Today we read one of the first of the “clobber verses” in the discussion around homosexuality and the bible.  These clobber verses have been used to attack and bloody the LGBTQ community throughout history.  God did not give us His Word to be used as a club against others and must be deeply disappointed in those who do.

This section on “unlawful sexual relations” is an interesting one for a number of reasons.  It begins with a summary – don’t have sex with a close relation.  Speaking only to the men in it’s patriarchal society, the point seems to be holiness, separation from the society around them in terms of sexual behavior.  It goes on to list the people one must avoid sexually, including moms, daughters, aunts, granddaughters, and others.  Then a similar theme comes, sexual relations during a woman’s period.  Since blood was unclean, this makes sense.

Suddenly, it forbids child sacrifice.  This seems almost a non-sequiter.  But then a forbidding of homosexual activity and bestiality finish off the section.  One final statement of the purpose of these prohibitions – to remain separate from the nations around you – ends the chapter.

None of these prohibitions have been either allowed or ignored since this was written.  We still forbid close sexual relations, child sacrifice, and bestiality.  So the “Old Testament is irrelevant” argument doesn’t apply here, though it may elsewhere.  Yet we seem to have ignored the most important part of this whole chapter: holiness.  We really don’t put much import at all on being noticeably different from the nations around us.  In fact, many tout the value of being like the people at our work, school, or neighborhood in terms of evangelism.

Is it ok for us to proclaim the importance of holding to these individual laws while virtually ignoring the whole point of those laws?  Is it appropriate for us to blend in to the society around us, or should we still be attempting to be noticeably different or separate – in a word, holy – from the people around us?  Is it more important to be accepted by our schoolmates or workmates, or to stand out as a Christian?

It is interesting to read the Scapegoat and the Trial of Jesus in the same day.  At Jesus’ baptism, John tells us in his gospel that John the Baptist prophetically pointed to Jesus with the words, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  There are many lambs that John the Baptist could have been referring to.  It could have been the lamb of the sin offering we’ve been reading about.  It could have been the lamb of the Passover, whose blood decorated the frame of the door as a sign for the angel of death to pass over the house.

But the phrase, “takes away” leads us toward this idea of the scapegoat.  The scapegoat was, well, a goat (yes, not a lamb but still) that took the sins of the people upon itself and then took them away into the wilderness.  It is from this practice of the People of God that we get our modern idea of a scapegoat, a person to take the blame for something we’ve done wrong.

But unlike the scapegoat of the Old Testament, Jesus was not chosen by lot but was chosen by God, His own Heavenly Father.  To choose ones own son to diminish so as to become human and then to suffer and die at our hands is an agony we cannot imagine.  We see hints of Jesus’ own agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, but for God the Father, who’s emotions we cannot begin to comprehend, it is simply too much.  He has to look away.

Every one of us is broken in some way.  The sin to which we are exposed mars our spirits in ways we cannot comprehend, and so we come to Jesus in worship, in prayer, and in relationship as broken people.  And still He loves us.  In fact, He loves us so much that he is willing to take our brokenness upon Himself and then take it to the ultimate wilderness, death itself.  But the Good News is that unlike the scapegoat, He came back.  More on that later this week.

It is interesting to read the Scapegoat and the Trial of Jesus in the same day.  At Jesus’ baptism, John tells us in his gospel that John the Baptist prophetically pointed to Jesus with the words, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  There are many lambs that John the Baptist could have been referring to.  It could have been the lamb of the sin offering we’ve been reading about.  It could have been the lamb of the Passover, whose blood decorated the frame of the door as a sign for the angel of death to pass over the house.

But the phrase, “takes away” leads us toward this idea of the scapegoat.  The scapegoat was, well, a goat (yes, not a lamb but still) that took the sins of the people upon itself and then took them away into the wilderness.  It is from this practice of the People of God that we get our modern idea of a scapegoat, a person to take the blame for something we’ve done wrong.

But unlike the scapegoat of the Old Testament, Jesus was not chosen by lot but was chosen by God, His own Heavenly Father.  To choose ones own son to diminish so as to become human and then to suffer and die at our hands is an agony we cannot imagine.  We see hints of Jesus’ own agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, but for God the Father, who’s emotions we cannot begin to comprehend, it is simply too much.  He has to look away.

