St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-12-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-12-2016

It’s All About Love

1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21a, Galatians 2:15-21, Luke 7:36-8:3

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

 I have talked before about how important it can sometimes be for us to understand the social norms of biblical times in order to fully understand the readings we engage. In fact I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, that one of those times I highlighted such importance it was regarding the same story we hear in our Gospel reading for today; although it was from another Gospel.

It’s not too hard to see, when reading the Old Testament especially, that there was a lot of “honor” and its polar opposite “shame” involved in the social norms of the time; rooted deep in the Jewish culture even from the beginning. Consider Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: when God created them they had only one rule to follow at God’s command; to not eat the fruit of “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. When they “honored” God’s command they were “both naked, and were not ashamed”. But when they “dishonored” God’s command and ate the fruit they realized they were naked and were “afraid”. And, of course, we have one of the Ten Commandments that states “Honor your father and your mother…”

A quick search revealed, in fact, hundreds of instances of the word “honor” and a similar result for variations of the word “shame”. But not all of them involve God directly.From Proverbs we read A gracious woman gets honor, but she who hates virtue is covered with shame”. (Proverbs 11:16) And from 1 Samuel, “Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness”? (20:30)

There are other sources, too, that tell us a bit about family ties and how they’re connected to honor and shame. Form these and the Bible we can learn that ancient Israel and Judea, as well as most of the rest of the world, were patriarchal societies; the eldest man of the house was in charge. That does seem a bit chauvinistic but be aware of the responsibilities that came along with the power: if a son, daughter or even wife brought shame to themselves, the patriarch bore the responsibility; he was a failure at keeping his household in order; he failed at maintaining control.

Of course, there were social standards and taboos outside the home as well. Connected to the faith there were rules about who a Jew could sit with, dine with, or even talk to; especially relating to Gentiles, the non-Jews. And more in the realm of social standards, there were rules about how you dressed, and who you could touch and for what reason; these regulations were particularly stringent and powerfully enforced for women. Again, these were a means of maintaining control society in general.

It is difficult to determine which had the stronger influence on the other; social standards or religious requirements, but if we look at the parallels and the ties between them in Christ’s time we can better understand the problems He was dealing with throughout His ministry.

Just as the eldest male was in charge of his household, the Pharisees and other Temple authorities believed that they were responsible for keeping the family of God in order. In fact, it was sometimes thought that the reason for the Roman occupation was a result of the lack of God’s protection owing to the sinfulness of the people they were given charge over. The reasoning for this is not hard to find when we read Old Testament accounts of Israel’s victories over their enemies when God was pleased with them and their losses when God was displeased.

Now we might be able to see why the Pharisees were the way they were. They believed the whole population had to ‘get right’ with God in order for God to be pleased enough to send the promised messiah that would lead the nation out of enemy control and into liberated, new life. In short, when they got the house in order, God would return to be the patriarch once again.


Obviously, honorable living isn’t, by itself, a bad thing; in the home or in the household of God. But when the focus on honorable living grows more and more acute, so does the focus on the counterpart; shame. And that’s when trouble begins; too much emphasis on honor and shame inhibits the thing Jesus teaches most emphatically; it stifles love.

Immediately before this reading, in Luke’s Gospel, we are told that “… by refusing to be baptized by [John], the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves”, and Jesus is preaching to the crowds about John saying; “To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’  For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”Jesus is pointing out how the Pharisees are blind and made deaf to John and himself because neither of them fit their vision of how God’s messengers should act and what they should do. Now, in today’s reading, we’re in the home of one of the Pharisees watching it all play out.

We don’t know the reason the Pharisee invited Jesus; to say he did so to trap him, to try to make a fool of him, or if he was sincerely seeking meaningful conversation would all be conjecture. So, that isn’t a part of the story. What is clearly in the story is a woman who is a sinner who enters the home uninvited and, based on the social norms of the time, begins “sinning”, with Jesus, right in front of the host and those gathered.

First, she is a “sinner” in the home of a “righteous” Pharisee. Second, she assumes an intimate position with a man she is not married to, at Jesus’ feet. Third, she lets her hair down in public, another signal of intimacy, strictly reserved for ones husband. And forth, she touches a man, Jesus, to whom she is not married. In the eyes of the Pharisee she is racking up a high score in the harlot test.

The Pharisee is now certain that Jesus is not a man of God, a prophet, because if he would know this woman was a sinner through divine knowledge and her actions, and he certainly wouldn’t want to be anywhere near her!

But then, Jesus gives him a figurative face slap! He starts with letting Simon know that he does have divine knowledge as well as the ability to read minds. Then, by asking him a metaphorical question, Simon is forced to admit that a person who is aware of her sinfulness will be more grateful for forgiveness than one who thinks he has little to be forgiven. And then, Jesus really lays it on by pointing out the Pharisee’s own slights of lacking love for others;

“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment”.

All of these were social norms of the day for expressing love for a fellow companion or a guest in your home; water to wash the feet, a kiss of greeting, and oil for the hair. Simon failed the test of decency; he-lacked-love; he allowed his self-righteousness inhibit his ability to love. Now, his name was shamed and his household, the Temple authority, as well. He failed in his responsibilities that came with his power. In his attempt to stifle Jesus’ love for the sinner, he wound up stifling the free flow of love between God and humanity as well as between himself and those that would abide by him. “…which of them will love him more?”


In our world, today, there are many conflicts between social norms and religious beliefs, and there are even conflicts between varying religious beliefs. Sometimes it seems so hard to figure out which way to go; what path to take; what to hold on to and what to let go of; which side to be on.  

As a part of our society, where should we stand on issues such as immigration, economic disparity, the definition of marriage, or abortion, just to name a few?

As Christians, where should we stand on issues such as immigration, economic disparity, the definition of marriage, or abortion, just to name a few?

But does it really have to be that difficult to figure out what will honor God or what will shame us?

As Christians, we are called to love God above all else and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When Christ brought these two most important rules to our attention he did not include qualifications; he did not allow exemptions; he did not speak of exceptions.

Our first step, therefore, when approaching the questions I just listed, and any other like them, is to recognize, as Simon the Pharisee failed to do, that anything that inhibits the free flow of love between God, ourselves, and our neighbors is itself a sin. The next step is to ask “what can I do to allow; better still, to facilitate; the free flow of love”; my love for God, my love for neighbor, and especially God’s gracious love for me and my neighbor.

Then, when we have done these thoughtfully and prayerfully, we can be assured we are on the side of love; which, not coincidentally, will be on the side of God and Christ. As one of my personal mottos states, “if it’s not about love, it’s not about God”. God, as revealed by Christ, is all about love.



Luke 7:36-8:3
7:36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.
7:37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment.
7:38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
7:39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him–that she is a sinner.”
7:40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”
7:41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
7:42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”
7:43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
7:44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.
7:45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.
7:46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
7:48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
7:49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
7:50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,
8:2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
8:3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.



1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
21:1 Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria.
21:2 And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.”
21:3 But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.”
21:4 Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.
21:5 His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?”
21:6 He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.'”
21:7 His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
21:8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city.
21:9 She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly;
21:10 seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.”
21:11 The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them,
21:12 they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly.
21:13 The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death.
21:14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”
21:15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.”
21:16 As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
21:17 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying:
21:18 Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession.
21:19 You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”
21:20 Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD,
21:21 I will bring disaster on you.

Galatians 2:15-21
2:15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;
2:16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
2:17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!
2:18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.
2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ;
2:20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.