Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Lk 2:41-52
Feast of the Holy Family
This week’s readings include one of the most notorious in all of the three cycles. If the lector in your parish reads the full reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians (probably the celebrant will opt for the shorter version of the reading) you will hear the infamous line – “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.”
To be fair, Paul also instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. Anyone who interprets this reading as some sort of a Biblical command for women to remain in abusive relationships has left communion with the Christian Church just as those who in the past used the scriptures to justify slavery did.
Still, the whiff – stench, perhaps? – of sexism comes through. St. Paul is recognized as a man of great holiness and genius and courage, but even Paul was a man of his times. There is a patriarchical hierarchy serving as a filter through which the gospel is constantly distorted. Anyone who ignores this reality will find his/her interpretation of the gospel message seriously distorted as well.
In the United States of America at this time, this sexist filter offers a great temptation to sin for the American white male. (I can speak with some knowledge of this group as I am a member.) Slowly, sometimes painstakngly so, American culture has come more and more to recognize just how broad “all men (as in human beings) are created equal” must be interpreted. Yet as more and more women and men – of all ethnicities, sexual orientations and cultural backgrounds – become contributing and participating members in American society, the centuries old dominance of white men must give way. This is truly a movement driven by the Holy Spirit, but, as Frederick Douglass once wrote, no one gives up power willingly.
When we hear a line like the one from Colossians, it offers those of us (white guys) who have for too long enjoyed priviledges based on the color of our skin and on our sex to reflect deeply on the ways we passively and actively cooperate with sexism and racism in our culture. The real danger is not the threat posed by white supremacy groups, as hateful as they are, but rather the resistance and rationalizations of guys like me who are afraid of the unknown or who simply don’t want to share. The good news is that we have a glorious opportunity to surrender the baggage of white priviledge to Christ and, by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable as he did, to allow the Spirit to transform power unjustly accumulated into a force for transforming American society.