First President of the LCMS and it's Grandfather CFW Walther
Here is a list of Pastor Wagner's sermons. Most of them have been preached at Christ Our Savior; however, some of the earlier ones were preached at other locations.
You might notice that some of of the sermons do not have an audio player. These sermons were not recorded. However, all of the sermons do have a link to the manuscript on Pastor Wagner's website.
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Is that how you hear it, though? Is that how you read it, as Jesus asked the lawyer? When it comes to parables, treating them allegorically is par for the course. And why not, when so many begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like...”? Even though this parable does not begin this way—even though Jesus does not compare the kingdom to the Certain man and Certain Samaritan—Christians allegorize; even the Church Fathers did so. Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine—even Luther—and others made the characters and places of the parable represent one thing or another. Often, the man represented the Old Adam, his wounds are sins or the consequences of sin, the priest and Levite are the Old Testament or Law, the Samaritan is Jesus Christ, the oil is the grace of God, and the inn is the Church.
That’s how you like parables, though. It makes the parable mean something bigger. It makes it an illustration of something bigger than yourself. It removes from you all responsibility, shifting it onto someone or something else. So, for instance, if the Samaritan is Jesus and the Inn church, then you can see yourself, or part of yourself, in the man beset by thieves. Now, Jesus binds your wounds, anoints you with the oil of his grace in order to forgive your sins and restore you to life, setting you in the church where he tells the innkeeper pastor to take care of you, supplying all that he needs to care for your needs.
It all makes for a nice illustration—and it fits the reality of your life in the church—but if you allegorize the parable, then that makes Jesus’ “Go and do likewise” meaningless. Like I said before, allegorizing this parable removes from you all responsibility. This parable is a story with a moral given to the lawyer who sought to justify himself. So, when Jesus told the lawyer to go and do likewise, he was referring to the Samaritan, “He who showed mercy on” the certain man.
Recall the lawyer’s questions. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered well: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” “Do this, and you will live,” Jesus responded. Of course the lawyer couldn’t stop there; he needed to justify himself. To make sure that he was loving his neighbor, or more likely to prove that he really was loving his neighbor, he asked, “And who is my neighbor?”
That’s when Jesus told the parable. And in light of the exchange between the lawyer and Jesus, especially the lawyer’s final question, “Go and do likewise,” makes more sense. This is the moral of the parable, if you’re looking for something to do to be saved, love God and love your neighbor as yourself, and your neighbor is anyone in need whom you meet upon the way.
Loving God is easy. No, really, it is. “I love God;” go ahead and say it. It’s that easy. Is there anything you can do to show it? Is there anything you can do to prove it to someone else? Well, I suppose you can read His Word. You can show up to church every Sunday or Feast Day. Or, you could easily redefine what it means to love God or redefine who God is—you know, be “spiritual, but not religious”—and so long as you do that or are that, then you can say that you love God, and no one can say any differently.
Loving your neighbor is more difficult. That’s why the lawyer asked who his neighbor was. You just can’t say, “I love my neighbor.” There are actually neighbors out there to love—real, tangible, needy neighbors who need what you have to offer; neighbors to and for whom you can do things. So, if all you do is say, “I love my neighbor,” but do nothing to show true care and concern for them, help them when they need help, etc., do you really love your neighbor? No!
It seems with this parable that the world has it right and the church gets it wrong. As I mentioned before, “Good Samaritan” is a term that has made it into common parlance for one who does a good deed for a stranger. There are organizations who have taken the name whose purpose is to be of service to those who are in need, like the certain man in the parable. These Good Samaritans—whether individuals or organizations—are of service to their neighbor, no matter who that neighbor is. And the church wants to turn it into and allegory, ignoring “Go and do likewise.”
There is a reason that Jesus told the parable. The lawyer needed to learn who his neighbor really was, and that he needed to be in service to all of his neighbors. Without it, he would have thought that his neighbors are only people like him, people with whom he associates, people with whom he would associate, and that it was only these kinds of people that he needed to serve and help. Jesus tells him that his neighbor is also the man who is unclean for the sake of his wounds and unapproachable for the sake of his breeding.
