This week’s lessons are difficult. They present the incestuous rape of Tamar by her half brother Amnon, the complicity of her cousin who set her up to be raped and, her father’s abandonment of her after the rape. The physical and sexual violence that characterized David became a signature of his dynasty and descendants. I was intentional in including the rape of Bathsheba prior to the rape of Tamar, knowing that it would mean a couple of difficult weeks. The presence of the stories in the Scriptures can and should encourage preachers and congregations to address them from the pulpit in addition to other means of engagement. I emphasize the pulpit because of the power it holds as an instrument of communication between God and her people. At this time when the bodies of women and girls have been targeted by predominantly male legislators and jurists and, constrained from making reproductive and medical healthcare choices with their provider of choice, it is important to discuss the ways in which the female body is not always respected in the Scriptures and how that fails to communicate the value God places on women and girls.
The psalm is in intentional dialogue with the first lesson. The regendering of the psalm presents a loving mother God. Tamar’s mother is not present in her story. Her father does nothing because of his love for his son. But here is God in feminine language, maternal language, who redeems and restores. The psalm emphasizes the vastness of God to heal the broken and forgive the one who does the breaking. In one non-coporeal body, in one galaxy sized heart, resides everything that we need as human beings. Everything to prevent predation should we turn to her and be transformed and everything to cope with depredation when we have been brutalized by those who turn away from the healing and love she offers freely.
The epistle presumes a model of family that is nurturing and loving and uses that model for the apostles and leaders of the early church caring for new believers. That model will unfortunately incorporate the gender hierarchy that characterizes families and the wider society of the time. While there is some benefit to that model, it is also the case that family and home are not safe spaces for all people and, familial language is not always effective in communicating care and inclusion or even as language for God. Here one might talk about all of the ways in which people form lasting caring bonds that meet their spiritual and emotional needs.
Lastly, in the gospel, Jesus presents children as fully formed humans themselves and not simply unfinished people as they were often thought of and treated in the ancient world. Turning common understandings upside down, Jesus taught that it was not adults who were the model for children to grow into but rather children who are the model for adults to grow into if we want to experience the rein and realm and majesty of God.