the eunuch and “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away” (vv.39). The Ethiopian eunuch went on his way, “rejoicing.”
Rejoice, for I come bearing Good News: The first baptized Christian of the New Testament was a sexual minority. God very specifically picked this man out – not in
spite of the fact that he was Queer – but precisely because he was Queer. Philip did not demand that the eunuch stop acting or looking like a eunuch. He did not demand that the eunuch go to eunuch-reparative therapy to be cured of his condition. He fully accepted the eunuch exactly as he was – as the Holy Spirit commanded him to – and welcomed him into the family of believers. If you are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgendered, God is looking for you! No matter what God-forsaken wilderness road you are traveling on, God is seeking you out – in all your full fabulousness! Don’t hide – come out, come out, wherever you are! Never mind the hateful things people may say to you in the name of God. They did the exact same thing to Jesus. You are God’s child, too. Know that you are loved, and you are not alone. Thanks be to God!