Our guest speaker, Trevor Dennis, Vice Dean of Chester Cathedral, and author, invited us to look again at some familiar stories, and to engage with the settings and the society of the time:
A key to this awful story is the central importance,in the society then, of male honour and shame. Women counted for very little & hence Lot’s ‘gift’ of his virgin daughters to the mob (v.8). Having sex with a man was to rob him of his honour by treating him as a woman (nothing could be more shameful).
This story has absolutely nothing to say about the committed love of one person for another in a same-sex relationship. It has everything to do with flagrant breach of the key eastern virtue of hospitality (it takes Lot, an alien, to do the decent thing), and the unthinkable shaming of visitors.
The startling backdrop to this story is also easily lost on us now. For Ruth, the Moabitess, belonged to a people who were not in any way to be entertained. According to the Book of Moses (the scriptures as they were then) Moabites were sworn enemies of God and his people (see Numbers 25). The story in the book of Ruth just shouldn’t be, let alone should this despised person’s actions be portrayed as an example of committed love. The story of Ruth and Naomi is a picture of love that does not fit the usual expectations. Though not a lesbian love story, it is a celebration of love wherever it is found.
We think of the patience of Job, but given page after page of his impassioned discourse with his ‘friends’, the ‘impatience of Job’ seems a truer description. Job’s ‘friends’ try every which way to explain away Job’s plight. They read him through their theology. They fail to see- him as a person. In this book we see a sustained protest levelled against those who put dogma above people. But the story has a happy ending. Eventually Job finds himself (42 v.6) ‘despises’, as
in some versions, is a mistranslation.
Too easily ‘men of power’ language colours our image of God. Too easily we forget that Jesus came insignificantly, as a peasant, from a village that others belittled. In fact, Jesus could easily have been illiterate, as very few people at the time (perhaps 3%) could actually read and write. The spoken word was the chief medium of communication. In Luke 13 we read of one of many of Jesus’ clashes with the religious experts. A crippled woman stands up for the first time for years. The religious expert doesn’t see the woman. In his religion of fear, he sees the rules and not the person. But Jesus sees the person, calls out to her, and the woman is released to attainher full stature.