On Thursday I began a series in which I want to develop an interpretive framework for wrestling with issues of homosexuals in civil society for those Christians who do not believe that homosexual practice falls within the realm of acceptable Christian action.
In short, the hermeneutical move is this: Christians reading the NT are now more in the place of the first century Jews than the first century Gentiles. We are the “insiders” who know what God has done to redeem and reconcile a people and what it means, at least in general, to faithfully follow this God.
In short, what we find at several key moments is that the blessings of God are not confined to the people of God–and that these blessings overflow and come to outsiders even without their agreeing to become insiders. We began with Luke 4, and the reminder Jesus gave of how the power of God to feed the hungry and heal the sick went beyond Israel in the days of Elijah and Elisha–and this enraged his audience.
It presses the question of whether we, too, are not enraged at the idea that our community might not lay exclusive claim to the blessings of God?
The decentering ministry of Jesus is visible elsewhere as well. In Matthew 8, after Jesus comes down from the mount of his famous sermon, a centurion approaches him, asking for a servant to be healed.
Gentiles are outsiders. Uncircumcised, unkosher, Sabbath-breaking outsiders.
But things here are even worse.
The Roman occupation of Galilee and Judea is a potent reminder of the failure of God’s promises in the prophets to come to fruition. The promise of being free in their own land to worship their own God under their own king is daily thwarted by military and political subjugation to Rome.
This Gentile who stands before Jesus is not only a reminder of, but an active agent in the failure of Israel to enter into the civil, religious, and political life that God has promised God’s people.
And he comes to Jesus to ask for healing. And Jesus heals his servant.
This means at least two things. One: the man saw in Jesus, the very definition of the “insider” for the new people of God, something powerful. Two: he saw in Jesus someone who would be wiling to share that power for the good of even a Gentile centurion.
He had faith in that power, in Jesus’ authority, and that it could and would be used for him.
Here, we might say, is an example of an outsider coming “in” in order to receive the blessing. But did he? Yes, he had faith in the work of Jesus. But Jesus commends him as an insider without demanding that he actually become an insider first. He blesses him, heals his servant, without the man joining himself to the Jewish people–and without the man leaving his post as one who stands against the freedom of the people of God or leaving his life behind to follow Jesus in his mission.
Questions that present themselves to us: do outsiders see anything in the church that they would want part of for themselves?
When they do see something that looks like a good–a blessing bestowed by the power and authority of God–do we willingly give to them out of the abundance of what God has given us? Or do we demand that they become like us first, enter into the community of faith in order to know the blessings of God?
Will we give outsiders our money for their food? Our medicine for their healing? Our marriage for their comfort and security? Or are these things only for those who first drop all that they have and then enter into the kingdom of abundance?
Note: I am on vacation and will be mostly away from the internet. Please feel free to have constructive conversation amongst yourselves, but I am not likely to participate!