I came away with two primary thoughts regarding the sermon.
The first was how this story reinforces God's continuous assertion to the people of Israel that he did not choose them for their righteousness (Deuteronomy 9), but because of himself, for his glory. Look how low Simeon and Levi stoop, and yet together they continue to comprise 1/6 of God's covenant people, and the Levites are even selected to mediate the peoples' relationship with God. Not because of how good they were, that's for sure.
Secondly, Pastor Alfred made a striking statement. Usually people read (appropriately) so much horror into this story that they can find little redemptive or for application in it. But Alfred pointed us to the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ brings our sins of lust and of anger to light as being just as sinful in God's eyes as rape and murder. "If you can't see yourself in Simeon and Levi, you can't see that Christ is for you."
And so I ended up pondering how destructive our self-righteousness is, not only in our relationship with God, but also in our relationship with other people. Isn't it the same sin, just of a different degree, when I justify my own sin because my husband's is worse? That is the heart that breeds "tit for tat." Did you know that the Old Testament law of "an eye for an eye" was not justifying "tit for tat," but it was limiting the degree to which you could exact payment from somebody else for their sin. The human heart always believes that offenses against us are worse than offenses that we've done against others, and so God had to say, "No, you can't demand 100 cows in exchange for the two cows this guy stole; that's not justice, it's vengeance, and you always skew 'justice' in your favor."
In the economy of a marriage, that looks a lot like, "Yeah, well, YOU did ______" (subtext: "Which is a lot worse than whatever you just accused me of"). And, of course, the other person's only rational response is to respond in kind, digging up past offense after past offense that should be just that, part of the past.
I'm reminded of an essay that I was introduced to early in my time at Peacemaker Ministries, and that I posted on their blog. It's called "The Sinner's Place," by Stanley Voke.
Here's the opening paragraph:
The hardest thing for anyone is to take the sinner’s place. So hard in fact that many never take it at all, while others, having once been brought there, do not care to come there again. None are by nature fond of the sinner’s place. Yet if we do not come there, we cannot really know Christ or taste the sweetness of God’s forgiving grace. If we avoid it, we might as well say “we have no sin” and so deceive ourselves.Do yourself a favor and read this and meditate on it a bit. And the next time you're tempted to even think, "What you did is so much worse," or "He started it; he should be the first to apologize," or, "I'm so glad I'm not as bad as him/her," remember Simeon and Levi and let Christ's grace take you to the sinner's place.
Is it not strange that the place we sinners avoid is the very one the sinless Savior took?
... This is the paradox of grace. He who insists he is right will be pronounced wrong, while he who admits he is wrong will be declared right. The righteousness of God is only given to those who stand in the sinner’s place. Here and here alone is the place of true peace, for here we cease our strivings and find our God. Here is rest of heart and heaven’s door. Here we cast away our pretense, and admit what we really are. Here we come to Jesus to be cleansed by His precious blood. Here the Holy Spirit fills and holiness is found. Here are the springs of revival. This is where the whole church needs to come again and again. It is the place of truth and grace and freedom-the sinner’s place. When were you last there? In fact, are you there now?