“Go and do likewise.” There’s the answer to the question. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” You shall love God and love your neighbor as yourself by being of service to him.
How difficult! There’s a story of a theology professor who taught a course on the parables of Jesus. Exam time arrived, and the students came nervously to the exam hall. When it was time for the students to enter, an official came and told them that the exam had been moved elsewhere, some distance away. The students quickly made their way to the new location, stepping around a man along the way, drunk and lying in the gutter. As each student reached the new room and opened the paper, they gasped, for there was only one question: What is the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan? They all scribbled away, trying to reproduce everything that the lecturer had told them. A week later, the results of the exam were published; everyone had failed! They had all stepped around the man in the gutter (probably the professor, not really drunk), and so had not learned the meaning of the parable.
It’s like I said, loving your neighbor is a difficult, if not impossible, thing to do. Sure, like the lawyer, you get along fine loving those who are like you and those with whom you get along. But what about everyone else whom you encounter? What about the ones with whom you don’t get along? What about your enemies? Love them, too! Because if you don’t love them, you don’t really love God. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 John 4:20-21) Or, if you want to hear what Jesus, Himself, said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you...love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-28, 35-36)
Oh, you may want to do it, loving your neighbor, be they friend or enemy, but you find yourself unable to do so. The good that you want to do—like the Good Samaritan—you do not do, the evil that you do not want to do, that you keep on doing. (cf. Romans 7:19) No, like the priest and Levite, you are more dead to your neighbors, who may be dying on the road side and in need of your care, than like the Good Samaritan. Who will deliver you from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ your Lord! (cf. Romans 7:24-25)
You see, the world will leave you beaten and naked, broke and unable to help yourself. Your Old Man would do the same, all under the guise of being your friend, being your help, lying to you by telling you that you are good or good enough at loving God and your neighbor. You are like the Levite, like the priest, and very much like the man on the way to Jericho.
This place, then, or any number like it, is the inn into which you have been taken, having been bound and oiled and wined, taken care of. Here Jesus Christ has taken you on His own shoulders as it were, a sheep of the Lamb of God—saved from the body of death. And here, He bids the innkeeper to care for you, promising to give all that is needed for your care when He returns.
Jesus returns to this place all the time. He is present in His Word and Sacraments, giving of Himself for your care, just as He first gave Himself in order to bandage and oil and wine you. He gave Himself over to death in order to rescue you from the body of death. Into His body, Jesus took your wounds, and by His stripes, you are healed. (cf. Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:23-24) Jesus received those stripes in your stead, beaten to within an inch of his life like the certain man, then nailed to a cross and left to die, like the certain man. But He is not just a certain man; He is the Samaritan who swaps places with you and receives your punishment for sin in order that He may salve you with His grace—that wonderful oil and rich wine.
And in a place such as this Jesus places others, brothers and sisters in Christ, who are able to care for you in your times of need, and to whom you are to show care and love as you are able in their times of need. This is the mutual comfort of the brothers that you can read of in Acts 2:44-45. However, dear listeners, this consolation and care for your fellow redeemed isn’t to be restricted to whomever is within these walls.
So, allegorizing the parable can work. It speaks to the reality of your life in the church this way. First, though, the parable shows you that if you want to do something to be saved, you must love God and neighbor, but the Word of God—His Law, specifically—shows you that you are unable to do so; that is, not in any way that merits salvation. Therefore, the responsibility and expectation to “Go and do likewise” isn’t removed from you. As allegory, the parable shows you the reality of your life as a Christian in a place like this: that Jesus is your Good Samaritan, the only One who can be called good (cf. Luke 18:19), because He has come for you, given His life for you, and continues to come to you to pronounce to you through His chosen innkeeper that you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Two men go up to the temple to pray. Dr. Arthur Just, in his commentary, helps to set the scene for those who, being so far removed from Jerusalem Temple practice, are likely unaware of what was going on there:
Public prayer was permitted in the temple in the morning and the evening during the atonement sacrifice, which was made at 9 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. Private prayer could occur at any time. It is possible that the two men came to the temple at one of the two times set aside for corporate prayer, during which time it was customary for people to offer their own private prayers, specifically at the offering of incense after the morning or evening atonement sacrifices. Thus, these two figures may have come to the temple, the locale of God’s presence, precisely at the time of the atonement sacrifice, and atonement was the reason for the temple’s existence. This context would point to the promise of the sacrifice of the lamb, who would take away the sins of the people once and for all.