Every one of us is broken in some way.  The sin to which we are exposed mars our spirits in ways we cannot comprehend, and so we come to Jesus in worship, in prayer, and in relationship as broken people.  And still He loves us.  In fact, He loves us so much that he is willing to take our brokenness upon Himself and then take it to the ultimate wilderness, death itself.  But the Good News is that unlike the scapegoat, He came back.  More on that later this week.

We are at a time in history when injustice is being called out.  From BlackLivesMatter to the #MeToo movement, we are no longer willing to stand for injustice.  Which is our natural reaction anyway.  When we experience injustice, we seem to be programmed to fight it with all we have.  Just try giving a two year old less than his older sister!  So it should not surprise us to see swords out as the religious leaders come for Jesus.

But Jesus is fighting for something more important than justice.  Having come out of the battle in the Garden of Gethsemane, a battle against fear and dread, Jesus is now ready to take on the last hours of His life.  And those last hours require history’s greatest injustice for the scriptures to be fulfilled.  Jesus prioritizes His God-given mission over receiving the justice He deserves.

The disciples do not understand or accept this injustice, and so use everything in their power, namely weapons, to prevent it.  And are rebuked clearly by Jesus.  “You think a sword will stop history?  Do you know what havoc I could wreak upon these guys?  But I don’t, because there is something bigger going on that just one man’s justice.”

When you get indignant at the injustice of this world, do you ever stop and listen to God?  Do you ever check to see if maybe there is something bigger going on?  Do you whip out a sword and start chopping to defend your idea of fairness, or do you drop to your knees in prayer, honest prayer like that of Jesus, and wait for God’s command?  If only you and I could prioritize God’s plan over everything, even seeking justice for ourselves.

We are at a time in history when injustice is being called out.  From BlackLivesMatter to the #MeToo movement, we are no longer willing to stand for injustice.  Which is our natural reaction anyway.  When we experience injustice, we seem to be programmed to fight it with all we have.  Just try giving a two year old less than his older sister!  So it should not surprise us to see swords out as the religious leaders come for Jesus.

But Jesus is fighting for something more important than justice.  Having come out of the battle in the Garden of Gethsemane, a battle against fear and dread, Jesus is now ready to take on the last hours of His life.  And those last hours require history’s greatest injustice for the scriptures to be fulfilled.  Jesus prioritizes His God-given mission over receiving the justice He deserves.

The disciples do not understand or accept this injustice, and so use everything in their power, namely weapons, to prevent it.  And are rebuked clearly by Jesus.  “You think a sword will stop history?  Do you know what havoc I could wreak upon these guys?  But I don’t, because there is something bigger going on that just one man’s justice.”

When you get indignant at the injustice of this world, do you ever stop and listen to God?  Do you ever check to see if maybe there is something bigger going on?  Do you whip out a sword and start chopping to defend your idea of fairness, or do you drop to your knees in prayer, honest prayer like that of Jesus, and wait for God’s command?  If only you and I could prioritize God’s plan over everything, even seeking justice for ourselves.

The contrast between John’s rendition of Jesus’ passion and Matthew’s is striking, and no more so than here in the Garden of Gethsemane.  John, the gospel that focuses on Jesus as God, gives us a completely in control and unemotional Jesus in His last days.  Matthew, the gospel that focuses on Jesus as Messiah and fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, gives us perhaps the most intimate look at Jesus’ humanity.  Tears, terror, loneliness, and sorrow are not the typical emotions we associate with Jesus the Messiah, but here they are in all their familiar glory.

Jesus is facing betrayal, denial, torture, and death, and He knows its coming.  And in His humanness, He reacts much as the rest of us would.  We often so focus on Jesus’ divinity that we ignore His human fear and pain.  In fact, we often call fear and pain “weaknesses”.  But without them, we are not fully human, for without fear and pain, we can never learn courage and endurance.

What are your fears today?  What is your pain?  Does it help you to know that Jesus faced these as well, and overcame them not through a divine magic but with the help of His friends (who did indeed show their weakness when they fell asleep on their terrified friend).  In your fear and pain, do you follow the world’s path and try to muscle through them, tough them out, and quietly endure them alone?  Or do you follow Jesus’ example and seek empathy, prayer, and community through your sisters and brothers in Christ?

