Readings—Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; I Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Today I will begin with the word “vengeance”. Webster defines vengeance as “punishment given in return for an injury or offense”.
In ancient times it was not unusual for the offense of one man to be avenged by wiping out his entire family, or even his entire tribe or village.
In Old Testament times we find what has sometimes been termed “controlled retaliation” or “controlled revenge”. Exodus 21:24:
you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
In Leviticus 24:19-20 we find:
Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered.
However, we find another strand of tradition in Deuteronomy 32: 35:
Vengeance is mine [says the Lord].
In Romans 12: 17-19 St. Paul wrote:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, vengeance is mind, I will repay, says the Lord.
From this strand of our tradition comes the idea of confining an individual who offends, separating him from the community to protect the community from additional harm, from any additional offense.
Yet there is more in our tradition from the man of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem. As we learned in our reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke, he welcomed sinners and ate with them. A reminder, the word in Greek for sinner, is one who misses the mark as an archer does when missing the target. Jesus ate with those who sinned, those who went astray, and those who missed the mark. The Pharisees and the Scribes, the religious leaders of that day, thought it scandalous! This man from Nazareth even declared, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48).
You have heard that was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In his letter to the young Timothy that we heard today, St. Paul summed up the entire ministry of Jesus with seven words.
And that ministry took him to the cross.
Jesus reached out and embraced people who were less than perfect, people who had erred and strayed from God’s ways like lost sheep, people who had followed too much the devices and desires of their own hearts, people who had sinned in thought, word, and deed, people who errored in what they had done and left undone, people who had not loved God with all their heart, and who had not loved their neighbors as themselves.
Today we again pledge ourselves to follow this man born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth.
Today we again proclaim him to be our King of Kings and our Lord of Lords.
Today we again extend our hands to receive his gifts of inclusion, “The Bread of Heaven”, and “The Cup of Salvation”.
Today we again are embraced in his holy community of Love.