That possibly being the case, the sacrifice was made, the burned incense offered, and the two men prayed. Neither man likely prayed silently, as doing so was highly uncommon; nevertheless, the implication in the parable was that the Pharisee prayed so as to be heard, while the tax collector was back in the corner praying and trying not to be heard.
The Pharisee prays a eucharistic prayer—a prayer of thanksgiving. There’s nothing wrong with such a prayer, and I would hope that in those times when you want to thank God for one thing or another, you, too, would pray a eucharistic prayer. The problem with the Pharisee’s prayer is that the focus is all on him, who he is and what he does, especially in comparison to other people. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. Here’s how...”
It’s an easy enough trap to fall into. It essentially all boils down to taking credit for the things that God has given you. It’s not unlike the man in another parable that Jesus told, who tore down his small barns to build bigger ones to store the great bounty that he had reaped. (cf. Luke 12:16-21) But things don’t have to be so grandiose. That is to say, at any moment when you start thanking God for what it is you have, what position you’re in, whatever material blessing you have been given, Old Man wants you to take credit for it. You’re the one who did the work for it. It was your brilliant idea that led to some big gain and recognition. You’re the one who lucked into winning something. “Thank you God that I’m not like those others who don’t work as hard, think as well, win as much...”
The other thing about the Pharisee’s prayer is that the other men that he thanked God that he was not like, he accuses of being the very things of which Pharisees are guilty—extortioners, unjust, and adulterers. But that seemed like no big deal for him, since he fasts twice a week and gives tithes of all that he gets. Nevertheless, the extortioners are greedy and rapacious and wicked, words that Jesus used to describe them back in Luke 11:39: “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” As for unjust, remember that it is the Pharisees who wrongly see in themselves no need for a physician—for the Great Physician who is the only source of true righteousness. And while nowhere are the Pharisees described as adulterers, their lack of faith in the promise is described throughout the Old Testament as being akin to adultery.
This is entirely part of the psyche of fallen man. Old Adam is always on the lookout for others who share in your sin, but are worse off in it than you are. So, you, too, can thank God that you’re not like those other men, because they are worse sinners than you are. And you’ll have no problem pointing that out, too—not in any way that implicates you in this sin, but only in a way that calls attention to the depravity of the other man in his sin.
And that brings me to the tax collector. What I just said is exactly what the Pharisee did. He lumped the man in with those “other men:” extortioners, unjust, and adulterers. He was sure that the tax collector was these things, if not especially the first. Tax collectors in the days of Jesus were known for their rapaciousness, or greed, so it would make sense that the Pharisee would make it a point to point this out of him. As for unjust and adulterous, well, I don’t have a comment on those with regard to the tax collector.
Maybe he did. Maybe he would have. Maybe he was those things. What he did do was show a piety unlike that of the Pharisee. He didn’t draw attention to himself. He held his head down in shame. He beat his breast and pleaded for mercy: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The word Jesus used there in His parable is not the usual word for mercy—a Greek word you might actually know: eleison—but one that the Septuagint used for the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Another translation would be, “God, be propitiated to me, a sinner!”
