• Homosexuality: Jesus on the Law

    February 16, 2012

    What would Jesus say to and about gay people today? What would he say to people, like me, who call ourselves “gay Christians”? Would he say, “Right on, man!” as some assure us? Would he say “gay Christian” is a contradiction in terms, as others assure us? If neither of those two options are right, what is? What would Jesus say? I suspect the answer is less clear than some would like to believe.

    Further, how do we settle on a consistent standard for deciding what is sin and what isn’t in cases where Scripture isn’t clear? In other words, how do we end the picking and choosing from parts of the Bible? We would all agree that cheating on your wife is wrong, but we don’t all agree that homosexual acts are wrong, depending on their context. Why? And what do we do about that disagreement within the church? Can we ever find a path toward settling the matter?

    As with our look at Romans, this latest topic will probably play out over several blog posts because I don’t want these things getting too long.

    The Pharisees were not exactly honest in their assertion that they were simply concerned about righteousness and the appearance that Jesus and his disciples were violating the Law. The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus. They felt threatened by him. They wanted to get rid of him. They actively plotted his murder while arguing with him about what the Old Testament Law said and how to fulfill its requirements. Still, I think their objections to Jesus and his responses are worth examining.

    MATTHEW 12

    1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

    The Sabbath, I’m sure you know, was very serious stuff to first century Jews. It remains so for many today. Work was strictly prohibited. The Old Testament penalty was death. Yes, death. Like I said, this was serious stuff. Jesus’ disciples are picking heads of grain like it’s no big deal, and the Pharisees are incensed. Why do they blatantly defy one of the most serious laws, one of the “big ones,” one of the Ten Commandments? And in case you don’t think God took the Sabbath as seriously as his people did, consider this brief account from Numbers 15.

    32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.

    Twice it says God commanded the punishment of death. So the Pharisees in Jesus’ time would seem to have been on solid ground questioning the apparent Sabbath violation of Jesus’ disciples. “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus’ response?

    3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

    One could spend a lifetime pondering what Jesus says, and what he doesn’t say to the Pharisees. As a friend pointed out, he doesn’t say, “Oh it was just a few harmless heads of grain. That’s not technically working, so no violation of the Sabbath has occurred.” He seems to agree that his disciples may have technically violated the Law because he points to an even greater infraction on the part of King David from the Old Testament. “Haven’t you ever heard what he did?” Taking the consecrated bread from the house of God? Major no-no, even if you’re hungry, and a far more serious matter than eating some unconsecrated heads of grain. A strict obedience to the Law would never have considered doing such a thing. David did, and Jesus says he was innocent (!), as were his disciples: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

    Wow, apparently you can break the Law and be innocent. But what is the standard for doing so? How do you know whether your setting aside of the Law is anything other than rebellion (I suspect defiance was the case in the Numbers account, and thus, the stoning)? In a parallel account of the Matthew story, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). That was his standard, it seems. The Law is made for man, not man for the Law. Does this mean that, if at any point the Law can be shown to hurt rather than help, it is acceptable to set the Law aside? If the choice is between mercy and sacrifice, do we always go with what Jesus said, that God desires mercy, not sacrifice? I realize this is risky business because we humans are good at convincing ourselves any restriction is a hindrance, but Jesus said what he said. Did he not mean it? And seriously, we can all imagine scenarios where a strict observance of the Law would hurt rather than help human beings, where sacrifice would negate mercy.

    Nazi officer: Are you hiding Jews in your basement?

    German citizen: Well, I wish I could lie and say no, but that would violate the Ten Commandments, so, yeah, you’ll find the compartment just beneath the rug in the dining room.

    The Law was made for people, not people for the Law. Even if Paul and other biblical writers were clear in their opposition to homosexuality in general, which I do not believe they are (see the plethora of my previous posts on this topic), is there ever a point at which we say, look, this restriction doesn’t help anyone? Homosexuality doesn’t seem to hurt anything or anyone when it is within the context of a committed, monogamous, loving relationship. On the other hand, the constant tearing down of gay people by some churches, the constant telling them they are wrong or broken or abominable, is hurting people, with no demonstrably good outcome for anyone involved–not for the churches and not for gay people.

    I once heard Erwin Lutzer, a famous pastor and author, speaking on how his church approaches the topic of homosexuality. Without a hint of compassion that I could detect, he argued strongly for the unfortunate but necessary sacrifice of celibacy and singleness on the part of gays and lesbians. I sat there wondering, does this man (who, conveniently, is married with children) have any idea the loneliness he’s prescribing for millions of people? Is this really what Jesus would say? “Sorry, folks, gotta sacrifice to keep the Law! Obedience is costly. I know you had no choice in being gay, but thems be the rules.” Or would he say, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. If you had only understood this, you would not have condemned the innocent”?

    Posted in: The Gay Posts

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