The contrast between John’s rendition of Jesus’ passion and Matthew’s is striking, and no more so than here in the Garden of Gethsemane.  John, the gospel that focuses on Jesus as God, gives us a completely in control and unemotional Jesus in His last days.  Matthew, the gospel that focuses on Jesus as Messiah and fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, gives us perhaps the most intimate look at Jesus’ humanity.  Tears, terror, loneliness, and sorrow are not the typical emotions we associate with Jesus the Messiah, but here they are in all their familiar glory.

Jesus is facing betrayal, denial, torture, and death, and He knows its coming.  And in His humanness, He reacts much as the rest of us would.  We often so focus on Jesus’ divinity that we ignore His human fear and pain.  In fact, we often call fear and pain “weaknesses”.  But without them, we are not fully human, for without fear and pain, we can never learn courage and endurance.

What are your fears today?  What is your pain?  Does it help you to know that Jesus faced these as well, and overcame them not through a divine magic but with the help of His friends (who did indeed show their weakness when they fell asleep on their terrified friend).  In your fear and pain, do you follow the world’s path and try to muscle through them, tough them out, and quietly endure them alone?  Or do you follow Jesus’ example and seek empathy, prayer, and community through your sisters and brothers in Christ?

So many of our usual assumptions are challenged or even destroyed in this half of chapter of Matthew’s gospel.  Having heard the story so often, it’s hard to understand just how unexpected this story is.

Heroes aren’t tortured and killed (v2)
Religious leaders are not villains (v4)
Money is to be spent to better the world, not for frivolous ceremony (v.9)
Poverty is fixable (v11)
Disciples are not betrayers (v15)
Free will and predestination are opposites and mutually exclusive (v24)

The story of Jesus regularly challenges our assumptions.  Which should lead us to ask not about the veracity of the story but of the reality of those assumptions.  Because too often we let our assumptions about the world override Jesus’ story, His Word, and even His commands to us.  We justify the bible, we explain away elements of the gospel story, and we ignore His commands because, well, things just don’t work that way.  A loving God would never tell me to endanger my family by giving away all I have to the poor.  If enough people say something, it must be true, especially if it’s said on Facebook!  Jesus must want me to be happy and comfortable or He wouldn’t have given me all I have.

But when God’s commands to us conflict with “what we’ve always known”, we need to side with God’s commands.  Seldom does He call us to something expected or easy.

So many of our usual assumptions are challenged or even destroyed in this half of chapter of Matthew’s gospel.  Having heard the story so often, it’s hard to understand just how unexpected this story is.

Heroes aren’t tortured and killed (v2)
Religious leaders are not villains (v4)
Money is to be spent to better the world, not for frivolous ceremony (v.9)
Poverty is fixable (v11)
Disciples are not betrayers (v15)
Free will and predestination are opposites and mutually exclusive (v24)

The story of Jesus regularly challenges our assumptions.  Which should lead us to ask not about the veracity of the story but of the reality of those assumptions.  Because too often we let our assumptions about the world override Jesus’ story, His Word, and even His commands to us.  We justify the bible, we explain away elements of the gospel story, and we ignore His commands because, well, things just don’t work that way.  A loving God would never tell me to endanger my family by giving away all I have to the poor.  If enough people say something, it must be true, especially if it’s said on Facebook!  Jesus must want me to be happy and comfortable or He wouldn’t have given me all I have.

But when God’s commands to us conflict with “what we’ve always known”, we need to side with God’s commands.  Seldom does He call us to something expected or easy.

Listening to a new author as she reflected on this very passage from Matt., I was shocked that I had never thought about what Jesus really seems to be saying.  I’ve always seen this as a call to action, to helping the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and truly it is.  But the typical thought is that we will see Christ when we act like Christ.

But where do we see Christ in this image?  Isn’t Jesus found, the very Imago Dei, in those who are broken?  Isn’t Jesus found in the hungry, the naked, the stranger, and the sick?  Why do we spend our time trying so hard to “have it all together”?  to be successful, whatever that might mean in our particular context?  to NOT be hungry, naked, a stranger, or sick?  What if our call is not to be stronger, fuller, or “more” but is instead to acknowledge our brokenness, our weakness, our emptiness, our “less-ness”.  What if only by truly admitting our weakness and even embracing it can we truly know Jesus?  What if what we need is not Jesus’ healing so that we are stronger (for when we are strong we are far more prone to walk away from Jesus) but His merciful presence in the midst of our sickness?

Perhaps Paul knew what he was talking about when he claimed that in our weakness, Jesus is proved strong.