Homily Six – Gospel of Matthew

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.'”

1 The passage in front of us, will require close attention and prayer to understand if we want to interpret who these wise men are, where they came from, why they came and what the star was. But first we will address what the enemies of the truth say against this passage. Because the Devil has tried to arm them with falsehoods against the truth.

So what are their arguments? They argue that the appearance of the star at Christs birth is a testament that Astrology is reliable and true. I say, if His birth was subject to the stars and Astrology is true, why did He speak against it, reject the idea of fate, stop the mouth of demons and overthrow all such sorcery?

And what’s more, what do the wise men learn from the star itself? That He was King of the Jews? But He was not king of that kingdom as He Himself told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Christ made no display of power while he was here, He had no guards, no horses, chariots or mules, or any such thing in his possession. Rather He lived a life of simplicity and poverty, spending his days with twelve men of low status.

And even if they did think that He would be a king, what was their intent in coming? The business of the astrologer is to predict the fate of people born under the stars (or so they claim), not to predict who would be born. But these men were not with His mother when she was in labor or even know the hour of His birth, they did not calculate from the motion of those stars what would come to be. Rather they saw the star long before any of that happened in their own country and traveled to see who was born.

Even so, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What reason could have motivated them, or hoped to benefit from honoring someone who would be king of a far off land. Even if he was going to reign over them all this effort would not have been reasonable. Certainly, if He had been born in a royal court, with His father (the king) at hand, you could reasonably see why the wise men would come to worship the child, in order to garner favor with the monarch. But in reality they did not expect Him to be their own king or even to be king anytime soon as He was a child and on top of that He would be king of a foreign nation far off from their own home. So why would they set off on a long journey to bring Him gifts when it was sure to be dangerous? Herod was sure to be extremely unsettled by their news and his subjects confused and angry.

I hear the naysayers saying “Some wise men they were, if they weren’t able to see this danger ahead”. But this is not a reasonable argument. Even if they were fools, they could not have been ignorant of the fact that it would be a death sentence to come to a land under the rule of a king, proclaiming someone would depose him as a new ruler.

2 Also, why would they risk all this to come worship a baby in swaddling clothes? You could reason, if He was a grown man in power, that they would endure this danger in expectation of aid they might receive from him. But it’s unreasonable to imagine that three men from different countries would be willing to leave their homes, give up their country, family and friends to become subjects of another kingdom.

But if this seems foolish, what happens next is much worse. And what is that? That after they came such a long way, worshiped the Child and threw everyone into confusion, they immediately turn around and leave! And what indication of his royalty could they have seen having come to a stable, with a baby wrapped in rags laying in a feeding trough being watched over by his lowly mother. Also what was the intent behind the gifts and who did they present them to? Was this a normal thing to them, to travel around seeking any kings born in every land? After this did they keep going? Did they travel the world honoring children born in poverty who would become rulers one day? No one can truly say.

Why did they look to honor Him at all, what was the reason? If it was for an immediate reward, what could they have expected to receive from an infant and his impoverished mother? If it was with hope for some future reward, how could they have known the baby they found in a random stable would even remember what they had done? Even if His mother reminded him once He had come to power, the wise men would not have been worthy of reward. Because of their appearance and proclamations Herod was troubled and sought to find and kill Him. If His was an earthly kingdom surely they would have foreseen this danger but they came anyway. Anyone who would threaten the status quo by proclaiming some child to be a new king hands that child a life of danger, alerting enemies who will look for his slaughter and endless strife.

If we look at all these events in the light of normal human customs you can see how absurd it seems. I could keep going as there are plenty of other things we could question about all of this. But I am not looking to string questions on questions, confusing everything. So lets look at the answers to what we have brought up already, starting with the star they saw.

3 If you come to understand what the star itself was, for example if it was a normal star or something totally new and unusual, or if it only appeared to be a star, we will be able to understand everything else easily. How can we figure out the answer to this? Simply from looking at what was written. It seems plain to me that this star was not a natural phenomenon, but some supernatural power transformed into the appearance of a star. The way that it moves and leads the wise men is unlike any star in the sky. Some have said it was some aspect of the sun, moon or planets but they all move from east to west in one direction, this object drifted from north to the south (judging from the relative positions of Persia and Palestine).

