Friday, December 02, 2005

A Jesus so compassionate that "in Christ, there is neither straight nor gay"?

My friend, Roy Donkin, published an interesting post today. Building on the work of Jesus scholar Marcus Borg, we are introduced to the idea that Jesus' words "Be compassionate as God is compassionate" were a deliberate subversion of the injunction in the Holiness Code, "Be holy as God is holy" (Lv 11:44). Borg's textual basis for seeing this change from the Levitical code depends upon the Lucan version over the Matthean with its retaining of the word "holy" (Mt 5:48). The implication fits within the larger scheme Borg advocates, namely that compassion describes the ministry of Jesus to such an extent that calls to holiness pale in comparison. Indeed, it would be impossible to conceive of Borg's Jesus as requiring any kind of moral purity at all.

Ben Witherington III observes that "Borg sees Jesus as advocating the practice and politics of mercy as the true form of holiness, in contrast with establishing holiness by ritual cleansing and drawing lines between clean and unclean people." It would seem that Borg has missed the point. Jesus set aside (or at least radically relativized the laws of ritual cleanness). However, he did so to introduce an even more strenuous system of moral holiness. Since neither Jesus nor Paul come even remotely close to Borg's idea of "compassion" as a basis for the irradication of the ethical distinction between gay and straight, one wonders if the good scholar of Jesus Seminar fame has lifted several things out of context to make them say what he wants them to teach rather than what Jesus (or the Evangelist) intended.

I really like Jesus
By Roy Donkin

I really, really do. In an earlier blog I mentioned Marcus Borg's book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. It is a short book but I'm working through it slowly...

Anyway, chapter 3 really got me thinking. In it, Borg places Jesus in the context of a culture that was shaped by its understandings of purity - what is clean and what is not. He portrays Jesus as a subversive who replaces a system of purity with one of compassion. Key to his argument is a quote from Jesus in Luke 6:36 - "Be compassionate as God is compassionate." Borg sees this quote as a deliberate subversion of the Old Testament text - "Be holy as God is holy," Leviticus 11:44. In both his words and his actions, Jesus throws out all of the purity requirements. In Jesus' view, the primary characteristic of God is not holiness... it is compassion.

The implications for us are amazing. Following Jesus means always openning our hearts to the other. It means always standing in solidarity with those who are at the margins. It means discarding any silly ideas regarding holiness and realizing that not only is it not a central requirement for the Christian, it isn't a requirement at all.

Borg touches homosexuality and says that "the shattering of purity boundaries by both Jesus and Paul should also apply to the purity code's perception of homosexuality" and that "In Christ, there is neither straight nor gay." (p59)Yeah... I really like Jesus.

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