Episode 2 Transcript

Episode 2: How Do You Fix What Is Broken?


When we talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus, what are the stories and images that pop into your mind? I bet I know what some of those stories are. I bet those stories have a lot to do with the ways we celebrate Christmas. In one sense, there’s nothing wrong with that. But there is an important element to Mary’s story we miss when we relegate her to the children’s plays we celebrate between Thanksgiving and New Years. 

We met Simeon and Matthew in our first episode. Let’s start this episode by checking back in on their conversation:

Simeon: I’m not sure where you’re going with all of this, but I’m guessing you are about to bring up all that nonsense about Jesus’s mother being a virgin. 

Matthew: Why do you call that nonsense?

Simeon: Oh, come on. I’ve heard some tall tales before, but this story is just too crazy. It’s one thing to say his mother was a virgin, but it’s downright blasphemous to say that the father was the Holy Spirit.

Matthew: Simeon, I think you are missing the point here. 

Simeon: Oh, well then please tell me. What precisely am I missing?

Matthew: You know the Scriptures better than I do. What do they say the Messiah was going to do when he came? How was he supposed to fix our situation?

Simeon: You’re changing the subject, but I’ll play along. When he comes, the Messiah will sit on the throne as king of Israel. An actual throne, not some metaphorical one, or a heavenly one, like you claim for your Jesus. This real king on a real throne, with real power, will gather the faithful from all over the world. He will raise an army and conquer our enemies. He will clean up the world by dealing with the sinners. The righteous will be safe, and in positions of power again. Jerusalem will be the center of the world, instead of Rome. And, most important of all, the Presence of God will return to the temple.

Matthew: What if that’s not what he meant? What if the fix God had in mind all along was right there in our scriptures, but we missed it?

Simeon: What are you talking about? How could we have missed it? We know those scriptures backwards and forwards!

Matthew: I know. But remember the passages in Isaiah about how the coming one would be a servant who suffers? And what about the passages that talk about how gently he would treat a bruised reed, and a smoldering wick? How do those fit with the Messiah you were expecting? You’ve missed— we all missed— something essential in what God was planning. And that’s what you’re missing now in the story of Mary, and Joseph. Something that shows us how God really intends to fix what is broken.

Opening Titles:

This is—

Jesus for Sex Workers, Church People, and Me

A podcast hosted by Todd Austin

Episode Two: How Do You Fix What Is Broken?

The Teaching

How is a follower of Jesus supposed to affect change in the world? This may sound like a simple question, or to some maybe even a dumb question. But I think it lies at the heart of where Matthew is heading in his gospel. 

In most sermons and Sunday School lessons, the Pharisees—people like our Simeon—are made out to be the bad guys. But that is to see something in the past that was not there. We make the Pharisees out to be the bad guys, because we see them in conflict with Jesus across the pages of the gospels. Jesus didn’t challenge the Pharisees because they were the bad guys. Just the opposite—he challenged them because they were the good guys.

In the first episode I drew an equivalence between the Pharisees and a group I am calling “the good church people” of today. That was not intended to be a put down—to either group. I’m not referring to the hypocrites in either era, although those certainly existed then, and still exist today. No, I’m talking about really good, solid people in both eras. People who want to do the right thing, and who genuinely want to help others.

There are many similarities—positive similarities—between the Pharisees and good church people. The Pharisees saw the brokenness of the world—the widespread pain and suffering, the absence of true peace—and they wanted to do something about it. They wanted to be part of the solution. Just like good, solid, salt-of-the-earth Christians do today.

Both groups understand the cause of that brokenness to be the same thing: that society has moved away from the moral, ethical, and legal foundations that once was the source of its greatness.

Both groups see the fix as bringing the people back to those foundational principles, restoring the righteous character of the nation.

Both groups understand that the best way to do that is to oppose, even defeat, the cultural forces that led the people astray. And the best position from which to do that is to have a seat at the table of power. For the Pharisees, that was the Sanhedrin, the Synagogue rulers, the Chief Priest, and even the Roman civil authorities. For modern church people, it is the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, both groups look forward to the return of God to his people. For the Pharisees, it was in the return of the Presence of God to the Temple. And for Christians it is the second coming of Christ.

Do you see the commonalities? I’m not making this up. Both groups operate from sincere motives. Both want to make people’s lives better. Both see the problem in the same way. Both see the same solution. And both have a strong scriptural foundation for what they believe.

