Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks!”
Saint Matthew 18:2-6
We all have AIDS.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Saint John 19:28-30
Death and pain. Anguish and sorrow. Harmed and hurt. These are strands running in, with and under all the visible witness reflections accompanying our early morning and late night prayer these past numbered days. These are strands of the varied stories of the faithful lives of our sisters and brothers in Christ that have illumined our story — at once individual and communal:
- wounded by people who cannot fathom how being Christian and being gay are faithful partners;
- wounded through hate-filled legislation of death and inequitable laws;
- wounded in a power-mogul-filled room prior to the constituting convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;
- wounded by society- created and perpetuated gender “norms;”
- wounded by stumbling blocks put in the way of little children, who grew to be adolescents and young adults, some who have blossomed into older adults, some who are with God on “a distant and far greater shore.”
I’m convinced Jesus says it is “better if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea,” because such stumbling blocks cause wounds. Deep, painful wounds. And this wounded-ness wounds not just the one initially wounded by the stumbling block, but all people — the whole human family, the whole community, the whole body of Christ. God give such stern warning because God in Christ Jesus never wants anyone to be wounded.
For far too long, a select few have named the stumbling block of human sexuality this way: “those homosexuals,” “those gays,” “those queers,” “those fags.” If we take shared wounded-ness seriously, the arc of God’s truth seems to suggest the stumbling block is something other than these hallow, though harmful and harming, labels. The stumbling block lies not in front of such “little children,” but in front of those who would pick up the stumbling block — the stone, “the tradition,” proof-texts of the Bible — to throw it and to hurl it from a place of power and manipulation and privilege at those without protection or rights or equitable place at the conversation table.
The stumbling block is not the broad spectrum of human sexuality and gender. It cannot be. Because if we take the stumbling block to be the varied ways in which God makes people, we all become wounded. Instead, the stumbling block is the impulse to narrow the spectrum of God-made sexualities and genders by pontification, legislation, attempts at eradication, and yes, even scripturalization. This impulse is the great stumbling block — one that ties a millstone around the neck of humanity and casts it into a deep, deep chaotic and engulfing sea.
Jesus claims a different way. Jesus becomes humble like “this child,” like these little children who grew to be adolescents and young adults, some who have blossomed into older adults, some who are with God on “a distant and far greater shore.” Jesus as one of us, all of us.
Jesus suffers the fate prescribed by those who would pick up stumbling block and throw it at all of us. Jesus is wounded by such power: pontification, legislation, attempts at eradication, and yes, even scripturalization. Jesus is wounded and takes all these wounds — our wounds — to the road leading to Golgotha, to the cross, to the tomb. Takes all our wounds even to God, so that these wounds will be no more.
“He said, ‘it is finished,’ and he meant it. He bowed his head and gave up his spirit in order to put to death even death itself.
– The Rev. Jared R. Stahler