In Saturday’s post about homosexual marriage I made the suggestion that Christians need to develop the habit of asking two separate questions, without predetermining what the relationship between them might be. The first is, “What does God require of us as God’s people?” and the second is, “What does this mean for our life in civil society populated by people who do not, and will not, agree with us?”
I want to pick this back up today, once again focusing on those of us who are Christians and who believe that homosexual sex is sinful. I realize that there are Christians who disagree with this position, and that is its own debate. I want to keep pushing here the “so what?” question for those of us who uphold heterosexual normativity as part of our constellation of Christian belief and practice.
There is a strand of NT teaching that pushes me to keep the two questions I’m asking distinct, if not entirely separate. Why should we ask both what does God demand of us in our posture toward God and then, separately, what does God demand of us as an act of love toward neighbor?
That strand of teaching is the posture of the Jewish insiders with respect to Gentile outsiders in the NT.
In the history of interpretation, the church has made a number of mistakes in assessing the exclusivist posture of the first century Jewish community to the Gentile outsiders.
Perhaps most often the problem of early Judaism has been seen as legalism. Yes, the law was good, but early Jewish people were keeping it legalistically; or, they were keeping it because they thought that if they did they would merit God’s eternal favor and eschatological salvation.
But the admonitions of Paul and the actions of Jesus point in a different direction: a surprising superabundance of grace that overflows the people of God even as that people is rightly adhering to the law that God has given them.
In Jesus’ famous sermon in Luke 4, he proclaims a jubilee year: freedom to the captives, good news proclaimed to the poor, light to those who are in darkness.
And the Jewish people marveled at the gracious words falling from his lips.
They knew themselves to be captives in need of deliverance. They knew themselves to be blind in need of light. They knew themselves to be poor in need of good news.
They were ready to sing “Amazing Grace.”
But then Jesus explodes their understanding of who the grace of God is for. There were many widows in the time of Elijah, and many lepers in the time of Elisha–but they were sent beyond Israel, beyond the people marked out as pure and holy and faithful, to feed the widow and cleanse the leper (without first demanding adherence to the Law of Israel’s God)–of non-Jewish, non-YHWH-worshiping outsider Gentiles.
And then the people were filled with rage and attempted to murder Jesus.
How are we to read this? On the one hand, we can recognize that most of us are gentiles and therefore happily included in this great surprise of God–that grace comes to us without our becoming Jewish.
And this is true.
But as those who now occupy the place of the “insiders,” the embraced and, by God’s grace, faithful people of God, we must also reappropriate this text from the point of view of its insiders. We must place ourselves not merely on the periphery as those to whom the word would come despite all apparent obstacles. We must place ourselves in the role of the insiders and be willing to hear that God’s grace will not be contained by us, and God’s blessings cannot be cordoned off to the faithful.
Of course, this is not an argument for gay marriage, but it is an argument about how we need to posture ourselves toward those we deem “other” if we are going to be faithful children of our Father in Heaven. Come back Saturday for part 2.