Life is not law. For Jesus at least. The place to begin a constructive understanding of how Christians should relate to persons with same-sex orientation and think about homosexuality is with Jesus’ practice of table fellowship. Why? Because it represents how life is encountered, of how a first century person would have come to understand Jesus’ own vision for the kingdom of God. Not all would begin here. I have on my desk six books on this topic; none of them begins this way. Each of them begins either with personal story or with the historical and biblical commandments. The latter are treating the Bible, too frequently, as a law book. I do not dispute the importance of these texts, even as commandments, but I don’t think that is how we are to begin. (Eventually, we’ll get to those texts — but I think from a healthier perspective.)
Humans are Eikons; humans are people; they are not morality acts or immorality acts. That is my point. If we believe, as I do, in God’s embracing grace that awakens in us the capacity to embrace God, ourselves, others, and the world (see Embracing Grace), then we will begin each and every moral discussion with the fact that humans are Eikons of God, persons, people, relationally-charged folks whose central need is to relate to God, self, others, and the world.
So, I begin right here: How would Jesus have “treated” homosexuals? The answer to that question is incredibly simple: he would have treated them as Eikons, as human beings made in God’s image who are designed to reflect God’s glory in this world by relating to God lovingly, to themselves lovingly, to others lovingly, and to the world lovingly. They would have been welcomed at the table of discussion, they would have been invited to listen to him, to interact with him, to follow him, and to fellowship with his followers. They would have been challenged to live before God as Jesus taught. In short, they would have been loved by Jesus. Not shunned; not humiliated; not ostracized; but given a seat for as long as they cared to be with him. He would have told everyone and anyone that there was a seat (or place; they didn’t use chairs) at the table for them.
And all this in the context of relationships.
Since Jesus does not discuss same-sex orientation or practice, we are given the freedom to explore what he did say about following him in the kingdom of God. Our exploration will take as its guiding lights five central themes of Jesus’ teachings on morality: (1) each will explore what Jesus does say; (2) each will explore the logic of Jesus’ moral teachings; (3) and each will compare Jesus’ teachings and moral logic to the teachings and moral logic of those who both teach against and who teach for the legitimacy of same-sex orientation and practices for Christians. Along the way we will find opportunities to bring in the texts of the rest of the Bible.
Here’s my first consideration: What was Jesus’ table fellowship practice like? Who was it for? How did it work?
First of all, there can be no question that everyone, regardless of who they were and what they had done or how they were living, was invited to the table. Mark 2:13-17 tells us that Jesus had a dinner with tax collectors and ‘sinners’.
Second, Jesus’ own practice of table fellowship with everyone was considered shameful and unacceptable by the religious elites of his day. Thus, in Mark 2:16 the scribal Pharisees were disgusted with Jesus’ practice of associating with sinners. In Matthew 11:16-19 we see that Jesus was “labeled” for his association with tax collectors and sinners.
Third, Jesus’ act of inclusive table fellowship is not an act of political tolerance, but the creation of an alternative society around him. In other words, this is not multiculturalism or diversity for the sake of multiculturalism or diversity, but inclusion for the sake of relational, redemptive work. It is a kingdom society. The Table of Jesus embodies his vision of God’s redemptive work in this world.
Fourth, Jesus’ table fellowship has a telos: a goal. To redeem folks, to invite others into relationship with God, with Jesus, with self, with others — all in order to establish a beachhead for the kingdom of God. No one, it hardly needs to be said, would be left unchanged; no one would be unchallenged; everyone would learn at this table with Jesus that life will be given a new foundation and a new set of relationships. Everyone and everything will find its proper place in relationship to God’s new work in the kingdom; anything that challenges the leadership of Jesus and thwarts the kingdom of God will be challenged. No one comes to the table of Jesus on their own terms; the table of Jesus lives out the terms of Jesus. Those terms offend and those terms redeem.
The place to begin this discussion, in other words, is with Jesus. Jesus is the only first thing we as followers of Jesus have to offer.
If I may, I’d like to draw a significant conclusion at this point: the walls around Jesus were permeable. The walls of most churches are impermeable. Those in and those out are clear. I find the recent trend of many Christians, many of whom are “emerging” folk, to create environments where the walls are permeable to be one of the most significant features of the emerging movement and these environments have the capacity to unleash kingdom power. Jesus’ table fellowship, which is the heart of his mission, is more like coffee discussions at coffee shops or what a student calls “party evangelism” or “porch missions” than it is like “church” as we now know it and do it.
The purity code constructed by impermeable walls is inconsistent with Jesus’ own practice. It is the absolute distinction that concerns me, not the distinction.
If you are looking for a good book on table fellowship, I recommend Craig Blomberg, Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ meals with Sinners.