[Personally I have also heard ideas that this was some kind of comet, solar flare, super nova or other temporary astronomical event. All these attempts at rational explanation fall short for the reasons he lists out in this section. Honestly if we accept that Christ was God and was born of a virgin, the idea of some supernatural sign in the sky is not all that difficult ]

Secondly consider the time of day that it was visible, in the middle of the day set against the shining sun. There is no natural star bright enough to overshine the sun, not even the moon. The moon, which is brighter than any of the stars is hidden the moment the sun begins to shine becoming almost invisible. But this sign in the heavens was so illustrious and powerful that it outshined the sun and was visible.

[ An interesting tidbit of ancient near east cosmology: The moon was considered to emit light like the sun, only at a lower level. They had no way of knowing the reflective nature of the lunar surface or even the mechanics of it’s orbit. Not that this really impacts the message here, but being able to understand the context of the culture that produced any work is important in my opinion.]

Third, the way it appears and disappears belies it’s supernatural origin. As the wise men made their way towards palestine it appeared to lead them, but as soon as they set foot in Jerusalem it hid itself. Later, after they left their audience with Herod where they told him why they were there and were about to leave it appeared again. This is not at all the motion of an inanimate object or natural phenomena but some apparition endowed with reason and motive. It did not follow a set course, but moved with them, stopping when they did, leading the entire way. The “star” behaved the same was as the pillar of fire and cloud in the wilderness, leading the Jews to the promised land as long as was needed..

Fourth, you can discern its origin from the way it pointed Jesus out to the wise men. They would not have been able to find Him if the “star” had remained so high above them, but instead it came down and signified his location. You can logically see that such a small and specific point (like the stable or even a single infant) could not possibly be pointed out by a star. Its immense height would prevent it from distinguishing such a specific spot and showing them where to go in the city. Anyone can understand this from observing the moon, which is far brighter than any of the stars, seems near to everyone at once even though they are all scattered across the world. So tell me how could a star point out such a small place on the earth, just the size of a stable or manger unless it left that lofty height and came down, standing over the very head of the infant? This is what Matthew was hinting at when he said “the star went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was”.

4 Do you see the many proofs laid out for us that the star is clearly not a natural phenomenon? So what was the intent behind it’s appearance? To shock the Jews out of their lethargy and remove any excuse for their willful ignorance. Christ came to put an end to the ancient way of life His people had lived by. From the very beginning He calls all the world to worship him, opening the way to even the Gentiles, using strangers to admonish His own people. Because they had continually heard the prophets speaking about His coming and still paid no heed, He brought foreigners from afar to find their king among them. They learn from a foreigner what they would not tolerate to be taught by their own prophets. What excuse could they have after rejecting Christ with all the testimony of the prophets? The wise men, at the sight of a single star believed and worshiped Christ at his birth. This is often the way that Jesus has worked for His people, when He sent Jonah to the Ninevites, with the example of the good Samaritan and the Canaanite woman who begged Him for healing. In the same way He ordained the magi. This is why Jesus said “Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it” and also “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it” because they believed less important prophecies in their own days, but the Jews did not believe the greater truth of Christ.

“Why would He get their attention and lead them with such an apparition?” someone may ask. How do you think He should have done it? Should He have sent prophets to them? The magi would not have humbled themselves to accept their message. Perhaps a voice from above? No, because they would not have listened. What about an angel? Even that they would have waved off or explained away. So having ruled out all these methods, God gets their attention using something they were familiar with. Compassionately He lowers Himself to their level by showing them a large, extraordinary star, astonishing them with its beauty and its movement.

Imitating this example Paul reasons with the Greeks using their own heathen alter and mentions the testimony of the their poets. Paul speaks at length to the Jews, often drawing examples from the rite of circumcision, a concession he makes to teach truth to people used to living under the law. Both God and the people sent by Him often work along this principle when working towards salvation, since everyone has a tradition or custom that is dear and familiar to them. So do not think that it is somehow an insult that He brought the wise men to Himself with this star. By this same method God drew the Jews closer to Himself with all the rituals, sacrifices, purification, tracking the moon, the ark, even the temple itself. All these things they borrowed from the Gentiles around them in antiquity. And yet, for the sake of the salvation of His people (Even thought they were in error), God endured these things to serve His purpose. While all these things originally served devils, God altered them slightly so that he could move the people away from their pagan customs by degrees and lead them to a higher truth. This is also what He did with the wise men, not being ashamed to call them with the vision of a star, so that He could lift them higher afterwards. So after carefully leading them to the side of the manger, He no longer leads them with a star but speaks to them through an angel. This shows that little by little He draws them closer to Him, making them better men.

