Love God, Love Neighbor

Below is a copy and recording to my sermon for today (the recording was made on Friday, October 23, at Mayberry Church, so it might not be exactly the same as the text). The text is found below the .embedded video.

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
October 25, 2020
Matthew 22:15-40

At the Beginning of the Service: This morning we’re going to again dig into Matthew’s gospel. I’ll stay with Matthew for the next several weeks. 

The 22nd. Chapter, from which I preached last week and will again look at this week, along with the 23rd Chapter, are a block of teachings that marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In these two chapters, Jesus teaches the crowds during his last week in Jerusalem. But at the end of this teaching, Jesus leaves the temple with his disciples. From that point on, the teaching Jesus did that’s recorded in Matthew’s gospel was done privately with the disciples. 

Matthew begins Jesus’ ministry, after the baptism, with 40 days of fasting that ends with three temptations by the devil in the wilderness. Jesus’ ministry ends with three questions asked by those who would also attempt to trick Jesus.[1] But Jesus didn’t fall for the temptation or for the trick questions as he constantly focused on God in heaven. 

Our text today ends with Jesus’ double love commandment: love God and love your neighbor. I encourage you to spend some time this week thinking about how the double love commandment might help us, as Christians, heal the world.

After the Scripture Reading: Before I get too far into the sermon, let me make it clear that I’m not a big fan of professional wrestling. I don’t like the hype, the bragging, the fakery, or much of anything else about it. However, I admit, it can be entertaining and there have been a few times that I’ve gotten sucked in and found it humorous. 

Don’t you like how they set up the characters on the mat. One fighter represents good and the other evil, a symbolic Armageddon. It’s also interesting how they do tag team wrestling, where one guy who is getting pounded can, before he’s down, reach out and tag another dude who takes over the fight.  

Jesus might have felt he was a team of one against a group of tag-team wrestlers. First in the ring are the Herodians and the Pharisees.[2] Politics, it’s said, makes strange bedfellows and that’s the case here. These two groups wouldn’t normally speak to each other, but they come together against Jesus, asking him about paying taxes.[3] Jesus’ answer, give to Emperor what is the Emperors, stumps them. They run out of the ring and tag the Sadducees who step up and ask Jesus a trick question about marriage in the afterlife. This is ironic, as the text points out, since the Sadducees don’t believe in an afterlife.[4] In the Greek, Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees was to “muzzle” them,[5] which is a little stronger than the English translations that read, “He silenced them.” Think of muzzling a dog! Sounds like a pro-wrestling stunt, doesn’t it?  

         As I said earlier, our reading somewhat parallels the fourth chapter of the gospel, where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. In the fourth chapter, Jesus answers the temper’s challenges with three God-centered responses. Here, Jesus also answers those who question and test him three times with God-centered responses. First, with the question from the Herodians and Pharisees concerning the paying of taxes, Jesus approves paying taxes, but since, as the Jews would have known, God owns everything,[6] he shrewdly makes the case that all belongs to God. Then, in a question over the resurrection, Jesus reminds us that God has power over even death. 

Finally, Pharisee climb back into the ring for one final challenge, a question about the law. Which commandment is the greatest? It’s a trick question. 

         Jesus doesn’t directly answer the question. There’s good reason. Had Jesus picked one of the Ten Commandments, he’d be stepping into their trap, for the commandments are equal. They’re all important; you can’t grade yourself by looking at the Ten and thinking that because you’ve kept seven, you’ll get a passing grade of 70. That doesn’t work. Jesus knew what they were getting at, so he answers in a way that goes to sum of the commandments, by drawing from Scripture two teachings that other teachers had seen as foundational.[7]  

         Yoking together the love of God and of neighbor summarizes our purpose as members of the human race. As the Westminster Catechism so beautifully begins, we’re to glorify and enjoy God forever. We do this by loving God and our neighbors (and we can’t forget, as Jesus teaches, that our neighbors are not just those who live next door. Remember the Good Samaritan?[8]). As humans, we are made to love. 

