Sunday Week 29 Year C

It’s been the placards that have haunted me these last few days—even more than the awful image of a young man beaten, his skull smashed in, tied to a fence post, mistaken for a scarecrow—the placards at the funeral of Matthew Shepard. Placards carried by a bunch of demonstrators from a local church. “God hates fags.” Another, “Matthew was wicked.”
That’s one way to respond to evil and violence and hatred: join in—better yet—get God to join in too. Hold up your proud heads and your eloquent hands and get one last blow in before the body is taken from you. One of those holy protesters spoke up to the press, “I’m here to spread some truth in this orgy of lies.” The same kind of truth, the same true kindness, offered in recent Christian TV shows and newspaper ads. “God hates fags, so let us cure you of your wickedness and remake you in our own image.”
How do you deal with that? How do you respond? At the funeral the mourners stood in front of the placards and blocked the view with umbrellas and drowned the slogans with “Amazing Grace.” A dignified and graceful response to hate—but really only a makeshift, masking the reality rather than dealing with it.
The reality was inside: a young man, quiet, gentle by all accounts, and dead before his time. How do you make sense of that? Every one was trying to make sense of it. Maybe, they said, maybe Matthew’s death will bring some good, melt some hearts, allow some change. The young guy who found Matthew wondered why he found him alive if all he did was die anyway. Others were just saying it’s God’s will, echoing unthinkingly the placards outside. And one of the eulogies made the connection between the body trussed to the wooden post and the ancient body of Jesus nailed to the wood of the cross. But it’s too easy to invoke the figure on the cross, too easy to defuse the anger and the hurt and the betrayal, too easy to let God off the hook. Because who’s to say the placards aren’t right? And if they’re not then why did God let this happen? Or any of the other things that routinely shake our faith: the senseless deaths, the untimely illnesses, the erasure of beauty, the pointless cruelties. Maybe there’s no sense to be made of it all. Maybe all we can do is complain that it should not be so. So choose your own complaint but do complain. Because it’s too easy to let God off the hook, too easy because when we do we let ourselves off the hook too. When we excuse God’s bad behaviour we excuse our own. When we justify God’s indifference or tardiness or neglect we justify our own indifference, tardiness and neglect. But why do we try and protect God this way? Isn’t God big enough to hear our complaints? Can’t God bear the burden of reality? Or are we just afraid of making God angry and finding ourselves on the receiving end?
“When the Son of man comes will he find any faith on the earth?” That’s what St. Luke wonders. Or will we have stopped complaining, stopped caring? The parable of the widow isn’t about nagging God until you get what you want. It isn’t even about nagging God until you get what you need. It is about nagging each other and letting ourselves be nagged by what should not be. Not being silent. Not forgetting. Not tolerating evil meekly. Not letting anyone off the hook.
Because that’s what the gospel says: whatever it may look like, however much it may seem impossible, God is on the side of Matthew Shepard. Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. and the mown down dead of Northern Ireland and Bosnia. On the side of battered women, hungry children, desperate migrants, homeless beggars, the ruined earth. And let me tell you, God is pissed! God is not happy! God’s list of complaints is mighty long.
So when the placards go up and the voices of hate are raised what do we have to lift up in response? Something more than masking umbrellas? When the bodies are tied to the fence posts, or beaten in back alleys, or crushed into closets—where are we? Are we going to raise the roof in protest? Or will we stay silent? Because if we fail to complain we fail our faith and we miss another chance to know God. Because if we are not in God’s face about this then God will be in ours. And God loves fags.