Homily for Sunday, June 21, 2020
Reading Matthew’s Gospel is a bit like watching “Shtisel,” the Netflix series about an ultra-orthodox family living in Jerusalem. Both offer a glimpse into an insular, exotic setting. Both center around issues of “orthodoxy.” Both can be achingly intimate—the characters are so relatable. Both can be maddening (to see how small-minded people can be). Yet both are riveting and really hard to turn away from. (And in just a minute I’ll tell you why I think that’s the case…)
Today’s text takes us to the insular and exotic setting that is Matthew’s Gospel. The “theys” and “them” of the opening verses are the other Jewish synagogues with whom Matthew’s is in conflict:
So have no fear of them…
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?
And today’s text is achingly intimate, showing us something of the depths of Matthew’s grief in a feud so bitter it split apart families. “And one’s foes,” Matthew writes, “will be members of one’s own household.”
And today’s text gives us a glimpse into what (at least for Matthew) are the demands of “orthodoxy.” “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” Matthew writes. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Taken together, these passages—all of which are unique to Matthew—I find maddening. Maddening because Matthew’s community and the neighboring synagogues with whom they were in conflict were probably much more alike than different. Did their differences really need to lead to people living in fear of each other? Did their “orthodoxies” really need to be held so dear as to split up families?
As insular and exotic as Matthew is, as caught up in “orthodoxy,” as maddening as Matthew can sometimes be, yet Matthew is familiar—intimate even—because don’t we all recognize ourselves in Matthew? Don’t we all have a tendency to feud, even over matters that at a distance might seem small?
And… on an even deeper level, in addition to recognizing in Matthew our own tendency to feud, I have a hunch that what truly keeps us riveted and coming back to Matthew is that we also have within us, like Matthew, the desire for reconciliation. Matthew is filled, not only with evidence of bitter feud, but also with his desire to reconcile: to “turn the other cheek,” or to “go the extra mile,” as he writes; to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times”; and before we “offer our gift at the altar” to first “reconcile with our brother or sister.”
Deep-down, we tend to find reconciliation much more interesting than conflict. Fred Rogers put it beautifully when, in speaking to the Senate Subcommittee on Communication in 1969 about PBS programming in contrast to other programming, he said that he found it…
much more dramatic [to show] that two men could be working out their feelings of anger, than showing something with gunfire.
It is not Matthew’s conflicts but Matthew’s desire to reconcile that we find so compelling, that keeps us riveted and coming back. For if we in our own small circles could, as Fred Rogers says, try to “work out our feelings of anger,” or if we could, as Matthew says, try to “turn the other cheek,” or to “go the extra mile,” and to “forgive not seven but seventy-seven times,” it would go a long way in helping to heal us and our broken world, a healing that I suspect is what we all in our heart of hearts want. Such reconciling will not be easy. I pray that we may have the grace to be agents of reconciliation, bearing witness to Christ’s forgiveness, forbearance and love in this, our fallen world.