We’ve intentionally sat out the furore that erupted following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same sex marriage back in late June. It seemed like everyone had an opinion and many on all sides embarrassed themselves with their hyperbole, name-calling and downright pathetic interpretation of the Bible and misrepresentation of God. It seemed a good time to read, listen and reflect about the bigger picture. During this time of reflection on the very public and emotional barrages being exchanged by all sides, a different perspective began to emerge. What if God isn’t nearly as concerned about this issue as some of us are? And more importantly, if He is, what if keeping it private between Him and the individual is the priority?
Before diving into this, it’s important to establish that if we want to better understand God’s perspective on an issue, our best and primary source is to look at Jesus. He is the express image of the Creator of the universe in human form and every other source, including the written words of the Bible, must be interpreted in light of what we observe Jesus doing and saying. Others have written much more eloquently on this subject and we won’t endeavour to elaborate here. If you are curious to know more about this perspective on interpreting scripture and understanding God, Google terms such as “Christocentric” or “Jesus Hermeneutic”.
So, in going back to the subject at hand, what do we observe Jesus doing and saying in interactions with other people as it relates to morality in general and sexual immorality specifically. You might be surprised by:
1. His closest followers and disciples were often rebuked for their selfishness, pride, lack of ability to understand his priorities and lack of faith. In other words, if you claim to follow him, expect to be corrected or rebuked when you step out of line. Often publicly. However, the issue of sexual morality seems to be unmentioned by Jesus within this group. Of course, that could be because it wasn’t an issue with them.
2. Public leaders, especially those who claim to speak for God (Pharisees, Sadducees, teachers of the Law, etc), were also fair game for correction, confrontation and often a withering dressing down from Jesus. Terms such as snakes, whitewashed tombs or children of the devil were often used to highlight their corrupt and immoral behaviour. Once again, no mention of sexual immorality in these exchanges. Given the overall moral state in the culture of the time, is very unlikely there wasn’t some serious sexual immorality going on in this group. Interesting that it doesn’t seem to hit Jesus radar screen.
3. Jesus seemed to take extreme delight in pronouncing forgiveness of sins of common people in the presence of the religious leaders of the day. For example, note the incident where a notorious “sinful woman” washed his feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). While Jesus indirectly refers to her sin, her lavish expression of love toward him is enough for him to pronounce her forgiven. There was certainly no correction directed toward her from Jesus in this exchange. The entire incident should give us pause regarding how supposed modern day Jesus followers have behaved in response to the same sex marriage issue.
4. The only situations where Jesus directly dealt with sexual immorality that we could find are the incidents involving the woman at the well (John 4:1-26) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). As we dive into these exchanges, we encourage you to read and meditate on them. Don’t just take our word for it.
Woman at the well
This incident occurs in Samaria, a place where self-respecting rabbis rarely dared to tread. Think of one of the parts of your city or country where either the ethnic, religious or economic outcasts are known to live. That was Samaria. Hungry and thirsty, Jesus and his travelling companions find themselves there in the middle of the day, so Jesus sends them all into a town centre to buy some food while he heads for a well. That is where he encounters a woman, coming to draw water in the heat of the day. Something you would only do if you wanted to avoid running into other townsfolk who may not appreciate your immoral lifestyle.
Jesus engages the woman in conversation and at one point asks her to go get her husband. She answers that she doesn’t have one and Jesus points out that is true and in fact the man she is living with is not her husband and that she has had five previous ones. This was clearly an observation that carried some moral implications for her. However, who actually heard this conversation? The disciples were all in town. How did the exchange find it’s way into John’s gospel? Later in the story the woman ran into town and told everyone about the man who “told her everything she ever did”. (Note: Usually when God exposes our sins it feels like everything we ever did is in play.) Perhaps she was the source who told John? Anyway, it would appear that Jesus was keeping it private between him and the woman.
Woman caught in adultery
Probably the most often cited story in exchanges between people excitedly discussing moral issues. One camp regularly citing Jesus public statement to the rock holding accusers of the woman “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” And the other camp pointing out Jesus final comment to the woman, after all of the accusers melt away, “Go and sin no more”. While this is clearly a statement directly addressing her immoral behaviour, we must ask again – Who was present when this final statement was made? Again, only Jesus and the woman. Therefore, how did this story find it’s way into John’s gospel? Either Jesus passed it on later or perhaps the woman herself was the source. Regardless, Jesus was again keeping it private and seemed uninterested in a public correction of the woman. He certainly had no issue publicly confronting the moralizers though. Also, there is another completely separate issue about the man who would have been involved in the immoral behaviour. He wasn’t being accused by the mob. Perhaps this lack of justice impacted Jesus approach to the situation?
What then do we make of this? How is this relevant to the issues of our day and the ongoing emotional barrages being exchanged regarding same sex marriage?
Is it possible that while God is interested in addressing issues of sexual morality, He is more interested in keeping it private between himself and the people involved?
Keeping it private indeed.