Two years ago this past May I rejoiced with two dear friends as they exchanged vows and celebrated their love for and commitment to one another. The wedding took place in Iowa, not just because the couple has family there, but also because my friends are gay. They could not legally marry in Nebraska, though they live here, work here and have made their home here for many years.
As many of you know, same-sex marriage has once again come to the forefront of political and religious debate here in Nebraska, and it’s an issue fraught with tension and discord. I’ve considered this debate from many angles and through many different lenses – theological, political, historical — but for me, the lens that resonates most with my heart is Jesus.
Whether you consider homosexuality a sin or not, the fact is, Jesus didn’t spend his precious time on earth talking about it. In fact, Jesus didn’t spend much time talking about sex or sexual sin at all. He touched on sexual sin just twice in all of the Gospels: when he spoke to the crowd about the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned (and suggested that those without sin should feel free to cast the first stone) and when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the well who’d had five husbands and was currently living with another man. And in neither case was Jesus’ primary point about sexual sin, but rather, about the larger issues at hand: judging others and seeking truth.
I realize that just because it didn’t make it into the Gospels doesn’t mean that Jesus never commented on homosexuality during his thirty-three years on earth. On the other hand, I have to wonder: if homosexuality was as important to Jesus as it seems to be to many 21st-century Christians, wouldn’t there be a record of that? The truth is, we seem to spend an awful lot of our time and energy debating an issue that clearly wasn’t even close to the top of Jesus’ list of hot-button topics.
So if Jesus didn’t spend his time talking about homosexuality or sexual sin, what were his most pressing concerns? What was the focus of Jesus’ ministry during his time on earth?
Think, for a moment, about what most often prompted Jesus’ anger and to whom that anger was directed. Jesus was often frustrated with his disciples, but he reserved his most ruthless criticism for the Pharisees, the teachers of religious law. In fact, in one lengthy diatribe, he called the Pharisees “a brood of vipers,” “blind guides,” “fools,” and above all “hypocrites,” condemning them for their arrogance, self-righteousness, and judgment of others. The Pharisees claimed to know who was wrong and who was right, who was going to heaven and who was going to hell.
If there was one thing Jesus could not tolerate, it was the sin of pride and pride’s offspring: self-righteousness, arrogance, hypocrisy, judgment, and greed.
Consider, as well, the people with whom Jesus chose to spend his time during his ministry: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, women, children, the poor, and the underprivileged – in short, all the people the Pharisees considered less-than: the misfits, the outcasts, those on the fringe, those unwelcome, marginalized, and unloved. The people most ostracized by society were the people Jesus most loved and most welcomed into his company.
And finally, consider the main components of Jesus’ teaching, the points he reiterated again and again: love, grace, forgiveness, empathy, acceptance, compassion and mercy.
You might argue that I am oversimplifying, that the issue of same-sex marriage is far more complicated and nuanced than I am making it out to be. And you are right. It is complicated. There are other biblical verses to consider – Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Corinthians, for example — as well as cultural and historical context.
But to debate same-sex marriage so heatedly is, I think, to miss the bigger picture, the picture Jesus modeled for us day in and day out during his thirty-three years on earth. The truth is, it’s not that complicated. Jesus made it easy for us when he consolidated the Ten Commandments into two: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus especially loved and blessed those on the margins, those cast out and disdained by society. And he expects us to do the same. For me, loving my neighbor as myself looks like supporting my gay friends and family members who yearn to enjoy a privilege and a gift that, I admit, I’ve often taken for granted these last 18 years: the gift of commiting themselves to their soul mate in marriage; to love, cherish and honor, in sickness and in health, until death do them part.