There is a statement Jesus used often as he talked with the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day: “Have you not read?” This phrase is both sarcastic in a sense, as the Pharisees knew the Tanakh better than anyone else, even committing a vast amount to memory. Yet the statement is also serious, as Jesus communicates essential truths by referencing the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, in Matthew 21, during the Triumphal Entry, the religious leaders confront Jesus after he hears and accepts the praises of the crowds and children as they shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” – Matthew 21:16
Jesus often referenced Old Testament passages when communicating with the religious leaders, and in the process often exposed the error of their thinking. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees approach Jesus and try to test him by addressing the controversial issue of marriage and divorce. Immediately, Jesus redirects to the Old Testament to provide a concise answer.
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’. – Matthew 19:4
I think a similar question needs to be levied to the Church, universally, and to Christians today: “Have you not read?” We currently live in a post-Christian society, where the truth of the gospel is no longer forefront in the world. And although it could be expected that knowledge of the Bible would be minimal in the culture at large, the shocking reality is that even inside the church, Biblical literacy is horrifically low. We simply do not know what the Word says and do not take the time to read it.
There recently was a news story out of Illinois that caught my attention. Benet Academy, a Catholic school, hired a new lacrosse coach, Amanda Kammes, for its girls’ high-school team. However, after the school discovered that she was married to another woman, they asked for her resignation, and she complied. This caused an outrage among students, alumni, and faculty, who were shocked at the school’s position. The school argued that they desired to “employ individuals whose lives manifest the essential teachings of the Church.” Students and alumni created an online petition, stating that the school’s actions in “rejecting a talented potential staff member on the basis of whom she loves” indicates their failure “to uphold the principles of dignity and charity that you purport to practice as a Christian institution.” The petition went on to state, “We are ashamed of your narrow interpretation of Christian morality.” Despite their convictions, the school soon caved to the pressure and hired Amanda Kammes to the lacrosse team. Alumni and students rejoiced at the decision, and advocates for LGBTQ issues celebrated the reversal.
Although there is certainly a legal dimension that is at play here, my largest concern is the state of the church as it pertains to these issues. Many of the alumni and others who critiqued the school’s “narrow interpretation of morality” called themselves Catholics. Yet they were ignorant, or intentionally rejected, the fact that the Bible does have a strict standard of morality, not simply different interpretations for what constitutes immorality. The Bible is rather explicit on a variety of evil behaviors and speaks directly into the issues facing our society today. Christians are called to a standard of holiness as 1 Peter 1 instructs:
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:
“Be holy, because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16.
Peter is commanding Christians to live in holiness and righteousness as they have been called out of darkness into God’s light; from the sinful ways of the world into the righteousness of Christ. Yet many Christians now would argue that requiring individuals who claim Christ to pursue a lifestyle in accordance with Biblical values is simply not loving, or is too narrow of an interpretation of morality. All we are doing is condoning sin, and pursuing what is antithetical to God’s ways. As the Church, we need to remember Christ’s words: “Have you not read?” We must read and know God’s Word, and once we know it, stand firm on the truth of what God has said.