Too often we think of love in the context of affection. We think of love as an emotional rush we get when we are attracted to another. That’s not the meaning of Biblical love. Yes, we can be emotional when we think of all that God has done for us, but the passage Jesus quotes on loving God with all our hearts and souls and minds doesn’t mean that we have to be all mushy about who God is. Instead, what is demanded is commitment—emotionally and intellectually—to God. Likewise, it’s pretty hard for us to show affection to everyone (and probably pretty dangerous). If we tried to show such affection, we’d have a difficult time with at least two of the commandments: the seventh and tenth, adultery and coveting. We’re not called to the affectionate love of neighbors. Instead, we’re called to be committed to the well-being of our neighbors (and we can’t forget Jesus’ reminder that our neighbors include our enemies[9]). 

         By tying together our heart, soul and mind, Jesus implies that our love for God has to be total. It’s not enough to be emotionally in love with God, nor is it enough to be intellectually in love with God. We got to have both! We need to be holistic and love with the entirety of our being.  

         Dr. Robert Smith, Jr., a preaching professor at Beeson Divinity School tells about how he sometimes finds himself preaching to “beheaded people.” They’ve lost their heads; they’re only engaging God with their hearts, he says. They come to worship wanting the equivalent of a therapy session.” In other congregations, and sometimes in the same church, he finds himself preaching to “big-headed people.” They’re into scholarship and all they want is to have the gray matter in their minds massaged.[10]

Both groups, Smith points out, miss the richness of the gospel. We’re to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds. Our love for God is to be holistic and we’re to be led out from it, not only feeling good about our neighbors but to take their needs seriously and working for their well-being.  

         There are times I think my calling is the best job in the world. I know John Calvin suggested that the magistrate, whom we call politicians, had the highest calling. I had to bring in Calvin as today is Reformation Sunday.[11] Of course, Calvin was writing back in the 16th Century. I’m not sure he’d approve of any of our politicians today. 

Maybe I’m running the risk of pride to think so highly of the call of the pastor, but the pastor/preacher gets to spend time with people and also time with ideas.  To do it well (and I know there are times I don’t do it well), one has to balance these two sides—the emotional side with the intellectual. Otherwise, we go off into a philosophical head game or into sentimentalism. There has to be a balance.  

         Jesus’ double-love commandment has the power to heal the church and from the world. Too often, Christians get stuck on one side or the other of the equation. We love God so much and we get down on those who don’t praise God like we do. We think there must be something wrong with those people. And then, there are those on the other side, who feel so committed to looking out for their neighbors that they forget about God. What Jesus says here is that you can’t have it one way or another, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.  

         Let me say something about the last half of Jesus’ response. We’re to love our neighbors asourselves. The word “as” is important. Jesus is not giving us a new commandment here, instead he’s reflecting back on the Golden Rule.[12] How should we treat others? As we want to be treated! How should we love others? As we love ourselves, or as we want others to love us?  

         How should we apply the double-love commandment? Consider your lives. Are you more emotional? If so, you might be the type of person who enjoys mission work, or helping out a neighbor, or taking food to someone ill. If so, keep doing that! But you also might want to look at balancing such activities with some intellectual exercises, a commitment to read Scripture or to join a Sunday School class or to read a theology book. 

On the other hand, if God is an intellectual exercise for you, then you might need to get in touch with your emotional side. Join in a work party or volunteer to help a neighbor, visit those who are struggling with life. 

As a follower of Jesus, we should strive for a balanced life. Not only do we fulfill Jesus’ call, it keeps us from burning out.

This morning, ask yourself, “Does my whole being glorify God?” If not, what might you do to balance your faith? 

Living a balanced life will be helpful to us, and also to the world. If we love God and neighbor, we just might change the world a little bit for the better. 

Let all of us commit ourselves by saying together: “May the love of God and the love of our neighbors begin with me.” Amen. 


[1] Scott Hoezee, “Back to the Beginning”

[2] Not much is known about the Herodians, but it’s obvious they are supporters of the Herod dynasty that ruled much of ancient Israel and Syria on behalf of the Romans. The Herod clan, who were part Jewish, tried to stay on the good side of both the Jews and the Romans. However, most Jews disliked them because of their ties to the Romans. 

