Listening from the Margins
July 28, 2019
Today’s prophet Hosea, the last that we’ll be exploring in our summer prophet’s series, is perhaps the most troubling and challenging of all the prophets.
Hosea is active at the same time as our prophet from last week, Amos. Like Amos, he too is speaking largely to the northern kingdom of Israel which, at this point, is enjoying a time of relative peace and prosperity. Hosea, like Amos, is also full of warnings of the impending doom of the people if they do not cease abusing those whom God cares for deeply—the poor, the immigrant, the oppressed.
But Hosea takes this imagery a step further. He engages in “performance prophecy” as he marries a woman the text describes as “a wife of whoredom” and has “children of whoredom.” Hosea’s marriage, and even the names of his children, are presented as a metaphor for the crumbling relationship between God and the people. A relationship which is then described in violent and abusive language in the following chapters.
Reading Hosea leaves me chilled. From the degrading picture it paints of women to the cycle of domestic violence it seems to perpetuate, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of trying to make sense of a book that, quite frankly, I’d far rather ignore.
Unfortunately, I don’t really have that luxury. While I may wish I could toss Hosea and his violent and degrading language overboard, the reality is, if I take Scripture and the canons of the Church seriously (which I do) I’m forced to wrestle with Hosea in all his ugliness.
So what do we do when we find ourselves in this position? While Hosea is one of the most overt examples of the violent, degrading, and demeaning texts that dwell within the canon of Scripture, it is far from the only one. Too often these texts are used to either perpetuate cycles of violence and oppression or they are “explained away” utilizing interpretive gymnastics that leave us twisted into pretzels.
Clearly neither of these are good options but what are we to do when we find ourselves faced with texts that make our skin crawl.
I would suggest we invite other voices into the conversation—specifically the voices of those historically silenced and oppressed.
The voices of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous communities, and a myriad of other historically oppressed voices have so much to share with us as we engage with Scripture. There are many learned biblical scholars and theologians whose research and writing grows from their experiences as part of these historically oppressed groups. When we listen to and engage in conversation with these scholars, teachers, and preachers, Scripture opens up to us in new and surprising ways.
When I post this sermon online tomorrow, I will be including a list of some of these scholars and theologians.* I encourage you, as you encounter Scripture, both the “easy” texts and the “hard” ones, to include these voices in your journey.
So in the vein of practicing what I preach, I would like to introduce you to one of these scholars and share with you some of her words on the difficult text of Hosea we read today.
The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth, Texas. She has written numerous texts on the Hebrew Bible and has contributed to many publications. Dr. Gafney, is also an Episcopal priest, and is a member of the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first Episcopal church in the U.S. founded by and for African Americans.
What follows are excerpts from a sermon Dr. Gafney offered on Hosea at a conference in September 2018. I will link to the full sermon online, (full text: http://www.wilgafney.com/2018/09/24/when-gomer-looks-more-like-god/) but for now, let’s join Dr. Gafney in her search for God in Hosea, and within the life of Hosea’s wife, Gomer.
“…there is a note between the births of Gomer’s second and third child that was not present between the first two: When Gomer had weaned Lo-ruhamah. My friend Mark Brummitt points out that the baby, then toddler, at Gomer’s breast named She Will Be Devoid of Mother-Love: “has been so, so loved and nourished all along” at her mother’s breast. And there it is, the place where I see God’s promiscuously extravagant love in the text, not in Hosea’s words or even God’s, but in Gomer holding to her breast that baby girl who had to go through the world with a label on her saying she would be bereft of maternal love, pity, or compassion the same way Gomer has had to go through world of the text and its interpreters with the label whore hanging over her head. Gomer persisted in loving that child no matter who said otherwise.
It is there in Gomer’s mother-love that the love of God so often couched as mother-love in the Scriptures but translated as mercy, pity, or compassion shines. That is why translation matters and who translates matters. Gomer is a representation of God to me. She shamelessly mother-loves her children no matter how their names are rightly or wrongly tarnished. She loves those who others say don’t matter. She loves the folk some preachers count out as dirty, soiled, ruined. And she loves promiscuously.
…I see God in Gomer’s love and in God I see a love that has no equal. And I see Gomer in God’s scandalous, flagrant, and promiscuous love…They called her a whore but nevertheless Gomer persisted in loving a child called Loveless and (in) her love we see God’s love.”
*Below is a small selection of biblical scholars and theologians from groups who have historically been under-represented in these disciples. I have chosen to include people, by and large, who blog which makes it easier to get to access their work, or whose books I have found helpful. Thus this is a very small sampling of “who’s out there.” There are many, many more to explore!
One resource that can be helpful in hearing different voices is workingpreacher.org. This site, designed for those who preach each Sunday, offers short commentaries on each of the readings. Many of the authors are women, people of color, LGBTQ, etc.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/biography-most-rev-michael-curry
The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.: http://www.wilgafney.com/
Amy-Jill Levine, Ph.D.: https://divinity.vanderbilt.edu/people/bio/amy-jill-levine
Justo Gonzalez, Ph.D.: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/27313.Justo_L_Gonz_lez
Nadia Bolz-Weber: http://www.nadiabolzweber.com/
Karen Gonzalez: https://www.karen-gonzalez.com/
The Rev. Canon Broderick Greer: http://www.broderickgreer.com/
Rachel Held Evans: https://rachelheldevans.com/