My brothers and sisters, in the words of St. Paul,  let your gentleness be known to everyone.

Last Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 6.01.50 PMweek a nearby restaurant hosted a fundraiser for SAFE Shelter, our local center for domestic violence. There was a gentleman passing the hat, moving from table to table, in a skirt made of purple tulle.

Tulle is worn by brides. Purple isn’t. Purple is the color of bruises. Of households falling apart.

I took the man’s skirt to mean he was wearing the color of domestic violence, a color naming the harm done to somebody by somebody they love or live with. Last month one of you sent me an email saying how October is Domestic Violence Month. It came with an invitation for preachers to lift up “the sacred worth of women” on this very day. So I opened my calendar, and under October 15th, I wrote down, The Sacred Worth of Women. It’s been on my mind a lot lately.

By coincidence today St. Paul commends the sacred worth of two women: Euodia and Synteche. He doesn’t waste a word on how young they are or what they look like. What he commends is what most of us hope is recommendation enough: our work. These women, he says, “have struggled beside [me] in the work of the gospel.”

These women, though, are not docile partners. These women think for themselves. You can tell because Paul wants them to be “of one mind”, which is to admit they often aren’t. But when they are, as Paul well knows, you better watch out. No telling what they can do. And will do.

Some think St. Paul was on the side of silencing women, but this letter tells you he valued their ministry. Tells you Euodia and Synteche mattered to Paul. I like to think they had nothing to lose when they spoke from the heart. And I believe the love of Jesus made a difference to Euodia and Synteche. I lthink Jesus gave them the courage to let their gentleness (and their voices) be known to everyone.

Gentle people, though, are easy prey. And very often the most vulnerable among us have no way to name out loud the truth of their suffering.

SAFE Shelter has a hotline for people to call when they’re in danger. On their website, in words addressing the Caller, it says when and if you call, their “advocates will confirm you are in a safe place and are able to talk. [And] if your partner comes home while you are on the phone,” they tell you to “hang up immediately, and call back when are able to chat safely.”[1] They also tell you they won’t call you back when you hang up because your partner might answer.

In those instructions, you can hear how hard it is for victims to voice the truth of their anguish. You can hear what it might cost them if they do. And how hard it is to recover the hope of gentleness for those who endure violence and abuse at home.

Life is participatory and communal. We’re part of other people at work, at home, in church, down the street and around town. The thing is love, between and among people, is only safe when everyone is gentle.

According to SAFE Shelter, our area police forces receive close to four thousand domestic disturbance calls a year. And though the vast majority of domestic violence is never reported at all, it’s estimated 85% of its victims are women. Again, this tells you it’s hard to be gentle in a world like ours and potentially dangerous to tell the truth about the bullies we know.

It’s easier to read hurtful stories about entertainment moguls than to name out loud the injuries to self and soul that happen where we live. Sometimes, though, big stories on front pages find a way to speak for everybody who lives in fear. In a recent essay addressing the former silence of women victimized by Hollywood executives, Jia Tolentino suggests victims often think they deserve what happened to them, that if only they’d been wiser or stronger, it wouldn’t have happened .

She writes, “If you’re a gentle person, then [you reason] they must have known you were weak.” According to Tolentino, victims learn to think, “You are prey only when you are not good enough. [And] you must not have been good enough if you were prey.”[2] It’s what bullies teach the gentle and weak: that they’re not good enough.

Turning to the Parable of the Wedding Feast (the parable Jesus shares in our gospel today), and thinking about victims of domestic violence, I can’t help but notice how the King loses his son at the hands of those who sit at his own table. And how this difficult and violent parable ends when the King sees a man in the room not dressed like everyone else. He seems a man more spectator than guest. So, the King asks him, Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe [that is, without belonging]?

You can hear the King wondering, How’d I let you into my life?

The man never answers. Instead, under the King’s orders, the royal bouncers throw him “into outer darkness.” This tells us the Sacramental Life is not spectator sport. It’s something you can only enter by humble participation with empathy for other people.

St. Augustine says the wedding garment is love “which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” He goes on to suggest it’s not just any old love among people, for even those “who do destructive acts together” can be said to think they love each other, and those spectators “who go to the coliseum together and join together in the shout of the chariot race or the [predatory] wild beast fight – these too in some sense” can be said to think they know how to love. [3]

Terrible harm can be done in the name of love. Even by those who claim to love us. This tells us love must be tested. We must ask of the love we give and the love we receive, Is it pure hearted (no lies or falsehoods, no pretending all is well when it’s not)? Is it offered in good conscience (which is to ask, is anyone, including myself, hurt by this love?) And does it foster a sincere faith in God (does it leave room for God to work on the side of our fullest flourishing and on the side of the fullest flourishing of those we love?)

And finally, my brothers and sisters, I want to say this: To choose anything less —to choose power over gentleness—is to live in outer darkness. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth there. If you live outside the hope of your own flourishing, unable to name the harm you suffer out loud in your own life, I ask you, in the name of Jesus, to risk naming your reality to someone you trust. And if you know someone who lives in that same darkness unable to find their way to the hope of flourishing, again, I ask you to risk naming that reality out loud to someone you trust.

As Christians, we wear the wedding dress of Christ, the robe of belonging to him and to each other. And through Christ and in Christ, we’re called to make our gentleness known to everyone.

___________________________

[1] http://safeshelter.org/faqs/

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/culture/jia-tolentino/how-men-like-harvey-weinstein-implicate-their-victims-in-their-acts, The New Yorker, 11 October 2017.

[3] St. Augustine, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Matthew 14-28, ed. Manlio Simonetti, general editor, Thomas C. Oden, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Illinois, 2002, 147.

 

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