Failure is an element of Jesus’ moral logic: when it comes to discussing what Jesus has to say and what he taught about following him, what he said about loving God and loving others, then failure looms large in the Gospels. The simple fact is this: Jesus’ followers failed, and they failed sometimes quite miserably, and failure is written into the fabric of what Jesus has to say about following him.
In the Gospels, failure springs from two major sources — and we could become much more technical, but there is no reason to here. First, disciples of Jesus fail because they do not trust Jesus and his word. One thinks here of Matthew 14:28-31 when Peter fails to walk on water because he loses confidence that Jesus can sustain him. How many times does Jesus say of his followers “O you of little faith”? See Matthew 17:20. Jesus distinguishes apistia from oligopistia, “unbelief”/”lack of faith” from “little faith.” The latter is a failure to trust by a follower; the former by a non-follower.
Second, disciples fail because they do not understand. After feeding the 5000 in Mark 6, in Mark 8 Jesus feeds the 4000. When all done, the disciples are clueless when Jesus mentions the “yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” (8:15). Jesus then asks, “Do you still not see or understand?” Disciples fail sometimes because they have not learned to see “through” acts into their meaning, they have not learned theological implications and connections. In short, because they have not understood.
So, let this be said: disciples fail. We can trot out more evidence from Acts or from Paul or from Hebrews or James or from Revelation and it is all clear: the followers of Jesus were not perfect or sinless. I don’t want to suggest that all failure stems from faith-failure or mental-failure, but they are at the bottom.
So, what does Jesus do? This is where some light is shed. In each case, regardless of the failure, there are the following elements: failure, rebuke, repentance, and restoration. If a disciple fails, Jesus tells them they failed; a disciple then repents, and through that repentance finds restoration.
Let’s take Peter: Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah in Mark 8; then Jesus says he’ll go to the Cross; Peter thinks that’s a bundle of nonsense; Jesus rebukes him. (Peter must have backed down after that.)
Then Peter denies Jesus in Mark 14; not once, not twice, but three times. Then after the resurrection, Jesus meets up with Peter and has his way with Peter: Peter has to hear from Jesus three rebukes and three summonses to return to Jesus. He says he loves Jesus, he loves Jesus, he loves Jesus. Then they are reconciled.
This is the NT pattern: failure, rebuke, repentance, and restoration.
But here’s the vital point: Jesus does not disown followers for failure; he points the way with one hand and helps them with the other. Failure does not mean abandonment; it means the time for grace.
Now, when it comes to Jesus and those who are practicing same-sex actions and relationships, if we are right that the Bible sees this as “out of order,” then the Table is both an invitation to grace and at the same time a Table that summons the cracked Eikon to repent and be restored. Is that not what it is all about?
Which means, in my judgment, that the Table welcomes those who practice same-sex actions to be turn and be restored. Does it demand instant perfection? No, but it does summon such persons to open themselves to the healing blessings and graces of Jesus. As long as a person is willing to open themselves to the grace of God, they are welcomed at the Table of Jesus.
I will next deal with the element of reward in the teachings of Jesus, which I think also sheds light on this topic, and then I want to return to the complexity of looking once again at the elements involved in making moral decisions — for I think each element needs to be involved, and each has a contribution to make in our world. Including culture.