[3] Matthew 22:15-22.

[4] Matthew 23-33

[5]  Frederick Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 410.

[6] Psalm 24:1.

[7] Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew: Interpretation, a commentary for teaching and preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 259.  Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. 

[8] Luke 10:25-37.

[9] See Luke 10:21ff and Matthew 5:43-47.

[10] Robert Smith, Jr., Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life (Nashville: B&H, 2008), 51.

[11] Reformation Sunday is traditionally the Sunday before Reformation Day (October 31). Reformation day, the day before All Saint’s Day, is when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis on the door of the church in Wittenberg and is considered the beginning of the Reformation. 

[12] Matthew 7:12

Jesus, We Need You in the Boat

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Matthew 14:22-33
August 9, 2020

To watch the sermon, go to our YouTube page (linked here). The sermon begins at 16:30.


As you heard in Deanie’s wonderful sermon last week, it had been a tough day for Jesus and the disciples. Jesus had received the news that his cousin, who’d herald his coming, had been executed. Jesus and the disciples tried to get away, but the crowds caught up to them. Jesus stopped and spent the afternoon talking and healing. The crowds feasted on Jesus’ words, but the disciples knew that words would not fill an empty stomach. The twelve watched the sun drop in the western sky. In the age before fast food, there was no place to eat and they knew folk’s stomach’s would soon be growling. Worried, they interrupt Jesus and suggest he sends the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food. They are surprised to learn that Jesus expects them to feed the crowds. With Jesus’ help and a bit of fish and bread, everyone is fed and to drive home the point, there is enough food that each of the disciples left with a full basket. Then, as people are licking their fingers, Jesus has the disciples get into a boat to sail for a distant shore. He, himself, stays behind, saying he’ll catch up later, and disappears into the hills. Jesus still hasn’t dealt with the grief of John’s death. Like I said, it’s been a long tough day and it ain’t over yet.

Everyone else gets to goes home while the disciples row toward a distant shore. Then, in the darkness of night, something happens. Clouds move in, darkening the moon and clouds. The wind picks up and whitecaps begin to dot the lake. The disciples struggle with the oars as the waves rise. Normally at night, the sea calms as the air cools, unless there is a storm. And on this night, there’s a storm building. The disciples, which include four fishermen, panic. They struggle, hoping to keep the boat afloat long enough for the storm to abate. With the bow into the waves, some pull on the oars while others bail water.

The storm blows throughout the evening and into the early morning hours. The wind has put so much water into the air that everything is misty. It’s hard, in an era without navigation lighting, to make out the shoreline. So, they keep rowing, which is good advice, for you need momentum to push through the waves.  Keeping the oars in the water helps maintain the boat’s stability. This goes on for hours.  Imagine how exhausted they are when they see someone walking across the water toward them. It’s not surprising they think it’s a ghost. Even if you didn’t believe in ghosts, you’d reconsider. Or maybe, you’d think it’s the angel of death, coming to extract its toll. Exhausted and seeing such an apparition is enough to push you over the edge. But just when the disciples fear all is lost, they hear Jesus’ sweet Galilean voice. Jesus calls to them across the water; he’s coming to them in their hour of need.

Had the disciples had time to think theologically, they might not have been so shocked. After all, one of the first thing God does in creation is the calm the chaos of the waters and in the Exodus, God divides the waters so Israel can escape the wrath of the Egyptians.[1] In Psalm 77, God is portrayed as making his way across the mighty waters and in Job, we’re told of God trampling the waves.[2] God’s control extends even over the waters and if Jesus is Lord, it should be of no surprise that he walked out on the sea to rescue the disciples.

But the disciples are not clearly thinking this night. All they know is that they are in trouble and their friend Jesus is coming to bail ‘em out (I know, that’s a bad play on words). They are in need and here comes Jesus. The storm, it appears, rages until our Savior takes a seat in the boat, but even if it had continued, Jesus’ presence would have been enough. With Jesus there, their fears are calmed.

