This, our second post on Jesus and homosexuality, begins our survey of the central themes of Jesus’ ethical/moral teachings, and asks how such a theme might shed light on our discussion. I think we can agree that there is no need for, to use the words of Charles Dickens when he surveyed London churches in 1860, “the unventilated breath of the powerful Boanerges Boiler.” But, if we can agree on that, can we agree on what Jesus would say? I think we can agree that Jesus would have summoned anyone who cared to sit at table with him to follow him. Here we are in touch with an absolutely central, in fact the central, feature of Jesus’ ethical teaching. What might that mean for how Jesus would address homosexuality?
A couple of passages make what Jesus meant clear. First, let’s look at Mark 1:16-20:
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
To follow Jesus means to drop what you are doing; to suspend a previous activity; and to enter into a life of attachment, adherence, and following of Jesus. It is a shift of allegiance; it is an alteration of priorities; it is a suspension of our will to Jesus’ will. I don’t think anyone can question that these are the implications of answering the call to follow Jesus.
Here are the words from Luke 9:57-62:
Luke 9:57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Once again, the same point: those who follow Jesus are summoned to drop anything, everything, anyone, whatever is in the way, in order to be with Jesus, in order to follow Jesus. Shelter, physical security, sacred duties that may delay the response, even parental affections. These are stiff demands by Jesus who is Lord for his followers.
But, let’s back up one moment to clarify: these comments from Jesus are in the contexts of (1) God’s covenant with Israel, (2) humans as cracked Eikons and who remain so throughout the entire life but who are being transformed by God’s embracing grace, and (3) a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus isn’t giving “laws” for the Land; he is striking up relationships with cracked Eikons in order to invite them, with him, to establish the Kingdom of God. This is the context for what it means to call Jesus “Lord.” It is about being with Jesus, the New Covenant in Person, as cracked Eikons in process of repair.
My friend, the OT scholar at Oxford, Hugh Williamson, has a marvelous little book called The Lord is King (I can’t locate my copy just now) in which he addresses the question of what the NT means when it says “Jesus is Lord.” Does it mean “Lord of all or not Lord at all?” He thinks not. My memory serves me like this: Hugh contends that Lord means more “Lord for” than “Lord over.”
I want to emphasize something here: Jesus’ attitude is not “take me or leave me.” Instead, it is a here-I-am, come follow me. I am with you; will you be with me? The difference is dramatic. It is not an in-your-face or ball-you-out but a gracious embrace of grace that has the power to transform. He is the “Lord for” us because he is the “Lord with” us.
If Jesus is Lord in the sense of “for us” — he rules for us, etc., then to answer the summons to follow Jesus is to give him who we are, what we have done, and to entrust ourselves — our whole selves — to Jesus. Anything less than full surrender is incomplete following. Now, let’s be careful right here: not one of us gives up everything and all we are. We try; we reach out; but we are never fully surrendered. Regardless, Jesus is Lord “for” in helping us — he is there “for us” to give us strength, to empower us, to ennoble us and to direct us. (Of course, he is Lord “over” but that may not be the implication of his Lordship.)
But, the implication of following Jesus and wanting to return home to bury father, or turning back, or saying good-bye, or not dropping our nets, is that Jesus the Lord “us with” and “for” continues to beckon us to follow and to follow more and more. People resist; Jesus doesn’t turn his back on them; his arm is stretched out still.
Here is where a line has to be drawn: if it can be shown, and I think it can and I will try to do that in the posts ahead, that homosexual relations are contrary to God’s will, then when Jesus summons others to follow him, he is the Lord both “with” and “for” them in the sense that he is an adequate, even more than adequate, replacement for the relations they may be drawn to. They are summoned to follow him with everything they have and all they are. This is a love relationship: love takes place in the context of giving who we are to the other person. All of who we are.
Pastorally, I think we can assume that not all will “drop their nets” right now and on the spot; few do. But because some don’t does not mean the summons is altered. The summons of Jesus, plain and simple, and no one can contest it, is this: to follow Jesus. Anything less than that is not following Jesus; it can become a source of what the Bible often calls “idolatry.”
But, following Jesus is a process: it takes time; some surge forward quickly while others hang back and struggle. That’s part of what it means to respond to following Jesus. We do not expect anyone to “get perfected” all at once, so we need to admit right up front in the discipleship summons of Jesus that the call to “go and sin no more” is not followed perfectly by anyone — and Jesus knows this. He offers his hand to help, he offers his hand to point the way, but the hand that guides is next to the hand that helps when we fall. It takes time. The community of faith knows this and permits growth to happen (which means it knows that obedience is long).
We must get this right: Jesus invites us to table. At the table he summons us to follow him. Following Jesus is all that matters. An individual’s conscience or opinion is not the issue with Jesus: following him is the issue, the only issue.
For me, we have to begin with Jesus at table summoning anyone and everyone, whoever they might be and whatever their issues, to follow him. Nothing else.