30 October 2010

Jesus and Sex and Justice - Part 1

This is the first post of a four part series.  I will resume my systematic study through the ministry and teachings of Jesus shortly after this series.

Mark 7:14-23

"I think Jesus was much more concerned for matters of justice than for who our sexual partners are.", a Christian pastor on why he voted for the Greens Party.

He’s not alone. There are many within the church who believe the Kingdom of Heaven is not interested in sexual ethics. Are they right?

Micah declares in his word from God what the King requires of us. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to seek kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus confirms this when he is listing his woes to the religious leaders of Israel, “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.

Sign of the Times
Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, our culture seems to be obsessed with sex. We use sex to sell everything from bottled water to automobiles to peri-peri chicken. Magazine racks are filled with images and headlines about who’s having sex with who and how to have better sex with whoever you want. The sex trade pulls in billions of dollars every year. We even have a sexual orientation category on our census forms and more than two choices listed under gender.
So for those who speak and live against the sexualised tide of our culture, are they just like the religious leaders in Jesus’ time? Are they so concerned about family values and sexuality issues that they neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness?

What does God require of us?

Disciples of liberation/progressive theology are very quick to speak about justice and mercy. They talk about a developed world that grows rich at the expense of the poor. They are also quite fluent in pointing fingers at any church that they consider judgmental. They often preach about Jesus’ mercy, quoting, “You who are without sin, throw the first stone.” But, they sadly ignore, like most of us do with our particular emphases, the passages in the Bible that challenge their ideology of a loving, pacifist, non-judgemental Son of God.

Micah tells us that God requires three things, not just two. In fact, as with most things from God, unless we seek to understand all three aspects, we will not truly understand any of them. In other words, justice and mercy can never be understood without walking humbly with our God. This means surrendering our worldly reason before the wisdom of God.

N.T. Wright puts this well in his book Surprised by Hope, “The heirs of that liberal theology are today keen to marginalize the Bible, because they don't like what it says on other topics such as sexual ethics. But if you push the Bible off the table, you are merely colluding with pagan empire, denying yourself the sourcebook for your kingdom critique of oppression.” Without taking in the whole counsel of God, we will fail in his desire for us to live life to the full. Without doing everything that Jesus commanded, we will not come to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Without carefully considering and acting upon all of God’s written and Incarnate Word, we will only represent a counterfeit version of justice and mercy.

What does Jesus say make us unclean?

In a favourite passage of liberal theologians is Jesus responding to the religious leader’s rebuke of Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands before eating. As previously discussed on this blog, Jesus responds to the criticisms that they have set aside the commands of God in order to observe the traditions of men. This was certainly the case for Pharisaic hand washing. Not only that, but Jesus then declared that what we eat has nothing to do with what makes us clean. Now, many teachers stop there and rightfully chastise empty religious practices that have nothing to do with the kingdom of heaven. But, they do not acknowledge what Jesus then says what makes people unclean:

“It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Notice in this list of twelve evil things, there are three things Jesus lists that are related to sexual ethics. First, Jesus says fornication. This is a funny word in today’s vernacular. The word comes from the Greek word “porneia” (look familiar?) and the people in Jesus’ time would have understood it to mean prostitution or more to the point, unfaithfulness. The second sexual ethics evil Jesus lists is adultery. We still understand what this word means, but it comes from the Greek word “moicheia” which can be understood as to seduce or be seduced. The third sexual ethics evil Jesus lists is licentiousness, another funny word in today’s English. The word comes from the Greek word “aselgeia” which was understood as self-abandonment or licence as it relates to sensual conduct.

And Jesus’ concern for sexual ethics is not exclusive to this passage. In the same teaching Jesus speaks about anger and loving those who persecute us, he teaches about the harms of lust, adultery and divorce. He identifies a Samaritan woman by her many sexual partners. He commands a woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more”. He gives strict teaching few churches teach in relation to divorce and remarriage. Finally, and more pointedly, the one Jesus called the greatest of those born to women, John the Baptist, was executed because he was publicly critical of King Herod’s choice of sexual partner.

Was Jesus more concerned with matters of justice than who are sexual partners are? Hmmmm... To be continued...