There’s a mini lesson in this for us. When we know someone in need or trouble, we often don’t act because we don’t feel we can do anything helpful. But being present is one way we can act. Just being presence with a person in need can help. Furthermore, when we are in need, it is comforting to know Jesus is with us. The comforting presence of our Savior is enough to calm our troubled souls. Just having a friend beside us in the boat is a blessing. We make more out of Peter getting out of the boat in this story, but it’s more important for us to understand the need to have Jesus in the boat. But let’s now consider Peter.

Peter is so excited that he wants to try Jesus’ stunt himself. Before he gets to the boat, Jesus says, “Okay, come on out.” Peter does. He walks on water. Think about it. This is an amazing feat. But the problem is that he thinks about what he’s doing. When Peter looks around and sees the waves and the water under his feet, he panics and immediately sinks. You know, in a couple of chapters, Jesus, in a play on Peter’s name, which comes from the Greek work, petra, or rock, proclaims that upon this rock he’ll build his church.[3] Its generally assumed that because Peter was a strong man from having spent a lifetime pulling nets that he received the name that means rock, but perhaps there’s some humor in all this. Ever heard of someone who “swam like a rock?” That’s Peter!

Can you image the disciples gathered around Peter and Jesus, snickering about Jesus building his church upon the rock—the rock that sank? But Peter wasn’t building the church alone. Peter had to have faith in the Almighty to step up into the leadership role after Jesus’ ascension. In a way, however, we’re all like Peter and sooner or later, we’ll all find ourselves in over our head and sinking and at that point we’ll need a lift, like the one Jesus gave Peter. Jesus will be present with us and will help us when we are in need.

In a way, we’re all like Peter, who was a man of human frailty. Peter often screwed up. He thought he could tell Jesus what not to do… “No, No, No, don’t go to Jerusalem to be crucified.”[4] And then later, when Jesus was arrested, Peter, perhaps Jesus’ closest disciple, denies knowing him.[5]  And here, he’s able to take a step or two on water, as long as he focuses on Jesus, but then sinks when he‘s distracted. We’re a lot like that as individuals and the church. There is a lot God can accomplish in us if we remain focused on Jesus. But when we stop focusing on Jesus, we get in trouble.

This is what most people focus on in this story. John Ortberg even wrote a book titled, If You Want to Walk on Water, You have to Get Out of the Boat. And that’s what we think this story is about: having that kind of faith in Jesus and focusing on him so that we can walk on water and not slip under the waves. But such an interpretation of this passage makes it into a moral story in which we feel guilty because none of have walked on water,[6] nor have we known anyone to walk on water except perhaps up north when the lakes are frozen. If this is only a story about stepping out in faith, we’d feel pretty bad because none of us is up to the task. So, let me suggest another interpretation.

There is good news even with Peter’s near drowning. When life begins to overwhelm us, as it appears to be doing these days as we worry about the pandemic and the economy and the upcoming election and everything else going on in the world, it is easy to be overwhelmed. It is easy to slip under the waves. But just as Jesus came into our lives when we first believed, he is also there when we get in over our heads. He’s there to help us turn our lives around. We can learn from our mistakes, which is a very thing for we have a forgiving God who is willing to help us when we depend on him and not on our own abilities.

You know, I image there was quite a bit of tension in that boat before Jesus stepped in. The twelve disciples were all afraid, but there may have even been some tension between the four fisherman and the rest of the disciples. The other eight, who were not seamen, were depending on the fishermen to know what to do. Why did they allow themselves to get into this dangerous predicament? But when Jesus comes aboard, they all calm down, as does the wind and waves. They know they’ll be alright. And as the wind dies and the waves cease, they do what we should do whenever God saves us. They worship Jesus. That’s the message we should take with us. Don’t worry about jumping overboard and trying to walk on water. Instead, let’s make sure we invite Jesus aboard our boats. For Jesus comes to save us and our response is to worship him. May it be so.





Bruner, Frederick Dale, The Christbook: Matthew 1-12 (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 2004).

Hare, Douglas R. A., Matthew: Interpretation, A Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1992).

[1] Genesis 1:1-13 and Exodus 14.