Simply put, propitiation is made when demands are met so as to appease the one who makes those demands. As you hear it used throughout the Scripture, it means that satisfaction is made or paid for sins, and as the writer to the Hebrews put it, “[W]ithout the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” The shedding of blood propitiates God for the forgiveness of sins; and the blood demanded is that of the sinner, unless a substitute could be found. The blood that was shed in the Old Testament to make propitiation was that of bulls, goats, and lambs; once a year, this blood was sprinkled on the cover to the ark of the covenant, making propitiation for the sins of the people of Israel on Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement.
Now, it’s likely not Yom Kippur in the parable, but as Dr. Just pointed out, it was likely one of the times of the daily atonement sacrifices—perhaps a burnt offering or peace offering or sin offering, all of which pointed to the sacrifice of Yom Kippur, which itself pointed to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross.
This is what Jesus was pointing his listeners to with this parable. The Pharisee set himself apart from all men. He’s better than them and made sure that God and everyone around him knew that, and this was especially true of the tax collector that he recognized in the temple with him. The Pharisee trusted in himself and what he did. He exalted Himself. He was right about the difference between himself and the tax collector; they are quite different from each other. The tax collector didn’t trust in himself. What he knew of himself told him otherwise. The only way he could be right with God was if he was made that way from outside of himself—if he was propitiated to God. Jesus purposefully used the word which could be translated “be propitiated” in place of mercy at a time when the daily atonement sacrifices were taking place. He makes the tax collector out to as one who reflects the faith that He wondered after the previous parable if He would see—it’s the faith of the remnant which humbles itself before the almighty hand of God, which yearned for the Messiah to come and make the final atoning sacrifice for His people.
“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Messiah has come and made that final atoning sacrifice, and that propitiation will finally be realized when the Messiah comes again on the Day of Judgment. The Messiah is Jesus, the Great High Priest who enters into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice by which propitiation is made and atonement won. The Messiah is Jesus, the Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself and shed His blood in order to make propitiation and atonement.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:14-17)
That passage from Hebrews is the only other place in all of the New Testament where that same word used by that tax collector as a verb is also used as a verb. Jesus is the only One who could do all parts in propitiating the world to God, once for all. It is His blood used as payment, and He is the one who carried it to God as High Priest to offer it as your atonement.
This fact is declared to you at Holy Baptism, when you hear the words of Holy Absolution, and as you receive Christ’s very body and blood as bread and wine in Holy Communion. In each and every one of those times, the work of the Messiah is given to you, apprehended for you by faith—faith like the tax collector and the widow—and made your own. As Rev. Dr. Carl Fickenscher once said, “The Sacraments give us what the cross earned.”
Jesus is your Messiah. He is the one who laid down His life and shed His blood for you, and He took it up again. He is the one who pleads His own blood on your behalf, declaring you propitiated to the Father for His own sake. With the God-given faith that doesn’t lose heart but prays continually, which looks outside of yourself for justice and atonement, you are gathered here again and again to pray, “God, be propitiated to me, a sinner!” You are brought here in faith by the Spirit to recall, again and again, the atonement Sacrifice made once-for-all by Jesus Christ on the cross, to look forward to the day when that atonement is finally and fully realized on the Day of Judgment. So, in faith, you do not lose heart, but hope for that day, as you leave here justified again and again, because you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
From there, Jesus turned his attention to the disciples, and that’s where today’s text picks up. The Pharisees were probably still around. They might have been listening to what Jesus was telling His disciples if they weren’t fuming over or pondering what He had just told them. In turning His attention to the disciples, He shifted the focus from the coins or sheep or sons in the previous parables, to figures of the shepherd, the woman, and (most especially) the father. So, he told them the parable of the Unrighteous Steward.
As is usually the case when the parables of Jesus are read, the natural inclination is to find oneself in the parable. “How does this parable relate to me?” is the question. It would make sense, given the previous three parables—in those, as a Christian, you would likely identify with the lost sheep, the lost coin, or the lost son over whom God, the angels, and all of heaven rejoice when they are found. Yes, you have been found in Christ, redeemed by His blood, and so at the time of your Baptism and every time you hear the words of absolution, these all rejoice over you.
