Holy Love: Christ

​The fourth vantage point for seeing the hermeneutic of holy love is Christ, the one who reveals the creator (“whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” John 14:9), the one who made the creation (“ everything came into being through the Word,” John 1:3), and the one who is the mediator of the covenant (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24).  So, everything we have said thus far comes together in Christ, and it does so through love (John 13:1).

One of the things I have heard people say about the relation between Christ and human sexuality is this, “I wish he had made it clear about sexual identities, orientations, same-sex marriage, etc.  I have wished the same.  I have thought, “If only I could spend five minutes with Jesus.”  I have a list of questions.  Human sexuality is one of them.  

Scholars are correct in noting Jesus’ silence about homosexuality.  And they are correct that we cannot use his silence to make a point one way or the other.  Arguments from silence, on any subject, are not regarded as strong ones.  I understand and respect that, but Jesus’ silence does not create a vacuum.  In fact, when we turn to him, he teaches some very important things about human sexuality.

First, Jesus was the incarnation of the pre/post incarnate Christ. [1]. He personified the cosmic reality that Paul described, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  The first three words lead us to his Lordship, the last three lead us to our sacredness.  “Christ is in all” is a powerful affirmation based on the fact that we are made in the image of God.  All of us.  This comprehensiveness is the existential basis for the sacred worth of all people.  Christ is in all.   All means all.

Second, Jesus bypassed two golden opportunities to denounce same-sex marriage and homosexuality.  With regard to marriage (Matthew 19:5) he could have said, “One man, one woman marriage is the only kind God approves of.”  But he didn’t.  Why?  Because even though one man/one woman marriages wete/are normative, they are not definitive.  Marriage is a covenant bond, not based in gender but rather (as we have seen) in the Covenant principles of sacredness, fidelity, permanency—and later in the New Covenant, monogamy.  His remarks in Matthew were not about marriage per se, but about how divorce regulations had cheapened the union God intended. 

In the same moment, he could have taken the “one flesh” phrase and  limit it to a physical act reserved for heterosexuals, but he didn’t.  Why? Because “one flesh” is not a physical term.  When it is used in the Old Testament (Gen 2:24, Gen 29:14, Judges 9:2,  2 Sam 5:1, 2 Sam 19:12-13, and 1 Chron 11:1), it is a metaphorical phrase describing a deep kinship bond—what we mean today when we refer to people who have a “heart-to-heart” relationship, or who we say are “joined at the hip.”

But the real blockbuster Jesus gave us is in his second missed opportunity to denounce  homosexuality. It came with respect to eunuchs (Matthew 19:12).  People called eunuchs were the biblical way of noting and referring to nonbinary human beings. Today, we have specified the idea in the categories of intersex, transgender, etc.  Jesus could have spoken of those born that way as aberrations, but he didn’t. He could have referred to those who chose to be spiritual eunuchs as living against God’s will, but he didn’t.  Rather, he spoke positively about eunuchs, in keeping with God’s affirmation of them in Isaiah 56:3-5.  This passage is so important that we must explore it further.  It teaches a number of important things about nonbinary people…

          –they are fully human (v 3). Eunuchs must not say they are “dry trees,”—that is, they are not disordered human beings. They are not aberrations of God’s design.  They are nonbinary expressions of it along the spectrum of humanity in the first creation story.

         –they can keep the Covenant, as eunuchs (v 4)—that is, they do not have to sublimate their  sexuality (e.g. through celibacy) or be “normalized” in some way. They have full access to religion.

         –they are honored people (v 5)—that is, they are given a monument in in both the temple (religion) and the city walls (society).

         –they are given a name better than sons and daughters (v 5)—that is, better than the identities of maleness and femaleness (e.g. the Native-American view of two-spirited people).  Perhaps more like Adam before Eve was separated, more like God’s nature which is nonbinary. (This is an amazing idea!)

Jesus’ carrying forward of the substance and spirit of Isaiah’s words through his valuing of eunuchs is his most powerful affirmation of nonbinary sexuality.  It effectively shuts down any notion that non-heterosexual people are aberrations or that they are unable to be fully included in both the Church and the society.

And thirdly, Jesus modeled the Message revealed in Galatians 3:11, by his inclusion of those whom conventional religion either excluded or marginalized.  His radical inclusion is one of the things that got him into trouble with religious leaders.  It was one of his most powerful confirmations to the second great love commandment.

Taken together, these points have produced what some call The Jesus Hermeneutic; that is, he becomes the lens through whom we see the rest of the Bible. [2]  Some of the highlights of his hermeneutic are these,

     –he was not confined to traditional interpretations (Matthew 5:17-48)

     –he was not legalistic: he violated laws in order to show mercy (Luke 4:31-44)

     –he was inclined toward inclusion.  (Matthew 11:28)

     –he put mercy and compassion over the Law.  (Matthew 23:23)

     –he even protected those who were said to deserve death (John 7:53—8:11)

In fact, what we find in Jesus is that his harshest words were spoken to those who  insisted they were not sinners, and from their pedestals of self-righteousness looked down upon the designated less-than “others” with judgmentalism and condemnation. Jesus was negative toward those who claimed to know better than the “others”—the ones who claimed to be correct. [3]

Jesus’ hermeneutic was not a collection of random acts of kindness, it was the outworking of his declared mission on day-one of his ministry.  Choosing Isaiah 61:1-2 as his text, he told his fellow Nazarenes that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him—the Holy Spirit moving him to engage with the poor, with prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed—announcing to them all “the Lord’s favor”(Luke 4:18-19).  Jesus stopped reading from Isaiah right there, but the original text included the phrase, “and to proclaim…a day of vindication for our God”  Jesus made a clean break with retribution, and declared that his ministry would be restorative.  Later he summed it up in one sentence, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

My conclusion about Christ is that he was by no means silent about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. He was not silent with respect to the overall context in which these things must be viewed.  His model and message was inclusive love, unqualified affirmation, and full access.  He set the pattern and calls us to follow it.  All means all.


So…..

(1) How does Jesus encourage you to love?

(2) How does Jesus challenge you to love?

            


[1] I learned the terms pre-incarnate Christ and post-incarnate Christ from E. Stanley Jones, terms he used to describe the eternal and universal Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity.

[2] Richard Rohr writes about The Jesus Hermeneutic in chapter three of his book, ‘What Do We Do with the Bible?’ (CAC Publishing, 2018).

[3] Years ago, I heard the claim about Jesus’ negativity essentially being expressed on religious leaders and others who self-righteousness, and I was not sure the claim was correct.  So, I read the four gospels, noting every place where Jesus spoke negatively.  And sure enough, the claim is correct!

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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