Jesus, Peter, Paul, Timothy, Food, And Gays

This time Jesus accusers had Him dead to rights.  They caught Him red handed -- or perhaps amber handed would be more accurate: Matthew 12:1-8 (KJV)[1]

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.

But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.

But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?

Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?  But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.

But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

So here is what is happening:

  • Jesus & co. are taking a short cut through the fields to reach the local synagogue for Sabbath worship
  • The disciples are hungry, so Jesus tells them to grab some grains of wheat, rub the husks off with their hands, and eat them.[2]
  • Because this constituted “work” in the eyes of the Pharisees who interpreted the Torah & the Talmud, the disciples -- and by extension, Christ Hizzownsef, since He gave ‘em permission -- were guilty of violating Point #4 of the Decalogue:  Take a break from your work / daily routine every seven days to rest. [3]
  • Jesus then verbally b / slaps the Pharisees by telling them God only meant not to spend all your time trying to line your own pocket (or even worse, making other people slave away to line your pocket), that common sense daily necessities such as eating or hauling your dumb ass out of a hole in the ground were obviously exempt, and that it’s never ever wrong to do good.  Period.  End.  Of.  Dis.  Cussion.
  • (And just to rub intellectual salt in the wound, Jesus points out that God had no problem whatsoever with David -- “a man after God’s own heart” -- swiping bread off the tabernacle altar to feed his hungry troops.)

Jump ahead a bit: Christ has been accused, tried, convicted, executed, resurrected, and ascended into Heaven.  He’s left His disciples behind with instructions to “feed my sheep”.

He’s really, really, really explicit about that “feed my sheep” part, BTW.

So much so that He made it a point to hammer this msg. home to Simon Peter.

So some time later Simon Peter is taking some pre-dinner me-time up on the rooftop patio of one of his friends.

And while he’s praying & meditating, God lays this vision on him (Acts 10:10-16):

And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:  Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.

But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

(Three times, hmmm?  Kinda like that “feed my sheep” business, right?   Traditionally in the Bible when something is said or done 3 times it’s a symbol that it’s The Real Deal.)

So Simon Peter snaps out of his trance in what we today would call a real WTF kinda mindset, and just as he’s trying to dope all this out there comes a knock at the door, and a deputation from the Roman centurion Cornelius is asking if there’s a Simon Peter in the house.[4]

Now mind you, these were Gentiles asking for an observant Jew, and not just any Gentiles, but Roman Gentiles.

Observant Jews had nothing -- Zip!  Nada! -- to do with Gentiles of any stripe, much less their Roman masters.  It would be like a modern Jew opening his door for Palestinian terrorists or Nazi death camp commandants.

But Simon Peter, admittedly never the sharpest crayon in Christ’s box, finally clicks that the vision he just had -- which literally meant it was okay to pop any dang thing into his mouth that he wanted -- also symbolically meant that God was A-OK with non-Jews being admitted into the fold.

In contemporary terms, this is not just a modern Jew throwing open his doors & welcoming the Palestinian/Auschwitz delegation but giving them a favored seat at the head of the Passover table.

WTF indeed.

So Simon Peter trundles off with Cornelius' personal goon squad & accepts an invitation to dine at Cornelius’ places & tell Corny & his wife & other Gentile/Roman friends The Good News.

And then as Larry Gornick so eloquently put it in The Cartoon History Of The Universe II: “GUYS!  THE GENTILES ARE EATIN’ IT UP!!!”

God’s great plan kicked into overdrive.  The Great Commission was underway.

But wait -- there’s more! (Remember what we said about things happening in threes?)

Jump ahead again to a few years / decades later: Simon Peter has become the head of the Judean Christian church, but he has a rival among the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul ne’ Saul of Tarsus.  Paul’s unique insight is that he was born both a Jew (& not just any Jew, but one whose parents were part of the super-strict Pharisee sect) and a Roman citizen; as such he has the ability to seamlessly bridge both worlds, bringing The Good News to the Gentile world while jettisoning all the silly/stupid/pointless/human-made/mad-human legalisms that folks like the Pharisees had hung on the Jews & that folks like Simon Peter now wanted to fob off on the Gentiles.[5]

After a rocky beginning, Paul spends the rest of his life wandering the Roman world, preaching and teaching, raising up new churches, writing his famous letters, and generally getting the stuffing knocked outta him via various imprisonments, beatings, whippings, stonings, and shipwrecks[6] before Nero finally has enough & orders the apostle whacked (literally).