So, when it comes to this parable, you likely, in some regard, identify with the unrighteous servant, though you might twinge at the idea of identifying with someone who remains being called unrighteous. You have been washed, cleaned, restored, renewed, forgiven, saved—you are declared righteous for the sake of Christ. How is it that Jesus would use someone called unrighteous to refer to you? Because the focus of this parable isn’t you, it isn’t the unrighteous servant, it’s the master. And by having told this parable, Jesus intended to get you to think more on the shepherd, the woman, and especially the father in the previous three parables.
So, focus on the shepherd, the woman, the father, and the master. What do these four have in common? They are merciful, and they are compelled by their mercy to act with overwhelming mercy toward the lost and unrighteous. The shepherd leaves the rest of his flock to search diligently for the lost sheep. The woman tears apart her house to look for her lost coin. The father runs with mercy to both sons and wants them both in the party. And the master...well, that will take a little more explaining.
So, the steward gets word that he is about to be put out of his job—he’s unrighteous, as he has been mismanaging his master’s assets. He ought to die for this; the master is well within his rights to demand the steward’s life. Well, as it turns out, the steward realizes just how merciful of a master he has, and he counted on the master acting in mercy toward him. The master was merciful—he was put out of the job, but he kept his life. But, there is more to the master’s mercy that the steward counted on. So, he goes to his master’s debtors and reduces their debt. This, of course, would give the debtors a favorable view of the steward, though he would only have been a messenger of the master’s mercy in this case, and especially of the master—they would want to continue to do business with the master, which also serves the master’s interests, in the long run. The master was impressed with the steward’s actions, and praised him.
Therefore, if you want to identify with the unrighteous steward, then see in your God One who is merciful, much more so, like the master. Are you a perfect steward of what your Master has given you? No, you are unrighteous in the things of your Father, and for that you ought to die—that is how the Law of God reads. Nevertheless, God is merciful, and He spares your life for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ. He is more merciful, because He further grants you a place in paradise with Him eternally—as in the parable of the Prodigal Son, you have a place at the party, and as such, rejoice with all of heaven over every sinner who repents, be they your brother in Christ, or one who is becoming your brother in Christ.
And it is for this reason, then, that Jesus transitioned from the parable to instructions on mammon, as you might know the word from other translation. It flows naturally from the parable, where the unrighteous steward made a prudent use of mammon—not his, though, mind you. So, Jesus said,
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
The steward was able to make friends for himself using mammon. Jesus called it unrighteous because it cannot save. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, as it is also a gift from God, but as with all gifts, there is this propensity among mankind to misuse and abuse that which gives, and money is no different. Jesus said to use it wisely, make friends for yourself using it, that when it fails, you will have people who can return the favor. More than that, make use of it for the sake of the kingdom.
If you’re curious how that can look, Jesus said in Luke 12,
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:33-34)
In short, use your money and possessions—your mammon—in service to God and His Christ, in the Kingdom of God on earth. Similar to the father in the previous parable, use what God has given you in service to your neighbor, with the intent that they can hear and believe the Gospel. I said that money cannot save, and that’s true, but it can be a means to bring someone to the place where they can be saved, and you just might be the person who uses it to that end, and so, “[M]ake friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, your wealth won’t last, but being with someone in eternity will.
That is the reason that God gives you what you have. You are faithful in this little to Him by using it for the purpose for which He has given it. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Hear it again. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? It’s a valid question, and it should cause you to question just how faithful you have been in unrighteous wealth. Have you done what God expects of you with what God has given you? The only honest answer would have to be, “No.” Sure, sometimes you do, or in part you do, but that also means that sometimes you don’t and in part you don’t—which means that you don’t.
So, since you have’t been faithful with what God has given you, should you expect him to entrust you with true riches?
What are those true riches?
