I: -- "O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your
mouth, for your love is better than wine." "Your kisses [are] like the
best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth." (Song of
Solomon 1:2; 7:9) The bible is always earthy in its discussion of sex. The
world, on the other hand, tends to be vulgar, and ever more vulgar, in its
discussion. Rightly offended at the worldís vulgarity, the church reacts but
too often reacts unhelpfully: offended because the world renders sex vulgar, the
church then renders it ethereal, abstract, unearthly and unearthy.
Letís approach the matter from a different angle. Have you
ever pondered the difference between the erotic and the pornographic? The world
often wallows in the pornographic, depicting sex as passion only without
reference to persons. The church, on the other hand, often flees into a false
spirituality by speaking of sex as a spiritual event without reference to
The Hebrew mind is wiser than all of this. The Hebrew mind
(and heart) knows that while the pornographic is humanly debasing, the erotic is
humanly fulfilling. While the pornographic is perverse, the erotic is God-given.
While the pornographic exploits, the erotic enhances. The Hebrew mind always
remembers that it is God who has made us sexually differentiated.
Therefore to denounce the erotic is to disdain the wisdom and goodness of God;
it is to call "bad" what he has called "blessing." This, of
course, is sin. The writer of the book of Proverbs was acquainted with the mind
and will and purpose of God when he wrote that "the way of a man with a
maid" is so marvellous as to transcend human comprehension. To be sure, he
knew that the pornographic is eroticism debased, eroticism perverted, eroticism
exploited, something good bent to an evil purpose, a blessing rendered a curse.
Still, the fact of distortion and perversion never obliterates the goodness of
Godís intention and purpose. Where sexual matters are concerned, the Hebrew
soul is neither vulgar nor ethereal but instead earthy, God-glorifyingly earthy.
"Your kisses are like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over
lips and teeth."
At the same time, because of its honesty and transparency
scripture admits that this kiss can be perverted. The kiss of the
seductress in Prov. 7:13 is such a perversion. This woman, "dressed as a
harlot, wily of heart" (7:10) kisses a fellow saying, "Let us take our
fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is
not at home; he has gone on a long journey." (7:18-19) At the end of the
day, however, the distortion of what is good cannot deny what is
good. "O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth."
II: -- Another feature of the Hebrew mind: it never pretends
that the romantic kiss, the erotic kiss, is the only kind of kiss, or even the
most important kind of kiss. Far more frequently scripture speaks of the kiss of
parent and child, brother and sister, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, even
friend and friend.
Then we must examine other kisses, even hanker after other
kinds of kisses, like the kiss with which Esau forgave his brother Jacob. Jacob
was a scoundrel. His name, in Hebrew, means "deceiver", and he was as
bad as his name. He deceived his father Isaac and defrauded his brother Esau.
Jacob didnít pilfer nickels and dimes from Esau; Jacob plundered him and
demeaned him. Jacob stole everything from Esau that there was to steal.
Jacob and Esau went their separate ways only to meet up years
later. When Jacob was about to meet his brother he gathered up gifts without
number hoping thereby to placate Esau and defuse Esauís retaliation. In other
words, having displayed the cruellest cunning Jacob now displayed the crassest
manipulation. At the moment of their meeting, however, Esau didnít slay
Jacob. Esau didnít even demand compensation from Jacob. Instead, we are told,
"Esau ran to meet Jacob, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and
kissed him, and they wept." Jacob, overwhelmed at Esauís forgiveness,
cried, "Truly, to see your face is like seeing the face of God, with such
favour have you received me." (Genesis 33:10)
Esau kisses Jacob in forgiveness; Jacobís heart melts at the
unexpected magnanimity; he cries, "To see your face is like seeing the
face of God, with such favour have you received me."
The bible as a whole insists that no one can see the face of
God and survive. Moses is permitted to look upon Godís "backside",
as it were, but not even Moses can see Godís face Ė if he wants to survive.
The closest any of us can come to seeing Godís face is to see what is like Godís
face. And what is like Godís face, the old story tells us, is the face
of Esau as he pardons his brother, and more than merely pardons him; as he pours
out such affection on Jacob as Jacob has never known, as heís so glad to see
his brother that heís not even thinking of all heís lost, as heís so
thrilled with the reconciliation Ė never mind who did what to whom Ė that heís
oblivious to everything except the grand fact of having his brother back!
Heedless of everything except his brother, Esau kisses Jacob Ė with the result
that while Jacob, of course, has never seen the face of God, seeing Esau is like
seeing the face of God.
