Presbytery of Chicago: Authoritative Interpretation (2 of 3)

Here is the second of three analysis posts for this Rationale.

The authors finish their sentence regarding the theological justification for same gender marriage.

are following their understanding of Jesus Christ, who placed himself on the margins with people others considered unclean, unworthy, and immoral, and lifted up love and compassion.

My issue with this statement is not that it is untrue. Rather, I contend that it is so incomplete and shallow that it distorts the true nature of Christ’s relationship to people “on the margins.”

Contemporary Western culture has decided that “love and compassion” towards people “on the margins” means in practice utter non-judgment. That is, the objects of this “love and compassion” are to be affirmed and accepted in all that they believe and do within the context of their marginalized status.

The following three Scriptural examples of Christ’s actual engagement with people on the margins will suffice to show how erroneous is this belief.

Perhaps the most prominent incident of this type is Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John 4. This woman is a marginalized person (an adulteress) in a marginalized community (the Samaritans). Here is the encounter (John 4:7-26).

There came a woman of Samar′ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar′ia?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Surely, this is an encounter of exquisite “love and compassion!” However, would anyone dare to say that when Christ exposed this woman’s sexual sin He was approving it? Recall what Christ said about the sin of adultery in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-30).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

No, Christ was confronting her with her sin in order to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Which brings us to the second encounter with a marginalized person. In the case of Zacchaeus, we have a person on the social margins but who exercises great power as a tax collector. The encounter is as follows (Luke 19:1-10).

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchae′us; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchae′us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchae′us stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Note that the response of this marginalized person to Christ’s “love and compassion” was repentance of sin. Christ also clearly states His purpose, that being bringing salvation.

Finally, there is Christ’s encounter with the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:2-11).

Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

Yes, Christ in love and compassion did not condemn her to death. But, He ended the conversation by saying, “do not sin again.” Clearly, Christ was not affirming her sin. Rather, He was delivering her from the death of sin to the new life of salvation.

These three examples make it crystal clear that, though the Rational statement is technically true, it utterly fails to capture the completeness and depth of Scripture’s testimony on this issue. Thus, I believe the authors to be in error when they imply that Christ’s “love and compassion” means affirmation and acceptance (in this case, the affirmation and acceptance of same gender marriage) of marginalized people’s behavior or beliefs.

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