The Word of God
Any and all of those theologically loaded words, if you know what I mean
If you can’t be faithful with the little riches that God gives, why should you expect Him to give you these true riches? And those little riches are also more than just wealth and money, but everything that He gives you. You can recite two lists from Luther’s Small Catechism, “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have,” and, “[E]verything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” Can you say that you’ve been faithful in each and every one of these gifts—and the like? Again, the only honest answer has to be, “No.” Sometimes you do, or in part you do, but that also means that sometimes you don’t and in part you don’t—which means that you don’t.
So, again, I ask, why should you expect God to give you true riches? If you have been listening to the parable, you would know that you should expect God to give you true riches because He is merciful; and more than merciful, He gracious and faithful to His promises. He has given you the true wealth of faith in Him, trust in His Son and in no one else and nothing else for salvation. Sometimes, your job is demanded of you, in whatever form that takes, but your life is not. That’s because your life is won in Christ, whose life was given for yours on the cross.
By way of Baptism, you have been placed in Christ. There at the font, by the pouring of the water with the Word, you have been given faith. This faith takes God captive in His Word, as demonstrated by the Canaanite woman seeking healing for her demon-possessed daughter. (cf. Matthew 15:21-28) This faith holds to His promises, which is no big thing because God is faithful—He keeps His promises. By this faith, you can expect your merciful and gracious God to be merciful and gracious to you.
This is because God delights in showing you grace and mercy. He sent forth His Son—His only-begotten Son—to be man like you, and in being man, God took your place under the Father’s wrath, showing you mercy. Now, He sends the Spirit to bring you to faith, and to bring to you grace upon grace, to enable you to love and serve your neighbor, so that they and you can by faith hear and receive these words again and again: you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in [showing mercy]. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)
These passages, from Isaiah and Micah, respectively, are fulfilled in your hearing by Jesus on the crowd of 4000. For there, He told his disciples, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” Then, He proceeded to feed them miraculously from seven small loaves of bread and and a few fish. This text is all about the mercy and compassion of God, especially as lived out in the person of the Son.
What drove Jesus to have compassion on the crowd? To put it plainly, it was Jesus Himself. He had been teaching them, instructing them, maybe even healing them, and they were hanging on every word of His. They might not have eaten anything in those three days they spent doing this, and Jesus, being God, knew it all. His teaching done, they would have to go home, and some of them, being with Him for so long, would have to go a long way, and having nothing to eat, they would have grown weary and fainted along the way. So, Jesus delighted to have compassion and mercy on them and feed them!
Now, don’t misunderstand me. They likely didn’t plan to be with Him for so long without food, and therein is the problem, insofar as there is a problem in the text. The people were away from home for so long and had no provisions. Such unpreparedness deserves the weariness and fainting that would have come with having no provisions—if you don’t eat, you’re going to grow weak! Such is a consequence of the sinfulness with which all of mankind is infected. But to a God who delights in showing mercy, this is nothing which cannot be overcome.
It’s all symptomatic of life in this Vale of Tears. As you go headlong from one sin into the next, your sinful condition is made more and more evident to you. There is nothing you can do, either in planning how to get out of it or even getting out of it altogether yourself. You are lost, having to face the consequences of your sin, and the words of St. Paul are probably ringing in your ears right now: “The wages of sin,” the consequence, as it were, “is death.” (Romans 6:23)
Death is what you deserve for your sin. Weariness, fainting, and possibly even death is what the crowd deserved for having no provisions for the days, traveling home on an empty stomach.
But God exalts Himself to show mercy. Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. A lenient judge is one who shows mercy by reducing a sentence for a crime, or eliminating it altogether. That’s the kind of justice that God shows—that’s the kind of Judge Jesus is—He eliminates the sentence for your sin.
In the case of the crowd upon which He had compassion, He demonstrated His mercy by feeding them all by way of seven small barley loaves and a few small fish. And their cups ran over to the tune of seven baskets full of leftovers. If that’s not the overwhelming mercy of God, then nothing is.