If you want to fix what is broken, using this way of thinking, you start at the top. It’s from a position of power that you can begin to put things back on course.

And it’s into that set of beliefs about how to fix what is broken, that Matthew gives us the story of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.


Most of what we know about Mary, the mother of Jesus, comes from the gospel of Luke. It is from Luke that we hear about the visit of the angel Gabriel, Mary’s time with her cousin Elizabeth, the inn with no room, the shepherds in the fields, the thousands upon thousands of angels singing, and Mary’s beautiful song, the Magnificat. 

Matthew, by comparison, gives us very little about Mary. In fact, he only gives us one verse. Matthew chapter 1, verse 18 says, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” 

That’s it. In the next verse the focus switches to Joseph, her fiance, and the rest of the story of the birth of Jesus is seen through his eyes. After going out of his way to include women in his genealogy, why does Matthew only give Mary one verse?

The answer is, because Matthew wants us to see a different facet of Mary’s story. Matthew wants us to see Mary as the fifth and final woman of the genealogy. In his book, her story follows and is framed by the checkered stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. This is the lens through which he wants us to see Mary—as a woman of scandal. 

Matthew wants us to understand what it cost Mary when she said yes to the angel. 

Our picture of Mary is framed by Nativity scenes and Christmas plays performed by kindergarten children. We hear Linus reading from the Gospel of Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas. I’ve had two blond-haired blue-eyed daughters play Mary when they were both four or five years old, and I confess that it’s often the image of them wrapped up in that first century garb, with their blond hair peeking out around the edges, that pops into my head when I think of Mary. It is a picture of Mary that is innocent, saintly, and revered.

But that picture misses an essential dimension of Mary’s story. To understand that dimension, we need only look in the mirror. What do we think when a seven pound baby is born “prematurely,” six months after the wedding day? We all know what’s really going on, there, right?

Now engage your imagination and ask the question, how would Mary’s family and her town have reacted to the news that she was pregnant? and especially to her explanation that the father was the Holy Spirit?

I think the answer is self-evident. How would you react if a young unmarried woman turned up pregnant and claimed that the father was God? Would you believe her? Your first reaction likely would be concern for her sanity. But there’s almost zero chance anyone would actually believe her, not even her parents.

And now imagine that, instead of turning up in a middle-class American church, this young pregnant woman was in a culture deeply rooted in honor and shame, much more like a fundamentalist Islamic culture than our permissive American culture. How would people react to her news in that setting? When we make that imaginative leap, we begin to get a picture of what Mary’s community likely thought of her, and how they would have treated her.

Mary’s pregnancy would have been a mark of deep shame for her family and her community. Her story about the father of her child would be so preposterous as to be unbelievable, making her neighbors question her sanity, her honesty, or both. 

Disdain and suspicion would be part of Mary’s life from then on. Her reputation among her neighbors would have been very much like that of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba. This is not the life Mary had dreamed of for herself. 

The price of saying yes to the angel was painfully high. 

But it’s this Mary, a woman of shame and scorn, a woman with a scandalous pregnancy and a whopper of a story, that Matthew wants us to see. The fifth woman in a list of infamous women. 

And for confirmation, we only need to read the next verse.


Verse 19 switches to the perspective of Joseph, the man who was contractually obligated to wed Mary. Matthew tells us that Joseph is a righteous man. Think about that phrase, “a righteous man.” Matthew wants us to see a man who always tries to do the right thing, no matter the cost. This is a man who will judge a situation based on truth, not hearsay or rumor mongering. If there’s anyone in Mary’s town who will be predisposed to see the truth in her claims, it will be Joseph. So what does Joseph, this good and righteous man, do when he finds out Mary is pregnant, and hears her explanation about how it happened? 

He doesn’t believe her. Not even a little bit.

Matthew tells us that Joseph intends to divorce Mary, which was the only way to break the betrothal contract that bound them together. Mary’s story is beyond far-fetched. It takes two people to make a baby, and all Joseph knows for sure is that he wasn’t one of the two people involved in making THIS baby.

Kenneth E. Bailey does a beautiful analysis of the story of Joseph in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. I’ll put a link to it on the website.