He did this as well for the pagan nations who were struck with a plague after stealing the ark of the covenant. After finding no cure for the disease that was destroying them, they turned to their prophets, gathering them together to try and discover an escape from this divine scourge. The outcome of this conference of prophets was this, to yoke untamed cows (who each had just birthed their first calf) to a cart with the ark on it and let them loose. They reasoned that if the cows did not break free from their yokes, or seek out their calves but instead head straight back to where the ark was stolen from then it would be clear if it was a judgement from God or just a coincidence. So when the people of these cities did what their prophets suggested, God followed along and caused it to happen the way they said it would. He did not consider it beneath Him, but with compassion did what they expected achieving a great good, allowing even His enemies to witness the power of God. There are many examples of this, where God used human ideas or customs to do good in our world. Another example is when Saul consulted with the medium, which you will now be able to understand and explain from this example.

[ The Church Fathers unanimously taught that the only way to understand the Old Testament was through the lens of the New Testament. This is a great example of that teaching, by expounding on the story of the Magi John gives insight into one of the more troubling stories of the Old Testament. I think this is also an amazing example of God raising humanity continually to a higher level. From the barbaric roots of bronze age tribalism, the very beginning of human civilization, He is working to increase the human capacity for compassion, love and sacrifice. ]

So with respect to the star and everything that I have said, perhaps you will have other insights, as it is said “Give occasion to a wise man; and he will be wiser yet”. But now we need to move on to the beginning of our reading.

5 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem”. While the wise men followed the prophecy of the star the people of Israel did not believe, even with the voices of all the prophets in their ears. So why does the author mention the time and place (“in Bethlehem” and “in the days of Herod the king”) and why does he bring up Herod’s title? The time and place he mentions to remind us of the ancient prophecies, for example Micah who said “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah”. The patriarch Jacob also marked the time of his coming by saying “A ruler will not fail to come from Judah, nor a leader from his line, until He for whom it is appointed comes, and He is the expectation of the Gentiles”[*]. The author specifies king Herod’s title to differentiate him from the Herod the tetrarch who was the one that murdered John.

It is worth mentioning again, how or why the wise men even came to believe these things or even who put this notion in their minds. To me it does not seem to be the star alone, but that God planted the idea into their soul. God did this very same thing to Cyrus in ancient times when He made him want to let the Jews return to their home. Just like when the Lord called on Paul from above with a loud voice, He did not overwhelm their free will, but gave them His own grace and relied on their obedience.

You might also ask, why He did not reveal all of this at once to all the wise men of the East (and not just these three from different countries)? I say it is because not all of them would have believed, but these three were prepared and willing to believe. Consider the countless nations that perished in the days of old, yet God only sent a prophet to one of them (Jonah and the Ninevites). There were two thieves on the cross but only one was saved.

If nothing else you can see the magi’s virtue by the fact that they DID follow the star, boldly proclaiming what was told to them. To show their sincerity they explain how the way was shown to them, how far they had traveled and without fear said “We have come to worship Him”. They were not afraid of angering the people or offending the tyrannical king. It seems to me that they would also have also relayed this same message in their own lands to their fellow countrymen. How much more boldly must they have spoken at home considering how they acted in a foreign country, being emboldened by the visitation by the angel in addition to what they knew of the star and the prophets.

6 “when Herod heard this he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him”. Naturally Herod, being the king, would have been upset by this event, both for himself and for his children. But why would the whole city have been unsettled by this? Surely the prophets had promised that Jesus would be Savior, a Benefactor and Deliverer from above, so why the turmoil? They were unhappy for the same reason that the Hebrews turned away from God who delivered them from Egypt, blessing them in the wilderness. Finally experiencing freedom they instead complained and longed for the food they had as slaves.

Pay attention though to the accuracy of the prophets, because this very thing they foretold from the beginning. “They will be glad, even if they were burnt with fire. For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us”

[ I had some trouble finding a reference for this exact verse. Isaiah 9:8-9 is a close match but the wording is quite off. I eventually found a much closer rendering in the Greek Septuagint (which would have been the version available to John at that time. Modern translations rely on older (and presumably) more accurate manuscripts. Not that it changes his point here, but I do want to point out oddities I have encountered in reading these messages.]