But one of his letters accompanies his protégé’ Timothy, and in it he writes:

“[What] God hath created [is] to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.   For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:  For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

Now, it’s crucial to understand a couple of things before we go on:

First, (and in the spirit of full disclosure) Paul had a lot of advice to dispense to the early churches/Christians, but not all of it was divinely inspired.  For instance, just a few verses ahead of this, he admonishes Timothy to tell the women in his church to be quiet & not to appoint them in positions of leadership over men, but he is careful to state this as his opinion, not as an edict from God.

Second, in the preceding verses, Paul warned Timothy about foolish legalisms, specifically the edicts of other preachers re celibacy & forbidden foods.  Now, he was talking literally about dietary laws, but as we see above, God will often issue a symbolic truth wrapped in a literal command.

“Feed my sheep.”

“Take and eat.”

Third, when it comes to applying Biblical principles, God through his prophets and Christ has said we should use love, compassion, and common sense.

Not legalisms.

Not cultural traditions.

Not personal comfort zones.

In several letters Paul wrote about certain practices that should be avoided by Christians.

All the biggies from the Decalogue make it, of course, but he also admonished against drunkenness, slavery[7], witchcraft, profiteering[8], fncking fornication, and what is understood today to be homosexual behavior.

I say “understood” because the words used in the original Greek do not carry the same cultural meanings today that they did then.

There is in them, and in the words translated today as adultery and fornication, a subtext of exploitive behavior, specifically prostitution (male & female, sex worker & trick, pitcher & catcher).

As with profiteering and slavery, there is a disconnect between adherence to the Christ-like virtues of love & mercy & forgiveness & compassion and the desire to screw (literally & figuratively) one’s neighbor for one’s own benefit.

Jesus and Paul both preached that while the absolute best thing possible was to love God and your neighbor so much that sex paled in comparison, if your couldn’t focus that tightly on spiritual things then it was better to find someone to marry than to burn with desire.

There is, in short, a difference between intimate physical/emotional relations with someone you love and habitual hedonistic behavior and/or prostitution.

And while adultery is condemned by both, Christ pointed out that while a person who is unjustly divorced and remarries is committing adultery, it is the fault of the person who unjustly divorced them.

And clearly the penalty for that sort of adultery did not carry the same penalty as being caught in flagrante delicto with a neighbor’s spouse.

(And to really rub it in, Christ reminded the Pharisees that if they even fantasized about boffing their neighbor’s spouse they had committed adultery.)

So while Jesus was clearly no fan of adultery, He was compassionate and merciful and forgiving to those who had committed sexual sin.[9]

So let’s talk about the good creatures that God made.

And by “good” we mean ALL of them.

There is a difference between a voluntary behavior and an innate condition.

For centuries people tried to “cure” their children of being left handed.

Folks, they’re just left handed.  They’re not wrong, they’re not mistakes.

God made ‘em that way.

The evidence points to sexual orientation as being an innate condition for most people.

You can decide how and when to express it, but you can’t change it.

You were born that way.

Use love, compassion, and common sense, folks.

How are we as Christians to treat gays, particularly professing Christians who are gay and in relationships with other gay Christians?

“For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

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[1]  It gets even better with Matthew 12:9-14:

And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:  And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered.  And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?  How much then is a man better than a sheep?  Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand.  And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.

[2]  Jewish law & custom permitted hungry passersby to pluck & eat any fruits or grains in any fields that were within arm’s reach of the road; it was not viewed as theft by the pedestrians but rather an obligation that anyone wealthy enough to own a field in the first place owed to the community at large.

[3]  Paraphrased

[4]  To put this in a more contemporary frame, it’s like the DA sending two lawyers & a cop over to your house to see if you’re home.  I don’t know about you, but “overjoyed” is not the emotion that would first spring to my mind…

[5] There was a big face off in the early Christian church over this, with the compromise being that Simon Peter & the Judean Christians stuck to their strict orthodox comfort zone but things were loosened up considerably for the Gentiles.  In fact, Paul taught that the Gentile Christians were committing a sin if they tried to live by the strict legalisms of Jewish tradition in the hopes it would help them win salvation / favor from God.  Grace don’t work that way…

[6]  Plus the occasional snake bite

[7]  Oddly enough, this particular verse is almost never preached on by white southern ministers…

[8]  Or this one by any North American preachers…

[9]  And why not?  His ancestors included a woman who got knocked up by her father-in-law, a guy who passed his wife off as his sister and let not one but two other guys marry her, a hooker, an unclean foreigner, a couple caught in adultery, and his own unwed mother.  Not much room to feel smug and superior and judgmental with those skeletons rattling in your closet.  Which, y’know, is kinda the whole flippin’ POINT!

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