Imagine being trapped in a world where everyone believes that sex is evil. How would this affect your body image, your understanding of nature and your relationships with others? Not to mention what would happen to those caught in the act.
Imagine someone coming along and saying sex is good, really good, a gift from god. If you could believe it, wouldn’t that change your entire understanding of yourself and your world?
Now imagine a world in which everyone believes that homosexuality is evil. If you were gay, how would that affect your self-image, your relationships? You may even be trapped in self-denial and self-loathing.
In Luke 6:20-31 Jesus proclaims that the poor are blessed. In a world where wealth was considered the reward for virtue and poverty was definitive proof that you were a loser, this is very counter-cultural. Not only does Jesus revolutionize people’s self-concept, he is clearly turning the tables. In fact for every blessing he announces a parallel woe: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 2Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.”
But this is precisely where Christians get into trouble. They tend to treat the Beatitudes as Jesus’ blueprint for the Christian society; a kind of “Jesus PC” - his version of political correctness. So that before you know it, the rich, or the conservatives and fundamentalists are being thrown in the stocks.
Jesus comes off as the ultimate PC sheriff, except for one point: he also says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” It is all too easy to hate the ones who oppress us and to scapegoat them when the tables are turned. Indeed in Jesus’ world, where poverty was used as a form of scapegoating, it was all too easy to demand an eye for an eye.
But what if Jesus is really saying, “Woe to anyone who constructs their definition of order by scapegoating those who are different. Woe to you if your wealth is founded on the exclusion of the poor, because he is going to turn that order upside down.Woe to anyone who derives comfort from the suffering of their enemies”? Likewise, we can say, “Woe to you if your definition of family is founded upon the exclusion of gays, lesbians and trans-gendered,” because Jesus subverts all order founded on any form of scapegoating.
Jesus understands that mutual care and respect for all members of society is the only lasting foundation. External structures no matter how rigid cannot replace the internal bonds of love and affection between family members or Christian community. There is no need to condemn anyone to the stocks. In fact the more rigidly you reinforce your definition of order the more likely you are to fail because more and more people are giving themselves permission to reject it.
Its hard for us to imagine what a radical message this was. It had the power to liberate people not just from the condemnation of society, it also allowed them to reject all those negative messages which poisoned their self image.
The real miracle happens when all those people who were once oppressed by rigid attitudes begin to treat each other with mutual respect and tolerance. Free not only from self-hatred, but also the need for revenge they become the foundation for a new human community.