Woe To Me

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court reached the historic decision to establish an American definition of marriage. The responses from Americans on both sides of that debate were swift and strong. People cheered and mourned, prayed and shouted. Since the decision had been anticipated for months, news organizations were ready. CNN posted articles from multiple angles and put the headline in enormous print on its homepage (but then, CNN puts everything in enormous print on its homepage.) Christianity Today sent an email to its entire subscriber list with links to no less than 13 articles on the topic. I was surprised to hear the pastor who performed my own wedding ceremony on NPR talking about the “colliding freight trains” of gay marriage and freedom of religion. It was all we could talk about. 

That was yesterday. This morning, my YouVersion plan had me reading the words of Jesus, who never mentioned gay marriage, but did allude to gay sex.

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

—Matthew 11:20-24

Capernaum was a quaint fishing village full of honest, hard-working people. The ancient historian Josephus called it a "fertile spring." Sodom, of course, was an ancient city famous, and destroyed, for its depravity. Its name implies gay sex. Jesus’ hearers would have understood his reference to Sodom as an allusion to sexual sin and cultural decline. And Jesus’ message was that such a city was better off than respectable but prideful Capernaum. The message of Jesus' kingdom had come to his contemporaries accompanied with miraculous signs, and they had refused to open the hearts to it, refused to repent. That stubborn refusal put them at greater risk than the Sodomites who would have been humbled by the same miracles. The upstanding, white-picket-fence families of Capernaum were condemned more than the gay pride marchers of Sodom. In Jesus’ estimation, unrepentance and unbelief are greater sins than sodomy. 

I am guilty of the worse sin. I often fail to trust Jesus with my whole heart. I often fail to, as Jesus’ predecessor commanded, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” On the scale of sin-seriousness, if there is such a thing, I commit the greater sin. And there is no law against it. 

The message of Jesus — the message that Christians have been trying to get across in this whole debate — is not that gay people are more sinful or less worthy of marriage. The message of Jesus is that we are all so, and that our embrace of that truth — our repentance — is the thing that will bring peace and human flourishing. It is our release of rights, not our defense of them, that brings near the kingdom of heaven. It is our acknowledged unrighteousness, not our dogged right-ness, that saves us from judgement. 

There is plenty of time for political debate and plenty of voices to follow in that arena. But this morning I found Jesus’ voice in Matthew 11. He wasn’t shouting at a rally to win. He was whispering a call to repent. That’s the path or cultural progress on which I’m trying to follow him.