Esauís kind of kissing is a most important kind. Itís a
kind of kissing we should come to be good at ourselves. After all, the people
whom we meet in the spirit of Esau Ė the spirit of forgiveness Ė are people
who will find that seeing our face is like seeing the face of God.
III: -- While we are talking about the kissing we must do we
should also talk about the kissing we mustnít do. Judas betrayed his
Lord with a kiss. (Mark 14:43-45) This is treachery. For years I thought there
could be nothing worse than abandonment. Everyone is aware of the damage
(frequently irreparable damage) visited upon children whose parents abandon
them. Everyone has seen people abandoned by friends (or by those thought
to be friends.) Everyone has seen someone courageously take a stand only to have
that personís colleagues, having promised support, slink away in
self-interest. For years, therefore, I thought there could be nothing worse than
abandonment. I was wrong. There is something worse than abandonment:
betrayal. What could be worse than treachery at the hands of those we have
Judas wasnít the first person in Israelís history to
betray someone with a kiss. Towards the end of Davidís life David himself was
in a sorry state; so were the people; so was the army. Amasa was the armyís
leader. Joab wanted the position. Upon meeting Amasa, one day, Joab grasped
Amasaís beard and drew Amasa to himself so as to kiss him. Amasa never saw the
knife in Joabís other hand. At the moment that Joab kissed Amasa, he
disembowelled him. (2 Samuel 20:9) Judas kissed Jesus and thereby identified him
for our Lordís killers. Like Joab, like Judas.
Like Joab, like John Smith. Like Joab, like Jane Doe. It
happens all the time, doesnít it. Treachery! As terrible as abandonment is,
thereís something worse: betrayal.
Then thereís a kiss we must ever abhor: the phoney kiss, the
hollow kiss, the hypocritical kiss, the kiss of betrayal. How terrible is this
kiss? Jesus said of Judas, "It would have been better for that man if he
had never been born."
IV: -- And then thereís the kiss that moves me as often as I
read of it. There was once a woman who learned that Jesus was lunching in the
neighbourhood. (Luke 7:36-52) She hadnít been invited to lunch. The host
giving the lunch was Simon the Pharisee, and Pharisees didnít invite to lunch
those whose reputation was as discoloured as this womanís. Besides, Jesus and
Simon were both men, and in first century Palestine men didnít talk to women
Plainly the woman was overwhelmed with gratitude to Jesus and
love for him as well. Initially it was gratitude: he had done for her what no
one else had or could. Then it was love born of gratitude, even as the gratitude
remained. Now love, gratitude, affection, magnified hugely, together coursed
through her as she forgot herself before the master.
Forgot herself? She never forgot herself. She knew exactly
what she was doing at every minute. She wasnít invited to lunch but intruded
herself anyway. She knew that men didnít talk to unknown women but threw
herself upon Jesus in any case. She knew that letting down her hair in public
was a disgrace for a woman (akin to denuding herself in public), but she didnít
know what else to do to tell him she now had nothing to hide from him. Then she
kissed his feet.
What a glorious reversal of the foot-kissing that had always
been the oriental equivalent of bootlicking! In the eastern world of old,
conquered kings, representing their conquered peoples, had to kiss the feet of
their conqueror. It was an enforced public humiliation; it betokened abject
submission to that conqueror whom you hated but before whom you now had to
grovel. To be defeated was bad enough; to have to acknowledge it publicly,
worse; to have to acknowledge it by grovelling Ė bootlicking, foot-kissing Ė
worst of all. (Isaiah 49:23)
How different it was with the woman who stole into the house
of Simon the Pharisee. She wasnít defeated; she was freed. She
wasnít forced into public humiliation; she was grateful. She wasnít
grovelling before someone she loathed; she was rendering a service to someone
The woman kissed our Lordís feet. Plainly his feet didnít
repel her. Plainly she thought his feet beautiful. "How beautiful are the
feet" (Iím quoting now from Isaiah 52); "how beautiful upon the
mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace (shalom,
salvation), who says to Zion, ĎYour God reigns.í"
"How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good
tidings." The prophet who penned these words had in mind Israel's tortuous
exile, Israel suffering miserably at the hands of the Babylonians. Thanks to the
Word of the Lord vouchsafed to him the prophet announced unequivocally that
Israelís exile was ending: "Weíre going home!" And the people had
exulted with one voice, "Weíre going home!"
When the woman kissed the beautiful feet of Jesus she had
already come to know that he was more than the messenger of God; he was the
message incarnate. She had already come to know that he wasnít telling her she
was going home or even how to get home; in his company she was at home,
and knew it.
One day when I was visiting my older sister and her husband in
Ottawa I asked my brother-in-law, just before the church-service began, what his
favourite hymn was. Now Johnís upbringing had included an indifferent attitude
toward the church. Since meeting and marrying my sister he has become a
believer, has attended church without missing a Sunday, even become
congregational treasurer. Because his church background was as indifferent as
mine was intense, I expected him to tell me that his favourite hymn was
"Onward, Christian Soldiers" or some such "golden oldie"
that any middle-aged Canadian would know of. In the course of replying to my
question John stared ahead of him for the longest time and then said ever so
softly, "My favourite hymn is ĎJesus see me at thy feet; nothing
but thy blood can save me.í" Unquestionably my brother-in-law understands
the woman who unpinned her hair and kissed the feet of Jesus.
When Simon the Pharisee objected strenuously to the poor taste
of this uninvited woman Jesus said, "Simon, you never kissed me; you donít
love much, do you."
V: -- And then of course thereís the "holy kiss"
or the "kiss of love" (both expressions are used: Romans 16:16; 1
Peter 5:14) with which Christians are to greet each other. Over and over the
epistles of the newer testament conclude with the reminder that Christians are
to greet each other with a holy kiss or a kiss of love. We need not press it
literally, any more than we are going to say that everyone should literally kiss
the feet of Jesus. Still, the kiss with which Christians greet each other is
important. In Israel friends kissed friends (David and Jonathan) as a sign of
solidarity and affection, usually kissing each other on the forehead or the
cheek or the shoulder. Today we shake hands or embrace.
In the Middle Ages men carried their weapon in their right
hand. To shake hands with your right hand meant that you hadnít concealed even
the smallest weapon and therefore werenít about to stab the person before you.
In the ancient world, prior to the Middle Ages, soldiers carried their shield in
their left hand. To shake hands with your left hand (like a Boy Scout) meant
that you had discarded your shield and therefore werenít preoccupied with
What about shaking hands with both hands? Do we ever do it?
Surely when we embrace we are shaking hands with both hands! Then to embrace
means both hands are empty. We arenít concerned to attack or defend; we are
simply going to be.
In the early church the holy kiss was exchanged immediately
before Holy Communion. The Lordís Supper is an anticipation of the messianic
banquet where savagery and treachery and betrayal, retaliation and
vindictiveness and every kind of lethal one-upmanship will have no place and
will not be found. Then they have no place here, and shouldnít be found here.
I donít care whether you kiss me, hug me, shake my hand,
wink at me, or punch me on the shoulder, as long as I know that itís a holy
punch or a holy wink and therefore I need neither attack nor defend; I need only
VI: -- Lastly, all of us not only long to kiss; we also long
to be kissed. Especially on Valentineís Day we long to be kissed. Letís
think for a minute what it is to be kissed by God. The rabbis who came to the
fore at the close of the Hebrew bible used to say there are 103 ways of dying.
Some deaths are relatively easy: we slip away peacefully in our sleep. Other
deaths are more difficult. Some deaths are distressing. And some deaths, as
every pastor and physician knows, are simply hideous. The easiest kind of death,
slipping away in oneís sleep, the rabbis spoke of as being "kissed by
The book of Hebrews maintains that Jesus Christ has
"tasted" death for us. He has drunk death down, all of it, even at its
most hideous; he has drunk it down so thoroughly as to drink it all up. Most
profoundly, he has drunk up all the dregs of death so as to leave nothing in the
cup for us to drink. Therefore the only death that remains for Christís people
is that death which in fact is to be kissed by God, regardless of the
circumstances of our dying. To be sure, from a physical or psychological
standpoint some deaths are easier than others. From a spiritual standpoint,
however, all of Christís people have been appointed to a death that is simply
to be kissed by God.
Valentine was a martyr in the early church. We donít know
exactly when he was born or when he died. We do know, however, that by the year
350 a church had been named after him in Rome. We know too that ever since the
Middle Ages February 14 has been Valentineís feast day.
Since Valentine died the death of a martyr his death couldnít
have been easy. In another respect, however, since he was one of Christís own,
he died with the kiss of God upon him.
The rabbis of old maintained that Moses was the first to die
by means of Godís kiss. Moses may have been the first, but he certainly wasnít
the last, for all Christís people have been appointed to such a transition.
So Ė how good are we at kissing? At how many kinds of
kissing? Valentineís Day has always had much to do with kissing and with being
kissed. Then may you and I alike have the happiest Valentineís Day now, even
as we anticipate the day when our kissing is over just because we ourselves have
been kissed with the kiss of God.
"Jesus, see me at thy feet; nothing but thy blood has
saved me." And you? You?