What’s in It for Us? A Study of the Gospel of Matthew: Part 5

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Matthew 21

Jesus and authority figures were often like oil and water. The religious authorities of Jesus’ day, for the most part, like those of our own time, were easily blinded by what power they had, or thought they had. Their word automatically became God’s word, and to doubt the “truth” they spoke earned condemnation.

In Matthew 21:23, the elders confront Jesus with the question, “What authority have you for acting like this? Who gave you this authority?” Jesus lived and moved and spoke as a man who enjoyed the freedom of the children of God, and freedom can be a threat to those chained to the earth while believing they are soaring amid the clouds. When a person’s life is revealed as being rich in shackles and chains, they either have to remove what binds them or dismiss and destroy the one trying to open their eyes.

Jesus will not be lured into their trap. He will not justify his actions, firmly rooted in the truth of God, to those whose eyes are scaled over by their own self-importance. And because of his unwillingness to play their spiritual games and buckle under, “…the chief priests and the scribes…would have liked to arrest him,” but they were afraid of the crowds.

Freedom is not the ability to do anything you want to do. Freedom is the ability to do what you must do. Freedom, removed from the foundation of God, is false freedom. It is simply another form of slavery. Only in God, only in the gospel of Jesus, is found authentic freedom, firm peace and boundless joy. There are aspects of “gay culture” that do not breathe forth life and love and truth, only slavery masquerading as liberation. To have life, to be truly free, we must follow the one who entered Jerusalem in humility on the back of a donkey.

If we take up the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” and allow that question to inform our answers and actions, we will find the others will demand from us when, as God’s free daughters and sons, we will give God perfect praise with every beat of our heart.

Matthew 22

Once, when critics used Matthew 22:15-22 (“Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and God what belongs to God”), to challenge the great peace and human rights activist Dorothy Day on her pacifist stance she countered with, “If we gave to God all that belongs to God, there would be nothing left for Caesar.”

Most of the time, Caesar is seen as symbolic of the state, the political reality we are all involved with in one way or another. But to my mind that is too limiting, too cramped a view. I would rather see “Caesar” as anything, or anyone, who would call us away from the side of Jesus.

Caesar comes to us dressed in the latest fashions we “must” have. He comes to us as the latest drug, drink or other addiction. Caesar is all that Madison Avenue informs us we cannot live without, all the things that can fill up what is lacking in our hearts and souls…until the next fad takes hold, or the old becomes “new and improved.”

St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions that “our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” until we nestle in the unending embrace of the God who created us out of love and desire for our existence. The embrace of Caesar is unwelcoming because it is founded on lies. We are physical and spiritual beings, and only the love of Jesus, who is both spirit and flesh, truth and life, can sustain and satisfy us.

In your darkest moments, in moments of fear and doubt, during those times of struggle, to whom do you turn? Who receives your allegiance: the passing splendor of the latest incarnation of Caesar, or the “Word made flesh” who continues to live among us, who longs to live in the warm confines of your heart?

Matthew 23: 1-38

Jesus had no problem with power and authority as such. Both are necessary for the smooth running of Church or society. But if you check the gospels closely you will find that the only times Jesus grew angry were those times when he saw power and authority used in abusive and repressive ways. He became angry when power and authority became ends in themselves. Jesus took up the whip when the outcasts were kept that way, when “law” became a club with which to beat the wayward into submission, when soulless ritual replaced compassion, when rules took the place of tenderness and mercy, when hearts of stone crushed the life out of hearts of flesh and blood, hope and need.

In Matthew 23, Jesus rips into the religious leaders of his day, pulling no punches (“hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “fools,” “whitewashed tombs,” “serpents,” “brood of vipers”). This comes on the heels of the discussion about which of the 600-plus commandments of the Law was the greatest.

For Jesus, love of God and neighbor could not be separated. They are eternally linked, one always feeding the other, deepening both. One begins in the frail human heart, only to flow out into physical action. The scribes and Pharisees pressed and pushed Almighty God so as to fashion him in their own cramped, myopic view. In so doing, they blinded themselves to what mercy and compassion should be. A cramped vision of God creates an exaggerated vision of human brokenness and sin. But in God, who is rich in mercy and full of compassion, a God of justice and unbounded love enables us to put our sins and those of others in perspective, a perspective lost on the religious authorities. Such a vision of God reassures us that God’s mercy is greater than our sins, and that we can be better today than we were yesterday.

As gay and lesbian people, we have tasted the bitter fruit of such a cold and blind vision of God. The danger arising from this is that we can take this “lie” and call it “truth.” We then look at ourselves and see our sexuality, our very being, as something sinful and disordered, more sinful than anything else in the world. And our real sins are then blown out of al proportion.

Gay and lesbian folks do sin since we are human beings. But our existence is no sin, nor are our desires for love and tenderness and commitment sinful. Jesus must be our guide. He is a sure guide who will reveal to us our need for his healing touch while at the same time reminding us that we are his brothers and sisters, and that he desires our love, a love only gay and lesbian people can give him. He thirsts for us. If we fail to listen to his call, we leave him thirsty and pleading. Then it is we, not the authorities, who are truly blind and foolish.

Matthew 24

It would seem that the end of the world is big business. From the Left Behind series of conservative evangelical end-times novels to the tortured pathways through scriptural prophecy presented by some preachers, it would appear that many are waiting for the end to draw near…and soon.

As with many things that touch on the human condition, this is nothing new. In chapter 24, Jesus addresses those concerns that were prevalent in his own day. The images he uses are “apocalyptic,” coming from a type of literature and thinking that arose around 200 BCE and lasted until roughly 200 CE. Apocalyptic writing and thought was used in times of oppression and danger, when speaking your mind openly could get you killed. So messages were cloaked in symbolic language that only those familiar with the symbols could understand. What message did these symbols present? Basically that, no matter how frightening events may become, in the end God will be triumphant, and those who have remained faithful will enjoy eternal life with God.

So what does all this end-time hysteria have to do with us? Well, we can toss the hysteria out the window and simply rely on Jesus, who said that no one knows the hour when the world will come to an end, no one except God. So be ready. Readiness is what we can and must hold on to. As much as we may not wish to contemplate it, one day you and I will no longer be here. We will die. No one enters this world with an expiration date tattooed on their backsides, so the exact length of our earthly pilgrimage is known only to God.

There is a bumper sticker I saw once in traffic: “Jesus is coming back…look busy!” There is truth in humor. Perhaps we will be present for the second coming. If not, we are assured that each of us will one day stand before Jesus so as to give an account of how we have lived and nurtured the gift of life, or how we have squandered so precious a gift.

Ask yourself daily (and not in a morbid sense): If today was my final day on earth, and I will stand before Jesus…how will it go? Will I be ready? Will I be standing before and old friend or a total stranger? Have I honestly tried to embrace and incarnate the gospel with my life, or have I disregarded it with the mistaken understanding that “I will follow Jesus…tomorrow?”

The gospel brings life. The gospel brings hope and courage. The gospel brings justice and compassion. The gospel comes from the wounded, ever-throbbing heart of Jesus, a heart whose blood and water flows out to us, forming bonds of love, drawing us to find rest within it, a rest that can be ours for eternity. But why wait? Why not begin, or continue to nurture, a relationship with the Lover whose love was written in blood and sweat and spittle, with nails and thorns and hatred. As gays and lesbians, we know the pain too well. Why not, in Jesus, begin to know the glory also?