The curator informed us that Abraham Lincoln was the second most written about person in history. The first of course, was Jesus. Lincoln was a controversial man, beloved by many, hated by some, credited or blamed for much social progress and many social evils. And there were books in the stack “proving” every possible viewpoint.
But Lincoln comes in second. He was, we could say, a piker when compared to Jesus, whose beloved disciple John even said, “Many other things Jesus did, which if they were written out one by one, I suppose the world itself wouldn’t have room for the books written” (John 21:25). And that’s just the things He did. John of course, had no idea how many books of interpretations and opinions concerning what he did and taught would be written over the next two millennia. And much more than Lincoln, Jesus has been loved, hated, credited and blamed. He is still at the center of theological and ethical controversy.
I agree with Ross Douthat (BAD RELIGION) that Jesus “is a paradoxical character” and that heresy, in a sense, begins with an inability to live with these paradoxes. So our modern heresies, like the ancient ones, pick and choose which aspects of Jesus’ person are desirable and construct a “Jesus” more to their liking – sort of a “Dial-A-Jesus.”
Nowhere is this Dial-A-Jesus tendency more evident than in the current debate over sexual ethics, especially in the area of gay marriage. We are presented by some, with a Jesus who, it would seem would not only publicly endorse laws to permit gay marriage, He would no doubt, endorse and bless the act itself.
We are told, correctly, that nowhere in the Gospels, does Jesus condemn homosexual behavior. We are also probably correctly told that Jesus was totally accepting of those whose sexual mores were in contradiction to the Old Testament Law. And of course, this is understood to imply a number of things: that He opposed the Law itself; that He was accepting of homosexual behavior as well as of other sexual behavior that violated the Law.
There are two favorite sayings of Jesus quoted by those who desire this nice, accepting, amoral Jesus.
The first is Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, that you may not be judged.” Ripped out of its context this allegedly proves that Jesus is non-judgmental and is making a blanket condemnation of those who are. It also is used to show that somehow He is invalidating the Old Testament Law as well as any moral pronouncements. But this saying is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, in which Jesus not only endorses the Law’s moral pronouncements, He actually takes them a step further. See especially Matthew 5:27, 28, “You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust for her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
The other favorite saying is John 8:7, “Let the one who is without sin first cast a stone at her.” Again, the context tells us a bit more. The religious leaders were pressing Jesus to make a decision in a capital case in which only the woman was on trial, and no matter what, His decision would have been the wrong one. And Jesus does tell the woman afterward, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
In the Gospels we are not presented with a nice guy Jesus, who did not hold Himself or others to a moral code. Rather we have a morally uncompromising Jesus. Jesus didn’t accept immoral behavior, He accepted immoral people! He forgave people their sins because of His love for them and because, as God, He had the ability to do so. And as the God-man, He would ultimately die for the penalty of their sin – including mine.
I agree that there is too much Pharisaism and hypocrisy in our modern culture wars. I believe that Jesus Himself would have condemned this moralism and hypocrisy. But we need to recognize that Jesus was so much more than a religious nice guy. He was God Himself. And He was the perfect Man. And He loved “sinners,” myself included.
And please, let’s not enlist Him on our side; let’s accept Him as He is and for who He is.
See also: JESUS DECIDES A CAPITAL CASE