count your blessings
Volume 21/Issue4/2004




by Anthony Benton  

The Stubborn Donkey at Mardi Gras

The story of the stubborn donkey should be a familiar one to most of you readers. Its owner canít get him to move no matter how loudly he yells at the unresponsive creature. A neighbor comes over and hits the donkey with a 2 x 4 and quietly says, "Giddy up." The donkey moves forward, and the neighbor tells his friend, "Youíve got to get their attention first!"

In our lives as gay Christians, what is our "2 x 4"? What does it take to prompt our response to the world around us?

Jesus, to get the Phariseesí attention, ignored rituals and traditions. That was a radical response. What dinner host would not be dismayed at a guest who ate a meal with dirty hands? Jesus turns the table on his accusers by chiding them for their uncleanness of heart.

Which is more important to God? Clean hands and body - or a clean mind and heart?

As a good Jewish man, Jesus honored many traditions and rituals. Likewise, so should we, regardless of our faith or creed. The Last Supper, Jesusí last meal with his disciples before his trial and suffering, was an observance of the centuries-old tradition of the Jewish Passover. But Jesus has little patience when our traditions, laws, and rituals take precedence over love, service, or kindness. Imagine how upset Jesus would be when those sacred traditions and rituals are used as an excuse not to show charity.

In one scripture story, money is withheld from needy parents because it has been dedicated to God. It demonstrates how far from God a preoccupation with traditions and rituals can lead us. How many times have we failed to help a neighbor in need or trouble because we had to go to Mass or a religious service?

Donít get me wrong. Rituals and traditions are of value to us and they define who we are and connect us to our past. But they do not give shape to our lives. We must use our gift of reason to respond in charity and love to others in need. When we "remember the ritual but forget the reason," these rituals can become obstacles to our growth and response. Our traditions become more about us than about our own relationship with God. As we blindly cling to the past, we often say, "Weíve always done it that way!" That attitude articulates our fears and speaks of our need for security and control. Amazingly, it has very little to do with religion.

At this Mardi Gras, it is time for fun and revelry - and we deserve it, too - but it is not a time to neglect the needs of those around us. We cannot impede our growth by sticking to tradition or ritual. Our faith tells us that we must grow in love and charitable service and respond to the world around us.

But letís always remember Jesusí command to us: "Now, go and serve." Such is the price of discipleship that we honor the Lordís mandate to us as His followers. He has taught us how to pray and how to live. He bestows on us his authority and sends us into the world to preach and heal. In Markís gospel, Jesus tells his disciples: "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them."

Be careful with those words! Donít use those words of Jesus as a convenient excuse to give up when things are not going well. It may seem that these "dust-shaking" words of Jesus might be an act of defiance. Not so. Instead, these words are a sign that peopleís refusal to listen or to welcome you is not your responsibility, my responsibility. Our responsibility is to make the effort, not to be concerned about the outcome.

Itís easy to soothe the sting of rejection with an unjust interpretation of Jesusí instructions. That is when we must allow ourselves to sink into the heart of Jesus and embrace His commandment of love.

As the revelry of Mardi Gras gives way to the discipline of Lent, let us be reminded that Christ empowers us. If we truly are in touch with our spirit and let the words of Jesus be our comfort and strength, we can "go" in love, empowered to offer service, peace, and healing to a distressed and broken world. Embracing Christís command to love, let us always make the effort, with clean mind and heart, to serve, make peace with each other, and offer healing to those in need.

Happy Mardi Gras, Ambush Magazine readers, and count your blessings!

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