In which the exiles receive vindication
And Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and exposed himself within his tent. And Ham the father of Canaan saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. And Shem and Japheth took a cloak and put it over both their shoulders and walked backward and covered their father’s nakedness, their faces turned backward so they did not see their father’s nakedness.
And a shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, a branch shall blossom from his roots. And the spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and valor, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD, his very breath in the fear of the LORD. And not by what his eyes sees shall he judge, and not by what his ears hear shall he render verdict. And he shall judge the poor in justice and render right verdict for the lowly of the land. And he shall strike the land with the rod of his mouth, with the breath from his lips put the wicked to death. And justice shall be the belt round his waist, faithfulness the belt round his loins.
Noah is a righteous man, who listens and responds to God, but nonetheless his experience of the ark is traumatising. Noah, whose name, remember, means consolation, seeks consolation in alcohol, but cannot handle his pain. Adding insult to injury, his son Ham handles him in an abusive manner—there are echoes here of the Greek god Chronos castrating his father Uranus, and the text covers the shame of anything from sexual assault to dishonouring character assassination. Noah’s other sons, Shem and Japheth, respond with sensitivity, with careful attention to their own actions, honouring their dishonoured father. They do not cover up what has been done—that is laid bare—but place a protective covering over Noah.
This twist in the tale of the story of consolation is one we need to hear, just as the exiles who were to rebuild the Temple needed to hear it. Too often, the Church, far from being a community of consolation, has been a place where people are traumatised, and where their testimony is swept under the carpet. Such wickedness aside, the Church is often, rightly, called to be a safe space that welcomes in those who have been traumatised by the world, but, sadly, fails to know how to respond in consistently honouring ways over the long haul. May we be a true consolation, consoling others as we have been consoled, and may justice and faithfulness be the watchwords that gird us for action.
Biblical texts: Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary