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How Good Are We At Kissing? At how many kinds of kissing?


Luke 7:36-50



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 world’s 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.

Let’s 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 passion.

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 God’s 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 didn’t 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 Esau’s retaliation. In other words, having displayed the cruellest cunning Jacob now displayed the crassest manipulation. At the moment of their meeting, however, Esau didn’t slay Jacob. Esau didn’t 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 Esau’s 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; Jacob’s 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 God’s “backside”, as it were, but not even Moses can see God’s face – if he wants to survive. The closest any of us can come to seeing God’s face is to see what is like God’s face. And what is like God’s 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 he’s so glad to see his brother that he’s not even thinking of all he’s lost, as he’s so thrilled with the reconciliation – never mind who did what to whom – that he’s oblivious to everything except the grand fact of having his brother back! Heedless of everything except his brother, Esau kisses Jacob – with the result that while Jacob, of course, has never seen the face of God, seeing Esau is like seeing the face of God.

Esau’s kind of kissing is a most important kind. It’s a kind of kissing we should come to be good at ourselves. After all, the people whom we meet in the spirit of Esau – the spirit of forgiveness – 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 mustn’t 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 person’s 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 trusted?

Judas wasn’t the first person in Israel’s history to betray someone with a kiss. Towards the end of David’s life David himself was in a sorry state; so were the people; so was the army. Amasa was the army’s leader. Joab wanted the position. Upon meeting Amasa, one day, Joab grasped Amasa’s beard and drew Amasa to himself so as to kiss him. Amasa never saw the knife in Joab’s 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 Lord’s killers. Like Joab, like Judas.

Like Joab, like John Smith. Like Joab, like Jane Doe. It happens all the time, doesn’t it. Treachery! As terrible as abandonment is, there’s something worse: betrayal.

Then there’s 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 there’s 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 hadn’t been invited to lunch. The host giving the lunch was Simon the Pharisee, and Pharisees didn’t invite to lunch those whose reputation was as discoloured as this woman’s. Besides, Jesus and Simon were both men, and in first century Palestine men didn’t talk to women in public.

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 wasn’t invited to lunch but intruded herself anyway. She knew that men didn’t 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 didn’t 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 – bootlicking, foot-kissing – worst of all. (Isaiah 49:23)

How different it was with the woman who stole into the house of Simon the Pharisee. She wasn’t defeated; she was freed. She wasn’t forced into public humiliation; she was grateful. She wasn’t grovelling before someone she loathed; she was rendering a service to someone she loved.

The woman kissed our Lord’s feet. Plainly his feet didn’t repel her. Plainly she thought his feet beautiful. “How beautiful are the feet” (I’m 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, ‘Your God reigns.’”

“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 Israel’s exile was ending: “We’re going home!” And the people had exulted with one voice, “We’re 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 wasn’t 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 John’s 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 ‘Jesus see me at thy feet; nothing but thy blood can save me.’” 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 don’t love much, do you.”

V: — And then of course there’s 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 hadn’t concealed even the smallest weapon and therefore weren’t 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 weren’t preoccupied with defending yourself.

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 aren’t 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 Lord’s 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 shouldn’t be found here.

I don’t 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 it’s a holy punch or a holy wink and therefore I need neither attack nor defend; I need only be.

VI: — Lastly, all of us not only long to kiss; we also long to be kissed. Especially on Valentine’s Day we long to be kissed. Let’s 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 one’s sleep, the rabbis spoke of as being “kissed by God.

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 Christ’s 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 Christ’s people have been appointed to a death that is simply to be kissed by God.

Valentine was a martyr in the early church. We don’t 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 Valentine’s feast day.

Since Valentine died the death of a martyr his death couldn’t have been easy. In another respect, however, since he was one of Christ’s 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 God’s kiss. Moses may have been the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last, for all Christ’s people have been appointed to such a transition.

So – how good are we at kissing? At how many kinds of kissing? Valentine’s Day has always had much to do with kissing and with being kissed. Then may you and I alike have the happiest Valentine’s 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?

Victor Shepherd    

February 2002