Nonetheless, even though the people were troubled, they did not follow the wise men or even ask them any particular questions to get to the bottom of what was heard. This is how contentious and careless they had become. Here they had a reason to show pride in their nation, a king was being born among them, an event that garnered the attention of the Persian wise men. For all they knew they were on the cusp of their messiah conquering their enemies and improving all of their lives, but even for all this they could not be roused from their stupor. How easily they could have thought “Look how these wise men tremble before our king at his birth, how much more will they fear and obey Him when he is grown and his kingdom is more powerful than these present day barbarians?”. It would have been natural for them to think these things, basing their judgment on what they could see, rather than the higher mysteries that have been revealed to us.

7 But they were so dull and listless that none of these things were able to awaken their senses and yet they were still envious as well. We must be more zealous than a fire in removing both of these conditions from our own minds. As Christ said “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!”. For the tears of repentance water the seed of a perpetual and unfading joy. This is how a harlot [*] became more honorable than the virgins after she was seized by the fire of Christ. She was thoroughly warmed by repentance and was removed from her prior state by her intense longing for Christ. This longing moved her to loose her hair, wet His holy feet with her tears, wipe them with her own dress and pour out all the ointment on them. All of these were outward signs, but what happened to her mind was far more intense than that with God Himself the only witness. And so, everyone who hears this story, rejoices with her, delighting in her good works and acquits her of every blame. But if we are able to see her favorably, even though we are fallen, consider how the God who loves all of mankind was moved by her actions. Even before she had gotten any reward for her actions, the repentance she harbored had brought her blessings.

After a violent burst of rain, the sky is clear and open, just like how after our tears pour down a serene quite settles on our soul, the darkness brought on by our sin disappears. If we are cleansed from our sin by the baptism of water and the Spirit, then by our tears and confession we are cleansed a second time. [*] Of course this is only if we are sincere and not merely putting on a show of our repentance. If a woman were to make a show like this, I would say that it would be just to condemn her, even more than if she had decked herself out with lines and coloring. [**] The tears you should desire are not shed for display as an expression of your remorse and guilt, trickling down secretly in your closet, out of sight from anyone else, softly and noiselessly. These type arise from the depth of mind, shed in anguish and sorrow for God alone to see. This is how Hannah wept, “her lips moved but her voice was not heard”. But her tears alone cried out louder than any trumpet. Because of this God opened her womb, making the hard rock a fruitful field.

[ *There was a common belief held among some people in the early days of the church that Baptism only granted forgiveness of sins committed up to that point. Forgiveness was considered to be impossible for sin that happened AFTER baptism. This was not a true teaching of Christ or the disciples but it certainly made it’s mark in the judgmental minds of the people. The church fathers unanimously teach that God is ready to forgive the truly repentant sinner regardless of his status. **I take this last line to mean some form of makeup or other fashion accessory. While this sounds rather harsh by our modern standards I think there are two considerations here. First is the time and culture he was speaking to. Makeup in the Roman/Byzantine empires was more likely to be used either by the very wealthy or prostitutes. There were also associations with pagan rituals and worship. Obviously none of these things were desirable aspects for someone trying to live a life that would be pleasing to God. While today our attitude is much more relaxed (ironically many women are judged for not wearing ENOUGH makeup), there are still social norms that govern their use. I think in context John is simply trying to use a colorful example of an insincere repentance and that it should be avoided at all costs.]

If you weep like this, you have become a follower of your Lord. He wept as well, over Lazarus and over the city of Jerusalem, even concerning Judas he was greatly troubled. We see several examples of this but nowhere are we told that he laughed, and if he smiled it was only a little. None of the authors of the Gospels mention Him laughing. Paul we know wept, for three years day and night and nobody has written anything about his mirth. Not to mention not one of the other saints are mentioned as laughing except for Sarah, who was blamed for it, and the son of Noah, who was made a slave.

[As brilliant as this guy was, MAN, he must have been stoic. I feel like once again we are coming up against a stringent cultural norm that is far different than our own. Or maybe his congregation was just a bunch of maniacs who never shut up or took anything serious? Could be, I don’t know 🙂 ]

9 I am not trying to say that you should NEVER laugh, but rather I want you to focus your mind and remove all distractions. If you are living a luxurious or immoral life, do you think that that you will be able to stand before the judgement seat of Christ and give an account of everything you have done? Indeed, we will certainly give an account for EVERY sin we have committed, either willfully or not. Christ said “whosoever will deny me before men, I will deny them before my Father”. Surely we have denied him unconsciously in different ways, but nonetheless it will not escape punishment, we will have to account for it all. Paul wrote, “For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted” because both the sins we remember and what we are unaware are counted against us. He also said in Romans “I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” and yet this is not enough of an excuse for them. When writing the Corinthians he says “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”.