[2] Psalm 77:16-20 and Job 9:8.

[3] Matthew 16:18.

[4] Matthew 16:21-24.

[5] Matthew 26:69-75.

[6] See Scott Hoezee, “Proper 14A (August 3, 2020), Matthew 14:22-33 at the Center for Excellence in Preaching website.

Peter’s Commissioning

Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 21:15-25
May 24, 2020

This service can be watched in it’s entirety on the church’s YouTube channel. If you want to just see the sermon, go to 13:00. Go to

We’re finishing up our look at Jesus’ post-resurrection encounters this week with the ending to the passage we began studying last week. As I indicated on several occasions throughout this series, the post-resurrection encounters generally had a mission component. We’ll this today. The disciples were sent out to do something-Mary at the tomb was sent to tell the Apostles, and the disciples what we know as the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives Peter a mission.

Again, I’m using a classical painting to illustrate our text. Today, the painting is by Raphael, an artist who painted just before and at the beginning of the Reformation. To put this in perspective, this tapestry was finished the year before Martin Luther posted the 95 Thesis and is titled, “Christ Charge to St. Peter.”[1] I like the painting because it shows the sea (and glimpses the bow of a boat) along with a flock of sheep. Peter, a fisherman, is being commissioned to tend to Jesus’ sheep. The other ten disciples (remember Judas is no longer with them) look on. However in John’s gospel, we’re told that there were only seven disciples present. Hear God’s word for today. Read John 21:15-25.

        Some of you may know the Reverend Proctor Chambless. He’s a retired minister member of the Savannah Presbytery, and has served a number of congregations within our presbytery and across the South. When I came to this presbytery, Proctor was serving an interim position in another presbytery upstate. He wasn’t here. During the first person examined for ordination as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament at Presbytery, someone stood up and said that since Proctor wasn’t present, he was going to ask Proctor’s question. The question: “Do you love Jesus?” The presbytery, as a body, snickered. I realized I wasn’t in on the joke. I asked someone about this and was told that Proctor always asked that question. When Proctor returned, I figured out who he was before I met him. We had another candidate to examine and Proctor stood and asked this question. It’s kind of a fun thing. The rest of us are thinking probing questions to prod the examinee on the fine points of Reformed Theology, as Proctor, with his deep southern drawl, asks the essential question. “Do you love Jesus?” That’s the question Jesus asks Peter three times. And it’s a question we’re all to ask ourselves. Furthermore, as we’re going to see when we delve into this text, there is one way of knowing that we love Jesus. Do we care for others?

Let’s look at the text. Throughout this chapter, Peter is in the forefront. He’s the one who decides to go fishing. The other six disciples tag along. He’s the one, when he learns it’s Jesus on the shore, jumps into the water and swims to Jesus, letting the six others fight with a full net of fish. Now that breakfast is over, Jesus questions Peter in a way that almost seems as if he’s being commissioned or ordained for his task once Jesus has ascended to heaven. We’re not told this, but I image Jesus drawing Peter away from the rest of the disciples and putting his hand on this shoulder, saying “Simon, son of John.”

       Jesus uses his full legal name. “Simon, son of John.” Did any of you have parents, or maybe a teacher, who when you were in trouble, would use your full name? “Charles Jeffrey!” I would hear that and immediately knew I had done something wrong. Was Peter in trouble? I don’t think so. But Jesus emphasizes the importance of his questioning. When someone uses your full name, it grabs your attention. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than these. We can assume Jesus is pointing over toward the other disciples. We’re told that Peter, in two of the gospels, brags at the Last Supper about how much more he loves Jesus than the others, so much so that he’ll never abandon Jesus.[2] Of course, pride comes before the fall, and later that night Peter denies Jesus three times.

        Now, after everything that has happened—the betrayal, the crucifixion, the resurrection—Jesus asks if Peter really does love him and, of course, Peter responds positively. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus then tells Peter to feed his lambs. This questioning goes on for three times, with just slight variations.[3] After the second question and answer, Jesus says to tend his sheep and after the third, feed my sheep.[4] Jesus gives Peter the mission to care for those whom Jesus brings into his church. But Jesus repeatedly asking Peter if he loves him gets on Peter’s nerves. It bothers him, he’s hurt, yet Peter continues to answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Maybe Jesus asks this three times to undo the triple betrayal Peter committed after Jesus’ arrest. Jesus wants to make sure that Peter understands he’s forgiven and that he’s ready to take over his responsibility of the church.

