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St. James of Jerusalem
October 23, 2022 A+D
St. Matthew 13:54-58
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God reserves worship for Himself alone. We are to have no other gods. At the same time, in the fourth commandment, God commands that we honor our parents and other authorities, including our fathers in the faith. Prophets should be honored. They should be honored even in their own houses. Familiarity should not breed contempt in the Church for love should cover a multitude of sins.
Of course, what the people of Nazareth did in refusing to honor Jesus was a thousand times worse than refusing to honor Moses or Elijah. They might have been disrespected by those who knew them well because of their weaknesses and failures. But Jesus has no moral failures. He never acted in selfish ways. He did not lie to make Himself look better. He did fail to notice someone else’s needs or pain. The contempt of Nazareth is blasphemy. In refusing to honor Jesus they refuse to worship God.
Nonetheless, in this statement, “a prophet is not without honor except in his own house” Jesus upholds the reality that mere mortals in office, those who have authority over us, despite their imperfections and failures, deserve honor.
Honor is a specialized type of love. Honor is love marked by deference, humility, and gratitude. Those whom God calls us to honor are His representatives. Whether they know it or not they serve us on His behalf. If God did not set men and women in office for the sake of order all would be chaos. The devil is an anarchist. God loves order. Children and art and civilization thrive in order.
Sometimes this honor comes easy, spontaneously. You come home from school and your mother has your favorite cookies fresh out of the oven ready for you. She has washed and put away all your clothes. There is nothing for you to do but benefit from her labor. But sometimes it is hard. Your mother has her own baggage. She is in the midst of a crisis that makes no sense to you, suffering things that don’t seem real. Not only are there no cookies, but in her pain and weakness, she speaks harshly to you or is uninterested in you. She still deserves honor – if not for every single deed than for her office. Though she is imperfect, God uses her to provide for you. He has given her to you on purpose. Your call is to recognize this and to love, honor, and serve her.
Love covers a multitude of sins. As one who has received mercy and been forgiven 10,000 talents worth of sin, you are to look past the denarius that might be owed you. To live by mercy, to be defined by grace, means that mercy and grace come in and go out. You receive and you give. Mercy and grace change you, define you. You are washed and clean. You will not dirty yourself again with pride and petty complaints. You have received generosity in Christ. You will extend that out to others in joy. How could it be otherwise?
That being said, demons are real. Sometimes they get a hold of people. There are biological parents who do far worse than simply fail to live up to their ideals or struggle to be faithful. There are parents who quit altogether or who use their office to fulfill their own wicked desires, engaging in horrific abuse and unspeakable perversions. These, like unto government officials engaging in genocide, do not deserve honor. We should not call them mother and father. We should pray for them, to be sure, but we might well have to seek justice against them. We might even have to disown them. All the while we ask God to provide other parents for us, real mothers and fathers, who, though imperfect, are His servants and do deserve honor, and we thank God for them.
Not this: the Bible doesn’t care about biology or DNA. God doesn’t think that way at all. Our religion is the religion of adoption. The Bible cares about love. We are the children of Abraham not because of a genealogy but because we love what Abraham loves, we believe what Abraham believes. We even sing what Abraham sings. We honor him as our father because Abraham, despite his flaws, cared and still cares for us. God used and stills Abraham to provide for us. We are his descendents, as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore. Since Abraham is not dead, he rejoices in and prays for us.
Thus does God provide. We praise God for the times when He does this through our biological parents and other blood relatives as well as when He adopts us into families by Baptismal water thicker than blood. We also praise Him for how He provides us with mothers and fathers in teachers, pastors, mentors, friends, sergeants, and other relatives, God be praised! He has not abandoned us. The demons are active, but so is He. His Word does not return void. He speaks in love and mercy. He restores and shelters, forgives and encourages. How can He who gave us His Son, not give us all things?
Thus does the Fourth Commandment rebuke us. We have not been the children that we should have been. We have chafed under authority. We have abused those in office over us. We have complained and rebelled. But God is merciful. Jesus lives. His cross and self-sacrifice are more than enough for all our sins. He comes to set the solitary into families, to change rebels into citizens, to raise us out of the muck. He rises to make His Father, our Father. He is a Father who does not fail, who is faithful and good and wise.
We have not been the parents or pastors or husbands that we should have been either. We have resented the burden, coveted other relationships, and been ungrateful for the goodness all around us. Repent, but do not despair. He didn’t fire Adam in the garden. He didn’t disown James in Nazareth. Adam got to keep Eve even though he failed her. Eve learned also to receive mercy and to be merciful. Together they learned to live in His forgiveness and grace.
So do not let anyone despise your youth or dismiss you for your various imperfections and struggles. It is God who made you a mother or a grandmother or a supervisor. He did it on purpose. You are not perfect, but you are legitimate. Your call is real. You are not the Messiah; but your office is honorable. You are God’s hands in this world. You deserve honor.
And just as you deserve honor, so do Abraham and all our fathers in the faith. This is why we commemorate and remember the saints. Today we honor James, the brother of Our Lord. We do this in a threefold manner. First off, we thank God for what He did for James. He is our brother. We rejoice in how God worked in him and that He joins us to him. Next we venerate him for his example. God uses James to strengthen our faith. For though James was guilty of blasphemy in Nazareth and did not deserve mercy, Christ is patient and kind. He loved James through all of it. He wants to save us just as He saved James. Grace abounds over sin. Finally, we honor him through imitation, both of his repentance and faith, and also of his other virtues.
Thus we pray that God would make us a house of prophets where prophets receive due honor, and His Name is hallowed above all.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.