Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rejected by Men

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

                        Isaiah 53.3


My partner grew up in a religious tradition that demands total compliance with every rule to remain “in fellowship” with its community. Anyone not conforming to the letter of the law is called before a tribunal, confronted with his infractions, and given the chance to recant his misbehavior. If he resists, he’s officially “shunned,” making him persona non grata to the congregation. In Walt’s case, smoking did him in. (Though he knew he was gay, he hadn’t yet to come out to himself or anyone else.) After he refused to apologize to the local elders and toss out his Benson & Hedges, he ceased to exist to them. Occasions calling him home, like family deaths or illness, are compounded with suffering and sorrow, as once close relatives and friends pretend not to see or hear him. We know what’s coming before we get there, and we understand the narrow mindset that justifies their hostility. Yet neither expecting it nor explaining it exempts us from the pain of it—or, for that matter, excuses the warped behavior causing it.

While most cases are less extreme, we’re all familiar with suffering brought on by rejection. We all, at some point, face family members, authority figures, and/or peers who demand we compromise ourselves to remain in their company. We all enter situations where we distinctly aren’t welcome and, frankly, don’t want to be. Experiencing rejection of any kind—from a slight snub to a full-frontal shunning—is more than enough to leave us awestruck by what Jesus did. He voluntarily came all the way from heaven down, knowing He’d suffer spiteful exclusion, religious prejudice, and callous indifference. He realized unwillingness to conform to manmade standards would cost Him His life. He knew the same people thronging Him would despise Him to the point of pretending not to see Him. He was so sure of this He predicted it through the prophecies of Isaiah, 800 years before He came. Bottom line: He didn’t have to do it. But He did.

Without Honor

After witnessing Christ’s rejection first-hand, John wrote, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1.11) And let’s not think it affected Jesus any less than us. Matthew 13.53-58 paints a sad picture of how cruelly He was despised and rejected. Having established His ministry elsewhere, Jesus returns to Nazareth, where He amazes the crowd in the synagogue He grew up in. But their wonder quickly sours with resentment. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they ask. They can’t stomach His being so markedly different than they. He isn’t normal. He doesn’t think or talk or act like them and they find this extremely offensive. Instead of explaining Himself, Jesus makes a poignant comment: “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” Matthew ends the story on a sorrowful note: “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”

An Example to Live By

If Christ wouldn’t spare Himself the sorrows of rejection, it’s foolish to imagine we will. But before plunging into a deep funk, we should ask why He elected to suffer as He did. Certainly it was His to avoid humiliation and disrespect heaped on Him. Why didn’t He? He gave us an example to live by when we’re rejected. Our families, friends, and communities may resent us, taking offense at our not conforming to their beliefs, standards, and ways of life. They may turn on us because we’re not “normal” like them. They may pretend they don’t see us to escape recognizing who we are. They may stop hearing what we say because they can’t perceive where we acquired the wisdom and confidence in our words. This will hurt and frustrate us. In the final analysis, however, those who turn us away suffer greater losses. Lack of faith in us deprives them of many gifts we can offer—miracles of kindness, generosity, and understanding. They will never learn what we know. Our Creator accepts us as He made us to be. And we accept ourselves, knowing He created us as He did to fulfill His purpose.


In the final analysis, those who reject us suffer greater losses by depriving themselves of gifts we offer.

(Tomorrow: Joe the Carpenter)


Davis said...

Today at the Presbyterian funeral of a man who'd been blessedly partnered for 58 years, the minister spoke movingly and prayed movingly to God with thanksgiving for the blessings of that partnership.

This would have been unthinkable in a Presbyterian Church 58 years ago. For that I give thanks, knowing that in small ways -some- are no longer despised and rejected by their brothers and sisters.

Tim said...

Davis, your comment touched me deeply. And I join you in thanking God for the changes taking place in the Body of Christ. I'm especially grateful for this minister and congregation, who exemplify the love of Christ in a true and courageous way.

The couple you mention also embody the integrity and commitment that I believe are vital for us to embrace if we expect the straight community as a whole (in and out of the Church) to embrace us. When love speaks, prejudice and fear are silenced.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I pray God's comfort and strength for the surviving partner--and I thank Him for their example. It's true that 58 years ago, no church would have responded as this one did. But it's also true that 58 years ago, it would have been far less likely that a same-sex union could have survived intact for more than five decades. While we still have far to go, what a joy it is to see how far we've come--as a community and a society!

Peace, my brother,

Davis said...

These men have been models of commitment to the many who have known them. I give thanks every day for their examples and those of the many other long time partners I know.

Despite their exceptional commitment and steadfastness, the death notice was the first time in 58 years the survivor ever used the word partner. The word simply didn't matter - it was the love that did.