Peter is then informed of what kind of death he will endure. Peter, this wild and free man who so full of passion, will end up a prisoner hauled off to be executed. Peter earlier had boasted that he was willing to die for Jesus. It’s now seen as prophetic. Jesus ends this discourse with the words he first used to call Peter while there at the seashore, “Follow me.”[5]

        We’re not given a sense of just how this prediction of Peter’s death was received, but Peter must have pondered it, for he asks about another of the disciples. Jesus tells Peter a great truth. “Don’t worry about him and his death.” It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “You have enough troubles. Don’t worry about what God seems to give someone else to worry over.” In other words, accept God’s gift as grace and be thankful.

         Here we are, fifty or so generations Peter.[6] This is a time of turmoil and fear, of pandemic and economic uncertainty. We’re all a little on the edge. What can we learn from this text?  Well, we’ll all have our own burdens. Hopefully, we won’t have Peter’s burden of a crucifixion. Also, we learn that some seemed more blessed in one area of life than another. Some get the virus and don’t even know it. Others get it and struggle to breathe and their bodies break down. Some die. Why? This text suggests that’s a futile question. Instead, we’re shown what we, like Peter, should be doing. We’re to follow Jesus, whose path led at one point to the nourishing waters of the Jordan and at another point to that hill name Golgotha, the place of death. And along the way, we do what we can to care for those whom Jesus calls. We’re not told here to save the world. In fact, Peter isn’t even told to save anyone. Jesus is the Savior. Peter, who is being retrained from having been a fisherman to being a sheepherder, is to care for those Jesus sends his way. And that’s the role of the church, to care for those whom Jesus sends our way.

          During these trying times, when we are hiding out in our homes, we might wonder how we can help anyone. There are ways. The Session, at the request of the Mission and Benevolence Committee, has called for a special offering to help care for the homeless in our community. Do what you can to help. The homeless ministries of Savannah are struggling to meet the needs of those who live under the bridges and on the streets.

Or maybe your gift is crafts and sewing. With plenty of time, you can help make masks, as my daughter and a neighbor of David and Linda Denhard has done. See my selfie on the slide? That’s an example of my daughter’s handiwork. Masks can be shared with nursing homes and for our own use when we are in public. When we start gathering back together for worship, masks will be encouraged. Wearing a mask not only protects us. If we’re asymptomatic, masks will protect others. Wearing a mask can be a gentle way of caring for Jesus’ sheep.

And if you’re not crafty, why not make some phone calls and write some letters. There are people who need to feel connected, especially to those who live alone. As Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “encourage one another, build up each other.”[7]

This week, I want to encourage everyone to reach out to someone and offer hope. For we who believe, are not to despair. We are to have hope and share that hope that we have in a loving Savior. When we do this, we are living up to the calling that was first given to Peter: “feed my lambs, care for my sheep.” Amen.






Sources Consulted:


Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John XII-XXI: The Anchor Bible (          Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970

Bruner, Frederick Dale, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids:      Eerdmans, 2012).

Michaels, J. Ramsey, : John: Good News Commentary (Harper & Row, 1983.

Sloyan, Gerald, John: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988).

[1] The tapestry is also known as  “Christ’s Handing the Keys to St. Peter.” Raphael combines the story of Peter receiving the keys (Matthew 16:18-19) and Peter after the breakfast on the beach (John 21:15-17) to create this work. For more information see

[2] Matthew 26:33, Mark 14:29.

[3] Much has been made about Jesus use of the word love. The first two times, Jesus uses the Greek word “Agape.” Peter responds with the Greek word “Phila” (from which we get Philadelphia which means “city of brotherly love.”) The third time, Jesus uses “Phila” instead of “Agape.” These two terms are closely related and in English both are translated as “Love.”