In his book, Bailey makes a convincing argument that Joseph isn’t the quietly disappointed but gentle and understanding fiancé that we picture him to be. Instead, Joseph is seething with anger. Bailey points out that the Greek word that is translated as “resolved” or “considered” in our English Bibles, should instead be translated as “fumed.” So verse twenty should read, “…while he [Joseph] was fuming over this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” 

This changes the picture, doesn’t it? Now we start to feel some of the drama that we’ve been missing in the children’s story we’ve made this into. This is real life. Joseph is a normal guy, and his reactions are just like how any one of us would react in similar circumstances. People aren’t going to believe a pregnant teenager when she says she hasn’t had sex. Any man is going to be angry when he finds out his fiance is expecting, and he knows he isn’t the father. And, no matter what Joseph does, her pregnancy makes him look bad, too. People are going to assume it’s his child, even though it’s not. And everyone will assume the child is his if he goes on and marries her.

Which is exactly what the angel in the dream tells Joseph to do. Joseph, this man who has carefully guarded his righteous reputation his entire life, is now being asked to marry this woman carrying a child that is not his.

And that is what Joseph chooses to do. He marries a woman carrying a child that is not his own. He joins himself to a woman who has become the scorn of their village. The fifth woman in a list of scandalous women. His act doesn’t help restore her reputation, it just costs him his. The price he paid for saying yes to the angel was the loss of his righteous name, and the loss of the life he had always dreamed of for himself.


This brings us to the third person in the story, the baby named Jesus. 

The Incarnation—God becoming human—is probably the third most important thing that has ever happened in the whole history of the world. This is the moment where God steps in himself to fix what is broken. To right the wrongs. To bind up the wounds. To heal the brokenhearted. To restore justice, and peace. It is the moment when he comes to be “with us,” as Matthew quotes from Isaiah. 

What does it say about this God—and what does it say about how one affects change in the world—that he chose these circumstances to be born into? From our perspective, there would be any number of better places to start. Why not come as a fully mature adult, ready to make things happen right away? Why not be born into the house of Caesar? Or the family of the High Priest? Why not a Roosevelt, a Kennedy, or a Bush? Surely if you want to change the world, the best place to begin is as close to the corridors of power as you can.

But that would not be “with us,” would it? 

When Jesus stepped into the world to be with us, he came as a baby. He chose a family as far from the places of power and influence as he possibly could have. He chose to be the baby who was born way too soon after the wedding. Months too soon. A child who would always be a living reminder of the shame and dishonor his parents had brought to their families and to their community. 

“Isn’t this Mary’s boy?” 

“Isn’t this the son of the carpenter?”

You can imagine what Jesus’s teenage years were like. How many times was he insulted, made fun of, even beaten up, because of the circumstances of his birth? How many times did he have to hear his mother being called names that he couldn’t repeat? How many jokes did he endure about who his daddy was? If you think that didn’t happen, then you’ve forgotten what middle school is like. 

And remember, Scripture teaches that Jesus was fully human. He gave up all the divine power, all the wisdom, knowledge, and foresight that separated him from us. He became like us in every way. He had no special advantage for dealing with the bullying that we don’t have. And so, like us, he suffered as a teenager. He was mocked. He was lonely. He got beat up. He ran home crying. Probably countless times.

How exactly, does this fix what is broken with the world?


Let’s fast forward the story a bit, to Matthew chapter three. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to the parts we’re skipping in the next episode. In chapter three, we’re introduced to a man named John the Baptist. Matthew gives us just enough detail so that we see that this John is a lot like one of the prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures. John is drawing big crowds with his preaching. He’s demanding that people repent. Those who choose to repent are baptized, as a public acknowledgement of their repentance. 

And Jesus, now an adult, responds to this message, repents, and is baptized by John in the Jordan River. 

Some of you may be cringing at the way I phrased that. What could Jesus possibly be repenting of? Our discomfort with this idea reveals two fundamental misunderstandings we have about repentance, and about what is going on at the Jordan River. 

The first misunderstanding is that repentance is the equivalent of feeling remorse, of being sorry for something you’ve done. For many American christians, this is what separates those who are “in” from those who are “out.” We readily admit that we sin just like everyone else. But we feel bad about it, and we confess that we’re sorry about it—even though we can’t seem to stop doing it. But because we feel bad, and we’ve said “we’re sorry,” we believe we are forgiven. And it’s this understanding of repentance and forgiveness that gives us confidence in our status and standing as members of God’s church. And on the flip side, it is the lack of remorse that keeps everyone else from “repenting,” and that’s why they are on the outside.

