Genesis 22: 1-14 Psalm 16
Romans 8: 31-39 Mark 8: 31-38
Peter is the Everyman of the Gospels. He also serves other purposes. In last week’s Gospel Satan tried to tempt Jesus off his path. This week Peter is Satan. We, like Peter, become Satan when we set our minds on earthly things and ignore divine things. In this Gospel episode Jesus speaks of the assurance of his own suffering and death, and the tribulations in hand for those who follow him. The “earthly things” Peter and we focus on are protection and self-preservation. These two things may preserve us and our narrow “world,” but a reliance on them ultimately will bring us the suffering we work to avoid. Divine things on the other hand move us out of ourselves to focus on other people and their needs. They cause us to engage with others and in doing so find wholeness and happiness for ourselves.
The film Brokeback Mountain , based on a short story by Annie Proulx, and touted in the newspaper ads as “the gay cowboy movie,” has received a great deal of media attention in recent weeks. And, not only in newspaper editorials but also in religious periodicals reviewers have offered thoughtful and often courageous comments about the film. Record numbers throughout the United States, Canada and Europe have now seen the movie, which is less about cowboy love in the 1960s and more about the universal human need for intimacy with another. That is why so many heterosexual men and women have been able to identify with it and have been so profoundly moved by it. No movie about the love of two men has touched such a wide audience before. Viewers immediately sense that what they are seeing is scenes from real life, not fantasy. They know that such a relationship could happen in their hometown, in their family or community or it could happen to them. And maybe it has happened to them, and from it comes painful recognition. Since the movie was released I have had a number of conversations with people who say they have seen their own life in it, their own “road not taken,” in the tragedy of the two young men in Wyoming. For it is a tragedy. Despite these friends’ consuming love for each other, their relationship ends badly. Fear, caution, the need for protection and self-preservation on the part of Heath Ledger’s Ennis del Mar, causes their love to slowly wither, and the frustrated desperation of the other, Jack Straw, brings about Jack’s death.
This is certainly no conventional love story. Nor is it like stories of homosexual love one usually sees in movies or confronts in fiction. The story is set in the American heartland. Both protagonists are masculine in demeanor and outlook. Both marry women, have families and easily fit into the culture around them. Had caution and fear not held Ennis del Mar back and they had made a life together, theirs might still have been lives of suffering. But by their courage in acting on their love they would have taken the step away from what the Gospel identifies as “human things” toward “divine things,” taking a chance on life that, confronted with a similar situation, many of us would not have the freedom to do. As it turned out, after Jack’s death, Ennis was left with the regret of what might have been.
I think Brokeback Mountain is a perfect illustration of the lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples in the Gospel today. To live the Gospel message truly and fully and to aim for a place in the Kingdom of God one must throw caution to the wind as Jesus did and love. God gives us friendships that have the potential to make us complete, to be “fully alive,” as St. Ireneaus would say. These friendships may be formalized by vows or not be. But whatever form they have, they demand that we take chances to love and not hold back. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Often when we change our behavior and more toward what Jesus calls “divine things,” this new way of living brings struggle, frustration and suffering. But the alternative is a life of fear, a constricted existance, never fulfilling one’s potential as God’s beloved, never experiencing human intimacy that will lead one to intimacy with God. I am convinced that our spiritual growth and conversion comes from our friendship with others. These teach us how to focus outside ourselves and love. For most this take the form of marriage, for a few the vowed life of religion, but for many it is through friendship with another and sometimes that gift of intimacy rests in a same sex relationship. In our relationships with others we run the same danger that Peter does. By being afraid or out of some need for self-preservation, or face saving we hold back. We run from the difficult conversation. We withhold our attention, our love, our engagement, and because we hold back we open our lives to spiritual and emotional emptiness.
Jesus knew that his message of love and his concern for outcasts and sinners was dangerous business. He knew that living the way he had chosen and speaking and acting bravely could get him killed. But he continued to do so anyway. He warned his followers of their danger, but they persisted in preaching his gospel. They offered their lives for life. Don’t believe otherwise. There is a cost to living and loving, to being involved with “divine things.” Suffering is as much a part of it as the good times. But through this way of living, moving from cautious isolation to liberation, we can claim our place in the Kingdom of Heaven, the redeemed life God has for us. Jesus promised a quality of life to his followers marked by unconditional love (especially for the powerless), forgiveness, peace, honest encounters with evil and injustice, healing and freedom from all kinds of captivity. When we focus on “divine things”, the world is turned upside down: losing one’s life is saving it, and saving one’s life is losing it.
In taking part in the Eucharist this morning why not call to mind the friendships and loving relationships that have formed your life and give thanks for them. And, if needed, ask for the courage to make them more, to move from living a life of caution to one of liberation, one that concentrates on divine things.
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