[4] Lambs could be those new to the faith (those being initiated) while sheep could refer to those more mature in their faith.

[5] See Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17. In John’s retelling, Simon comes to Jesus through his brother Andrew and at their first meeting, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter. See John 1:40-42.

[6] A Biblical generation is generally considered 40 years.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Taking a Risk at the Table

Please remember, especially during this time when we need to maintain social distance from one another in at attempt to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, that you can always worship virtually with Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings at 10 AM Eastern Daylight time.  Just go to and click, “Watch Live.”  The sermon will also be available to watch later this week on our church website. 

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Mark 14:3-9
March 22, 2020



As we’ve done in the first few Sundays of this series, let us concentrate on this painting that depicts the passage I’ll read. Focus in on this guy, looking down as this woman who is anointing Jesus. Let’s get into his head. Listen:

        None of us are happy with the way things are going in Jerusalem. It’s not just the political oppression. We’re troubled by the dire situation of the hungry, the poor, the sick, and the disturbed. The Roman’s don’t’ care about them? At least we try. Every penny we scrape up we try to pass on to those who need it. Before Jesus arrived for dinner, some of us were also wondering if we should save some money in case we needed to hide out in the not-too-distant future.

          And then SHE walks in.

          Look at that beautiful alabaster jar! Get a whiff of the oil. This is expensive stuff! And a whole bottle. How much does this stuff cost? It seems a ridiculous waste, given what we had just been talking about. This kind of money could go a long way.

          Look at her. She’s not said a word. Yet she is intense and devoted. This love lavished on him is somewhat embarrassing and yet it’s what I really want to do—tell Jesus how he has changed my life and how finally I have a purpose. I’m loved, and it’s such a gift. But how can I offer any gift to Jesus. He’s “The Messiah,” anointed by God. But here she is anointing him! I’m jealous and fear we are losing him. He tells us to stop judging her. “She is preparing me for burial,” he says. No! Don’t say that, Jesus. It can’t happen.

Soloist sings: Enter
Enter the story
Enter the place you belong
Not just looking on
For this is your story
Enter the story

Enter the passion
Enter the place we belong
Not just looking on
For this is our passion
Enter the passion
Enter the story…
Enter the passion…
Enter his passion.[1]

 Let’s listen as I read of this story from Mark’s gospel. Listen for the differences.  Read Mark 14:3-9.

         There are two big meals highlighted in the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry.[2] We all know about the Passover meal, the Last Supper, but a few days earlier there’s another highlighted meal in which a woman enters and anoints Jesus. In two of the gospels (Luke and John), like the picture we see, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet.[3] In Matthew and Mark, from which we read today, the story is of the woman anointing his head with oil, something that might be done for a king.[4] Reflecting on this scene, Dale Brunner suggests it serves two purposes. It’s a call to worship. Jesus is to be worshipped, something that will come clearer in less than a week, after the resurrection. The second purpose is as an illustration of the double-love commandment Jesus used to summarize the law—the love of God and the love of others. This woman demonstrates her love of God through her unselfish actions toward Jesus. And Jesus, by protecting her dignity, shows how we can care for others.[5]


Think for a minute about this woman. Because this story is told a little differently in each of the gospels, we tend to get it all mixed up. In Luke’s gospel, she’s identified as a sinner. Her presence upsets those around the table. But that’s not the case in Mark’s gospel. She’s totally anonymous. Luke may have been describing a different event. If that’s the case, both women take risk to show love and devotion to Jesus Christ, and that should be a message to us.[6] What kind of risks are we willing to take for our faith?


Jesus is at a banquet in a home where he can relax. He’s reclining. It’s a laid back affair. He’s with friends. We’re not sure who Simon is. It was a popular name back then. But being labelled “the leper” takes the reader back to early in Jesus’ ministry when he cured a man with leprosy.[7] Leprosy was generally an illness that created isolation, but maybe, if he’d been healed by Jesus, he’s proud of the description and continues to use it after his healing as a way to honor Jesus. Maybe this was a dinner party in honor of Great Physician?

        Now consider the risks this woman takes. She shows up uninvited. She shocks the guests with her generosity. Ever give a gift and wonder and worry if it would be accepted? Her gift does upset those around the table. Why isn’t this money being given to the poor? They ask. Jesus’ protects her dignity, saying she’ll be remembered because of what she’s done. And Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say we’ll always have the poor, but he won’t be around long, at least not in person.

The verse concerning the poor always being with us is possibly the most misinterpreted passages in scripture. Think of all the times you’ve heard this passage quoted in support of inaction when it comes to helping the poor. I bet many of us, and I’m guilty, too, have used this passage in such a manner. But it’s a misuse of scripture. Jesus is quoting the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 15:11 reminds us that we will always have the poor, but because of that, we should always be willing to help. “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbors in the land.’”[8] The ubiquitous poor are not there so we can opt-out from helping. They are there to remind us of our need to help others.

          In Matthew’s gospel, we’re told that helping the poor and needy, the sick and the prisoner, is the same as helping Christ,[9] but here she is able to do something to show her devotion and love. It’s kind of like buying flowers for someone. They may seem frivolous as they don’t heal us or enrich us. In a few days they wither. But we don’t give flowers for such reasons. We do it because we want to be able to do something, to show our love and concern. This woman can’t keep Jesus from the cross,[10] but she can do this, and she does.[11]

          What can we do? We certainly can’t heal the world, just as the woman couldn’t keep Jesus off the cross. But what kind of risk might we take for Jesus? Things are changing so rapidly around us. It’s scary. But we need to remember, this is not the first time Christ’s church has witnessed pestilence. In the 14th Century, a large percentage of the population died from the plague, but at the same time Great Cathedrals were being built.[12] Our call is not to fear and worry. Our call is to be faithful to Jesus. If we are sure that Jesus, as Lord, has our best interest in his hands, we can take risks that will further the kingdom and do good for others.

There are going to be a lot of hurting people in our world in the near future. Not only will we have to deal with folks who are infected, and a small but not insignificant percentage who may die. But we will also have to deal with those who are so traumatized they aren’t sure what to do. We’re going to need to encourage those who are depressed. In the short-term, we’re going to need to find new ways of connecting beyond handshakes and being physically present. And then they’re those losing their jobs as the economy contracts. I fear it will only get worse. We are going to need to support them. We’ll need to live fearlessly, trusting despite evidence to the contrary that God has things under control. This is a time that we as the church and as individual believers need to be bold and positive. For we’re on God’s side and our Savior won’t abandon us.

          This woman might be seen as a fool for Christ. She faced ridicule, but Jesus protected her dignity and honored her. Don’t be afraid to be a fool for Christ. For our Master will take care of us. Amen.


[1] This edited monologue is from the Worship Design Series: “Entering the Passion of Jesus: Picturing Ourselves in the Story.” Subscription from

[2] Three of the four gospels place the woman anointing Jesus at the table during his final week of earthly ministry. John’s gospel names her “Mary.” In addition to this passage, see Matthew 26:6-13 and John 12:1-8.

[3] Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-8.  Luke’s gospel, unlike Matthew, Mark and John, place this event earlier in Jesus’ ministry, not in the week of his death.

[4] Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9. Anointing the head may symbolize Jesus’ kingship. It was often something done to honor guests (which the host may not have done on this occasion). And it’s also points to Jesus’ coming death. See Morna D. Hooker: Black’s New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1991, Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 327-328.

[5] F. Dale Brunner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 599.  

[6] For this idea of her taking risks, see Amy-Jill Levine, Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), Chapter 4, “The First Dinner: Risking Rejection.”

[7] Mark 1:40-45.

[8] Deuteronomy 15:11, NRSV.

[9] Matthew 25:31ff.

[10] There are two types of anointing. She anoints Jesus (GK: myrizo) brial. Anointing for kingship and as “the anointed one” or the Messiah uses another word (GK: mashiach). See Levine, 95.

[11] Mary Ann Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel: Mark’s World in Literary-Historical Perspective (Minneapolis, Fortress, 1996), 274.

[12] See Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (New York: Knopf, 1978.