So why, when the charges against you are so great, do you lay around laughing and being witty, consumed with comfort? Someone may reply, “what is the profit in mourning over enjoying myself”. It is so profitable that I cannot even express it with words alone. Though you may try to escape punishment from an earthly judge by begging and weeping excessively, once your sentence has been read you cannot. However with just a breath of remorse you can annul your spiritual sentence and obtain pardon. [*] This is why Christ displayed to us so much mourning, blessed those who mourn and denounced those who laughed. [**] We do not live in a comedy club or theater, we did not gather here today to be entertained or to loose ourselves in mirth. We came here to work! To groan and labor and by this labor inherit that kingdom. When you are in the presence of an earthly king you do not allow even the smallest smile, you are solemn and respectful. Do you stand with reverence and self restraint because you have the Lord of the angels dwelling within you? No, you laugh and joke at things that certainly displease Him. Don’t you care that you are provoking Him by acting this way? Your irreverence is more grievous than the sins you already have committed. God is not so inclined to turn away someone who sins as much as He will turn from those who do not take their sin seriously.

But after all this, some people are so senseless that even hearing all this they still say “NO! I would never be so upset like this, God willing I will laugh and play all of my days”. What could be more childish than this mindset? It is not God that wishes us to always be at leisure but the devil. Look at what happened to the Hebrews, after being freed from slavery and they “sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play”. The same atmosphere was in the city of Sodom before the Flood. The prophet Ezekiel wrote that the city of Sodom “had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but did not help the poor and needy” [*]. And the people who lived in the time of Noah as well, lived their lives day to day, senselessly indulging themselves ignoring what was to come. This is why the flood came and swept them all away and destroyed the world in the process.

[ Some go so far as to say that if America goes unpunished after allowing same sex marriage (or any act tolerant of non normative lifestyles) then God will have to apologize to Sodom. Growing up in very “fundamental” churches I heard plenty about Sodom and the Judgement of God. Funny that I’ve NEVER heard this verse used to explain God’s wrath. The next verse (Ezekiel 16:50) reads “Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.” If God violently destroyed Sodom because of their pride and treatment of their poor and oppressed then I agree with that statement, we are certainly due for some fire and brimstone. ]

So do not ask God for the things which you already receive from the devil (that is peace and plenty). It is Gods place to give you a humble and contrite heart, sober, self-possessed, awestruck, full of repentance and compunction. These things are gifts from God and we need them above all else. Indeed, a severe conflict with an invisible enemy is at hand. We wrestle with “the spiritual wickedness”, our fight is “against principalities”, our warfare is against “the forces of darkness”. If we do well, we will be earnest and sober, fully awake so that we can sustain that savage attack [*]. But if we are always laughing and goofing around, relaxing all the time, even before the conflict, we will be violently defeated by our own irresponsibility.

[The original phrasing here was “savage phalanx”. The phalanx was a formation used by foot soldiers in ancient Greece that was a narrow group (rectangular) of soldiers. They would lock their shields together and hang their spears over as they moved forward. Even against other armed soldiers the phalanx was like a wedge, driving into the heart of it’s opponent and destroying any hope of defense. Frightful imagery! ]

10 It is unbecoming for us to be continuously laughing, to be decadent and luxurious. These things belong to the theater, to the prostitute and her customer, flatterers and social parasites, those who are enlisted on the side of the devil. They do not belong to those who are called to heaven, who are citizens of that city, who bear spiritual arms against those enlisted on the devils side. The devil has perfected his technique, like an art, weakening Christ’s soldiers, softening the nerves of their zeal. He has built theaters in the cities and trained it’s actors to spread their harmful influence across the whole city like a plague, persuading men to follow the things Paul told us to flee, “filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting”. But even more concerning than all this is the subject of that laughter. When those jesters act out or speak the blasphemy and filthiness that is their craft, the multitudes watching laugh and applaud for things worthy of stoning, earning for themselves the punishment of fire. The people who praise purveyors of this filth will be held more accountable and bear the penalty for these crimes. Because if there was no audience then there would be no actor. But when they see you abandoning your responsibilities and your jobs, giving up your hard earned money and frankly forsaking everything in order to watch their filth, they are emboldened and work even harder to produce their wares.

