Living Like Jesus & Letting Go of Control

I’d been pondering the notion of certainty many of us have in how we view how Jesus interacted with people. (Dave picked up on this in his comment for the last post.) And another friend, David, who blogs at NakedPastor.com wrote this:

“Abraham’s primitive spirituality was radically different than Moses’ deliverance spirituality. But then Moses’ spirituality was radically different than Samuel’s prophetic spirituality. And Samuel’s spirituality certainly looked a lot different than David’s earthy spirituality. And David’s spirituality looked a lot different than Jeremiah’s sorrowful spirituality. But then Jeremiah’s spirituality looked quite a bit different than Peter’s Messianic spirituality. And Peter’s spirituality looked a lot different than Paul’s missional spirituality.”

To read the rest of his post and the comments following check here. It seems to me that as I’ve been seeking to live in the gospels, that my picture of Jesus has been challenged and stretched – and along with it, some of my certainty about how Jesus would engage if he showed up and hung out with me and my friends. The encounter of Jesus I find frequently quoted in the conversations around faith and sexuality is Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus concludes his respectful deference to this woman by asking her who has condemned her. She replies by saying that no one has. And in verse 11 of John chapter 8 Jesus says these familiar words, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” When this account is referenced, often with a sense that this is a decisive example of Jesus’ encounter with people, it is rarely acknowledged that this particular text is disputed and was not a part of the earliest manuscripts or witness accounts. We leave that out, perhaps because we like this text. We like it because it demonstrates a social stigma shattering compassion while avoiding a wishy-washy position on sin. It serves our purposes well – and from it we extract a certainty on Jesus’ manner of dealing with people in what we describe as broken and sinful circumstances. I wonder if in some sense, it even becomes a lens through which we read the rest of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ encounters with people. Curiously, a few chapters earlier, when Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well who has had a string of husbands and is now living with a sixth man who was not her husband, once he exposes this reality in her life, he doesn’t comment much on her relationship status or sexual behaviour. We don’t know, of course, all of the conversation that went on between Jesus and the woman. But I do find it interesting that when the woman returns to her village and tells others about Jesus, her focus is on the fact that he knew everything she ever did – and on this basis her speculation that he might be the Messiah. She doesn’t say, “He told me everything I ever did, called me to repent, to stop my life of sin, to get married and stay faithful or be single and chaste, and then I can worship properly.” The gospel accounts don’t reveal that she shared anything about Jesus’ words about worshipping in Spirit and in truth. We simply learn that the Samaritans, because of the woman’s testimony that Jesus had revealed her life to her, urged Jesus to stay with them – and he did for 2 days – during which time many more believed in him. Clearly, the reality of her poor record of sexual relationships had been exposed …. And yet, in the big picture, this revelation did not seem to be the focus of Jesus’ ministry with either this woman or the Samaritans according to the emphasis of this gospel account. I don’t conclude from this that Jesus doesn’t care about sexual morality. But I am confronted with the question of why this is raised but not really addressed in this particular account. What does seem clear, is that Jesus’ priority was revelation – and most specifically, revealing who He, Himself, was. Living in this text has helped me to recognize that in meeting and connecting with people whose relational and sexual lives differ from my own, my priority ought to be sharing together in the revelation of who Jesus is – the One who calls us to worship the Father. Another text I’ve been living in is Jesus’ encounter with the 10 lepers. Found in Luke 17, Jesus is travelling along the border, as he was prone to do, I think a good metaphor for the margins of society. In these border lands, Jesus was challenging the notions of who was “in” and who was “out”. He had a thing for Samaritans, despised and rejected by his own Jewish brothers and sisters. On this border, he meets 10 guys with leprosy who have been outcast due to being unclean. They call out and ask Jesus to have pity on them. In this account, Jesus doesn’t touch them, doesn’t ask if they want to be well, doesn’t spit (go through the gospels and count how many times Jesus uses spit in his encounters with people – very interesting and my 13 year old son’s favourite parts). Instead, he simply tells them to go show themselves to the priest. Along the way, they are cleansed. Nine of them continue on to follow the prescribed religious system for reincorporation into normal, clean society. But one turns around and heads back to where Jesus is. I’m not so sure it was as much about gratitude as it was about desperation. You see, this guy was a Samaritan. And Samaritans didn’t have a hope of being reinstated into normal Jewish society by the priest no matter how clean their skin condition was. So he goes back to Jesus, perhaps hoping that he’ll at least experience some level of community with him and his disciples. Jesus makes another revelatory remark when he asks where the other nine are – and was there no one else to bring praise to God except “this foreigner”. Then he says to the Samaritan, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Can you imagine? He doesn’t talk to him about repentance. He doesn’t talk to him about the appropriate way to live. He doesn’t tell him about himself so that he can go and represent him correctly to his fellow Samaritans. He doesn’t give him a short lesson in catechism. He sends him off, knowing full well that he will share the story of his healing with the people he encounters. It is astounding to me that Jesus doesn’t exert a little more control over how this guy will represent him. And this isn’t a one time thing. Jesus in Luke 8 asks who touched him because he felt healing power leave his body. Trembling, the woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years finally owns up and gives testimony to her instantaneous healing. Jesus simply says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” It would have been very common for the people around her to assume that it was some sort of sin issue that caused her to suffer with long-term bleeding. But Jesus doesn’t say a thing about sin. Doesn’t say it isn’t her fault. Doesn’t tell her to stop sinning. Simply sends her off in peace. In Mark 3 Jesus pushes the religious leaders past their point of patience when he heals a man with a shrivelled hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In this case, he simply says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” No mention of sin. Again, no absolution “no it wasn’t his fault” nor “stop sinning”. In each encounter, these people would go on to be witnesses to their encounter with Jesus. Wouldn’t it be important that he clarify that now that they would be testifying about him there were certain expectations and moral obligations to offer a more faithful, vibrant and robust witness? To me this is an astonishing trust on Jesus’ part. And I want to be like him. That means I need to learn a whole lot more about letting go of control. Or I think of Jesus’ words in Mark 2 when the Pharisees accuse him of doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath (his disciples had picked heads of grain as they walked along). He points to the account of David and his men eating the consecrated bread that was to be reserved only for priests to eat. Jesus explains the rationale as David being “hungry and in need”. Well if you remember Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, they died because they made an incense offering with unauthorized fire. They did not carry out, to the letter, the instructions given regarding what was consecrated. How is it that Jesus legitimizes David’s actions based solely on fleshly need? He then turns the law on its head when he suggests that the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. What are we to make of this? It would seem that Jesus’ encounters with people and interaction in relation to sin issues isn’t as cut and dried as we sometimes try to make it out to be. It would seem that Jesus not only responded uniquely in each different situation, but that he also modeled a remarkable trust in releasing people to take their accounts of him to others. There is no question in my mind that Jesus taught and modelled a radical devotion and commitment to God. He went deeper than the letter of the law to the motivations and inclinations of the heart. He called for a profound cultivation of virtue that many of us cannot claim to have mastered. At the heart of this discipline of virtue is an outrageous love – a love that Jesus says goes beyond loving those who are like us, those who believe like us, those who view sin like us, those who live out their faith like us … but extends to those who differ from us. The belief that same-sex sexual behaviour is inconsistent with Scripture’s admonitions is not an unknown or unfamiliar one in our context. Anyone who experiences same-sex attraction and seriously explores the Christian faith is confronted with needing to consider this perspective in light of their posture before Scripture, in submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit and in relation to the church’s teaching. This belief is not under-represented – though it is at times misrepresented by the spirit through which it is communicated. But consideration of this question is not the only question of faith a same-sex attracted person needs to consider. Our desire is to encounter people as Jesus did – not with a formulaic expectation – but with the investment in each individual uniquely, discerning with them what the next steps in our journeys of faith might be. And it is our hope to relinquish control in that process to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Our attempts to embody an invitational posture do not change the reality of the challenge in front of any sexual minority who needs to personally search and wrestle with the implications of God’s will for the expression of their sexuality. Rather, our invitational posture extends the space for each individual to own for themselves their convictions as they wrestle that out in relation to Scripture, the church, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is consistent with our value to be non-coercive in the lives of those we connect with. Where we encounter true faith in Christ, we can rejoice in confident expectation that God will complete the good work he has begun. We also believe such postures nurture space which optimizes exploration of faith and deepening of faith. For a faith or conviction that is demanded is a weak and unsustainable faith indeed.

-WG

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