But repentance doesn’t mean to feel sorry about sin. It means to turn. Literally. And I mean literally in the literal since. That’s what the Greek word is: turn. Repent means to leave something behind, and head in a whole new direction. And the fact that christians are no more able to leave sin behind than anyone else, makes us no different from those who don’t say they’re sorry. If repentance is about leaving behind our personal shortcomings and failings, and turning in a new direction that is without sin, then all of us are together on the outside, looking in. Because we are just as incapable of pulling that off as someone who isn’t sorry. 

This is a topic that’s worth a deeper dive. The best book for that would be Romans. But we’ll have to save that for another day. For now, just hold onto the idea that repentance means to turn. Let’s get back to Matthew and the second misunderstanding about John’s message. 

When John was preaching on repentance, about turning from one way and heading in a new direction, he wasn’t talking about people’s individual sins and failings. He was talking about national repentance. This concept of shared, communal repentance is so foreign to us, that it’s hard to grasp. That’s why we don’t readily see it when we read this text.

Let me explain.

When Jesus was a boy growing up in Nazareth, he was immersed in a community that ingrained in him everything he needed to know about who he was, who his people were, and what would lead to a good life for him and for those he loved. He was taught what it meant to be a man. He was taught what kind of woman would make a good wife. He knew who the good guys were, and he knew who his enemies were. He was shown the various classes and rankings of people, and how he should act toward each. Who ranked above him, and who was beneath him.

In essence, he was given a map that would guide his steps as he made his way in the world. This was not a personal map, just for him, it was a communal map. It wasn’t something he consciously chose, but something that was given to him, and that was shared with everyone he knew. It was a communal, national way of thinking about how to act, and think, and feel, that unconsciously defined who he was, who he could trust, and who he was supposed to be against. It also gave him a definitive picture of what was broken with the world, as well as how to fix it.

You and I were given a similar map. It differs from the one Jesus was given in some of the details. But the overall path and shape is exactly the same. This map-making happens in all cultures, everywhere, in every time. It is part of the fundamental programming we all carry. Our map is wired deeply into our identity. It determines our beliefs about what we have to do and who we have to be in order to be happy and successful. It is not something that we choose for ourselves, and most of the time we’re not even aware of it. But when we do become aware of it, we can change it. We can turn away from it, and choose a new map.

When Jesus heard John the Baptist preaching, it was this fundamental programming, this map of how to walk in the world, that he repented of. That he “turned away” from. From now on, he would see gentiles, samaritans, sex workers, tax collectors, and even the hated Romans, not as the map he was given told him to see them, but from a new perspective, built on a different map. We will see this when Jesus’s actions surprise and offend those who are still guided by the old communal map that he once shared with them.

Jesus wasn’t confessing regret for personal sins. He was turning away from a shared national map, and choosing a different map. He would walk a different path to affect positive change in the world, to fix what was broken. This is what was going on at the Jordan river.

After Jesus is baptized by John, Matthew tells us that he began a 40 day religious fast, during which the devil tested his commitment to his repentance. When you understand repentance this way, you can see that the temptations are all about going back to the map Jesus was given as a boy in Nazareth. 

The first temptation is to turn stones into bread. This is a temptation to walk away from his plan to be with us— to join us in our suffering. The devil is saying, “How are you helping anyone by choosing to be hungry yourself? Do you really need to suffer, when you have the power to end your own suffering at any moment? Wouldn’t you be more helpful to them if you were at your full capacity, able to make a difference from a position of strength?”

The second temptation is for Jesus to make himself bulletproof. To use his divine identity to keep himself from harm. The devil is saying, “What good is it going to do for you to be this vulnerable? Don’t you remember what it was like when you were a teenager? Just think of the good you could do, the things you could change, if no one could hurt you. If you couldn’t lose.”

The third temptation is to go straight to the top. To become king over all the nations. To wield the power of government, and courts, and armies, to affect the change he wanted to work in the world. “If you really care about justice, and righting wrongs, the fastest way to get there is to start at the top.”