[ John may have written this about the theater of his day (which would certainly be an R rated affair by modern standards), but out of context you might as well think he’s talking about the movie/TV industry today. ]

I do not say all this to release these people from being reprimanded, but so that you will learn that it is mainly YOU who enables this kind of wholesale lawlessness. You, who consume your entire day with these things, profanely exhibiting the sacred things of marriage [that is, sex], and openly mock the great mystery [*]. The person who acts out these mockeries may be guilty, but not so much as YOU who ask him to with your time and money. You do not only ask him to but are even zealous about it! Taking delight, laughing and praising what is on display, giving strength to these workshops of the devil.

[* It’s not clear which mystery John is referring to here. Most of the sacraments were spoken of as mysteries but most often this phrase referred to Communion. I don’t know if there were specific topics in the theater mocking Communion but I do know that it took a long time for the pagan culture of Rome (Which the Byzantine Empire inherited) to come around to Christianity. For hundreds of years the well to do citizens openly mocked and looked down Christians as members of an atheistic and treasonous religion. ]

So tell me, how can you look at your wife, after seeing the honor of her gender insulted at the theater? How do you not blush with shame in the presence of your partner when you remember what you saw there? Do not tell me that this is all just entertainment, because these things have spurred many an adultery and destroyed as many families. This is what I grieve for most of all, that not only are these things viewed as evil, but instead they are applauded and clamored over, that such a foul adultery is so happily enjoyed. What do you have to say to any of this? That it is just an act? For this very reason it is punishable by ten thousand deaths, that what natural law commands us to flee they take such great effort to imitate! If the act itself is wrong then the imitation of it is as well. I have not even tried to number how many adulterers have been created because of these things. How they make the spectator bold and shameless, even numb to their sin. Because nothing is as full of boldness or fornication as the eye of someone who endures watching such things.

You would not choose to see a woman stripped naked in the market place, or even in the privacy of someones home, but you would call this an outrage! But you go up into the theater to insult the common nature of man and woman, disgracing your own eyes? Do not make the excuse that the woman stripped is a harlot and not a free woman, for they both have the same nature and their bodies alike. [*] If this was a true defense, then why would you shy away from viewing it in the market place or not allow such a thing in your own home? Or is it that when you are alone such a thing is outrageous but when we are all gathered and sitting together suddenly it is no longer shameful? Certainly not! This is disgraceful and absurd, utter madness! It would be better to smear mud and muck into your eyes than to willingly sit and watch such wrongdoing. Surely mud would not hurt your eyes as much as an unchaste sight like the spectacle of a woman stripped naked. Hear, for example, what caused nakedness at our beginning and read what caused such disgrace. What caused it? Our disobedience, and the devils counsel. So, even from the very beginning this was his strategy. But at least Adam and Eve were ashamed when they were naked, but you take pride in it! According to the saying of the apostle “you glory in your shame”

[ Roman culture was heavily based on class and slavery. This paragraph is a good example of the way they viewed things. What was shameful for a full citizen (or free man/woman) was not considered an affront to someone in a lower class (slave or foreigner). This led to some odd and disturbing (by our standards today) behavior. The idea that someone was an object or property to be done with anyway they please just because they were a lower class was common. Here John is refuting that idea with the idea that we are all human, sharing in the same nature (made in the image of God). ]

How can your wife look at you, after you have returned from such wickedness? How should she receive you into her home or into her bed? How can she speak to you after you have publicly degraded women with your participation in the theater? You have been captivated and made a slave by the sight of a harlot!

Now, if you are grieved after hearing these things I am extremely grateful, as Paul said “who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful”. So do not ever stop grieving and be vexed over your sins, because the sorrow you feel will be a beginning of a change for the better. This is why I have spoken so strongly, I hope that by cutting deeply I can bleed out the venom from those who would poison you. That I might bring you back to a pure and healthy state for your soul. May God grant us the enjoyment of that state, and attain unto the rewards laid up for these good deeds. By the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Editors Note: In working on this Homily I was slightly dismayed by the somber tone of it all. That someone suggested that Christ never laughed gives me great pause. Wasn’t Christ a man? Didn’t he feel the pangs of emotion like we do? How could this idea of a stoic and somber savior be true? By the end of the Homily I think John does redeem himself a bit, admitting that he spoke so harshly for the sake of his congregations souls. But it still sat poorly with me. In researching this whole mess I stumbled across something I had read years before, an excerpt (below) from G.K Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy that I think perfectly sums up how I feel about this whole issue.

Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

G.K. Chesterton ~ Orthodoxy

One thought on “Homily Six – Gospel of Matthew

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