In your case—in the case of all humanity—God exalts Himself in His show of mercy by sending the Son. God would not have the sinner die, Ezekiel exclaims (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11), so He Himself takes on the flesh and bone and blood of His creation, becomes one with Man, and assumes into that perfect flesh the sins of the world, and dies with them, shedding His blood as the payment. God died on the cross for and with the sins of the world. No, you do not get what you deserve for your sin, for you should be the one on the cross giving your life for your iniquity, but “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6b)
No, you do not get what you deserve, and if that is not the overwhelming mercy of God, then most certainly nothing is. Once again, the words of St. Paul should be ringing in your ears: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You do not get what you deserve: death for your sin; and that’s mercy, but you receive the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, which is life, and that’s grace—getting what you don’t deserve. “For God…[had mercy on] the world,” if you don’t mind my editorial change, “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that [he would be gracious so that] the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17)—again, an editorial change.
I will add that none of this is deserved. You don’t, in any way, earn God’s mercy and grace. Your kindness and mercy toward others, while expected and demanded, will not earn you any favor with a just God who requires perfection. For, while you may do good in one moment, in the next, you are not, and all the good that you do, because you struggle with your sinful condition, is like a filthy rag before the almighty justice of the Father. (cf. Isaiah 64:6)
So, one might be tempted to give the crowd some credit for Jesus’ mercy by stating that He showed them compassion because they stayed with them for those three days. That, however would betray Jesus’ own words in the text. Jesus had concern for their well-being, that they would be so hungry as to grow weary and faint on their way home, so He fed them. It would, likewise, betray what was written by the prophets, as you heard earlier, that God delights in showing mercy—it’s who He is and what He does, apart from any worthiness or merit in yourself. You can only go so far to say that Jesus showed mercy to the crowd because they NEEDED to be shown mercy, having taking for themselves no provisions.
So, for you, that you don’t get what you deserve—that God shows you mercy—is on all Him. As with the crowd, so for you, God delights in showing you mercy, not because you have somehow earned it, but because that is who God is and what He does. You can only go so far to say that you NEED to be shown mercy, because you are completely lost in your sinful condition. Therefore, thank God that He delights in showing mercy.
Likewise, He delights in being gracious—giving you what you don’t deserve. In His divine compassion, He removes from you your iniquity and having placed it on His Son, He died with it. In place of that iniquity, He gives you life and salvation and a trust in Him which relies on Him for all that is good for you, and a holy desire for more. God has had compassion on you; He has shown you mercy to remove your sin from you as far as east is from the west. By faith, you cry out, “Yes! Amen! Give me more.” And He delights in showing you grace, and so you are forgiven for all of your sins. And where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sounds okay, doesn’t it? Can you point out anything wrong with it? Will everyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God be blessed? Yeah, I’m sure that’s the case. But Jesus knew this man had other things in mind.
So, He tells a parable. Now, Luke didn’t write that it’s a parable. Jesus didn’t say that the Kingdom of God could be compared to what’s going on in this story. Nevertheless, since Jesus is making a point by telling a story, it is a parable.
A man once gave a great banquet. He had invited all of his friends and relatives. It’s the kind of banquet that they’re used to given and going to. One would host and invite the rest, then one of the rest would host the next one and invite the rest, and so on and so forth. The Pharisees knew this, especially given what Jesus had just told them before today’s text. (cf. Luke 14:12-14) They were also likely participating in just this sort of thing with the meal to which they had invited Jesus.
Well, as the story went, the feast was ready, so the master sent his servants to bring in those invited, but this time, things were different—the guests all requested to be excused. Now, this was likely nothing new. Sometimes, when you’re invited to a party, you just can’t make it because of some other commitment or some other pressing need comes up. The excuses given in Jesus’ parable sound like these sorts of things—some other commitment or some other pressing need has come up. The thing is, though, what you heard are only three of the excuses; it would seem by what continues to happen that everyone invited refused the invitation.