All three temptations are appeals to common sense. The devil’s temptations align perfectly with the shared map—the essential definition of common sense—that Jesus had been given. How does it make sense to go hungry if you have the ability to get some food? To be vulnerable if you have an option not to be? To be powerless if you can be president? But these are the very common sense ways of thinking that Jesus rejected in the circumstances he chose for his birth. The very things he turned away from again when he was baptized by John. And the very things he asked Mary and Joseph to give up, in order to play a part in his plan.

Maybe his request for us is to make a similar choice. Maybe he really does expect us to follow him, to go down the path he walked ahead of us. According to his map, if you really want to fix what is broken, the first stop on the path is repentance. Turning.


Simeon, your idea of how God was supposed to fix the world is about all the people he would be against. He would be against our enemies. He would be against the impure and the sinners and the lawbreakers. But the fix he has had planned since the very beginning is about being with us, And when he said “us,” he meant the big us. It’s not just about the insiders. He came to be “God with us” for everybody, including the people you thought he would be against. People like a young woman who is pregnant when she’s not supposed to be.

Test This Teaching

You may be a little confused at this point. We’ve covered a lot of ground. Ground that may be new to you.

For now, the thing I would ask you to ponder is this call to repentance. 

This way of thinking about repentance is unfamiliar. For us to be able to embrace the kingdom of heaven Matthew is about to introduce, we have to turn away from—repent from— every other kingdom and political agenda that claims our allegiance. In America, our faith and our political idols are so deeply intertwined that we often can’t distinguish one from the other. It’s likely that repentance will mean turning away from elements of both.

Consider this: where has the map we’ve been following for the past 50 years led us? This map gave us a very clear path to follow. It told us who to vote for. Who our enemies were. It told us if we could finally ever get control of the Supreme Court, that it would usher in a return to the era where the righteous behavior of the people would give us peace between neighbors, justice for the poor, strong families, and healthy churches. We’ve followed that path faithfully, but has this map led us to that promised land? Or instead, have we just been circling in the wilderness, never quite getting to the promised land, as things get worse and worse? 

I’ve talked in this episode about conservative churches, because that is the pool I swim in. Evangelical churches have closely aligned with the Republican Party, or with a conservative political map. But this teaching applies just as strongly to Christians who are aligned with the political left. You say Republican. I say Democrat. The names are different, but in the end it is all idolatry. Both give us a map that we need to turn away from, repent of, in order to embrace the kingdom of heaven.

As we wrap up, I ask you again to test this teaching. Is this teaching consistent with what we see in other parts of the Bible? In the gospels, when Jesus is offered the path of political power, how does he respond? When the crowds try to make him king, what does he do? When he encounters people who the communal map says are the problem, the cause of the brokenness in the world, how does he treat them?

In his interactions with his disciples, what is their agenda for Jesus regarding political power, for people who are in versus people who are out? And how is that different from his agenda for himself, for them, and ultimately for us?

The second test continues to be the big test. Does the application of this teaching make you look more, or less like Jesus? If you follow this teaching will it make your path be more closely aligned with the path of Jesus? or will it cause your path to diverge from his? If the answer to that question is that it will diverge, then you need to ignore me. But if following this teaching leads to you looking more like Jesus, and walking more closely the path of Jesus, then you really need to think about how you should respond.

Maybe it’s time for us to repent, and turn to a new way. Maybe we need to hear the call of John the Baptist ourselves, and look at the way of Jesus in the gospels with fresh eyes, and turn away from the map that is leading us so far off course. Maybe the way to really affect positive change in the world has nothing to do with Republicans and Democrats, the Supreme Court, the Congress, or the Presidency. Maybe it is much more about being with people. Suffering with people. People our old map told us were our enemies. People we thought were the problem.

Jesus is going to offer us a new map in Matthew, as he announces what the people of the kingdom of heaven are supposed to be about. We’ll start that journey in the next episode. But before we can embrace the beauty of the kingdom of heaven that he presents, we will have to let go, turn away from, our shared idolatrous map. It will be costly. The righteous, the good church people, those who hold onto the old map we once shared, will see us as enemies, as betrayers, and they will treat us that way. Just ask Mary, or Joseph. Or, even better, ask Jesus.

That’s it for this episode. I welcome your thoughts, questions, feedback, and pushback. The podcast website, JesusForSexWorkers.com, has options for reaching out with anything you have on your mind.

Thank you for listening.

Closing Credits

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