The master told his servants to bring in others and compel yet others to come to the banquet. The difference between these others and those invited is that these others aren’t the sort of people those invited would have invited to their banquets. In fact, these are the kinds of people that would normally only have dreamed of going to such a banquet; to them, this would have been no ordinary experience.
So, then, how does one connect this parable with what the Pharisee said? “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Well, the others brought and compelled into the banquet would certainly have thought of themselves as blessed. There they were, enjoying a feast unlike anything they had ever had before and likely would never have again. In that regard, that’s not unlike the feast of bread in the Kingdom of God for those who eat it, especially in the first part.
Also, bear in mind that this feast of bread in the Kingdom of God has a foretaste even now here on earth. This ongoing feast has been celebrated for centuries, known as the Sacrament of the Altar in the post-resurrection church, a fulfillment of the Passover meal, which could be seen as that foretaste in the pre-resurrection church. These days, in the post-resurrection church, Jesus gives His body as bread to eat in order to keep you in the one, true faith unto life everlasting, where you will eat that blessed bread in the Kingdom of God.
The trick is not to become so complacent in this ongoing feast that you find yourself making excuses in order not to take part it in, and in those excuses to become completely justified in doing so. Now, I say that knowing full well that occasionally, something does come up that would keep you away from this hallowed banquet hall, but that is the exception, and not the week-after-week norm. No, there is something more going on in the excuses in Jesus’ parable that translate to a desire not to be here week after week.
There’s an old proverb accredited to Apuleius, a 2nd century Latin poet, rhetorician, and Platonist philosopher. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Something can become so familiar, so rote, so (dare I say) ordinary that you can find contempt in being there, participating in it, and doing the thing. How often do things become so routine that you loathe being at them? Friday comes, and you cannot wait to get home because it’s been a long five days at work, and you can use a break in your weekly routine. Or perhaps you’ve been at your job for decades, and your skin is wearing thin—it’s long past time to move on. Anything can become so monotonous and routine.
God forbid that this is the case with the Lord’s Supper, the Divine Service, even the other regular activities at church. Nevertheless, I’m afraid that this is exactly what can happen. Think honestly for a moment. You come here week after week. Do you come here looking forward to the service being over so that you can get to something else you’d rather be doing? And that not in childish ignorance, either. If that’s the way you really feel about it, why even come here at all? I’d be lying if I said I never felt that way. God forgive me for such an attitude.
What underscored those excuses, the attitude that is prevalent in wanting to be somewhere other than here? It’s an indifference to the holy things of God. It’s seeing the Word and Sacraments as being ordinary things. It’s thinking that this stuff here is just the same-old-same-old, it doesn’t matter if you miss a week, a month, a year, a decade…
What did the master in Jesus’ parable say about those who thought of his banquet as ordinary? “None of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
At the Word of Jesus, you are invited and gathered here around Him, His Word, and His Sacraments. He deigns to grace you with His presence again and again in these ordinary-looking means. But they are anything but ordinary, for they are Christ for and in you.
By the Word, Jesus gives Himself to you and declares you forgiven, renewed, and redeemed.
By Holy Baptism, ordinary water by all “reasonable thought,” Jesus washes you clean of all iniquity and joins you to Himself.
By Holy Communion, ordinary bread and wine by all “reasonable thought,” Jesus gives you his very body and blood for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Now, it’s understandable to think of the Word and water as ordinary, though the very Word of God declares of them that they are anything but. However, to consider the body and blood of Jesus, the very Son of God incarnate, as ordinary—that should be unfathomable with any amount of holy, common sense.
Still, as I said, you are here, brought to this hallowed hall by God, the Holy Spirit, to hear Jesus in His Word proclaimed to you by His called servant, to receive Jesus in that proclamation, and to be renewed in body and soul by His Word and Sacrament. He gives Himself to you in these means in order that you would be His forever, to be blessed by Him to eat bread in the Kingdom of God. So He comes to you and cleanses you from this attitude of indifference. No, these are no ordinary means—they are God come down to you in grace and power; they are your life and salvation. They are the forgiveness of all of your sins!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.