What are you giving up for Lent? You’ve probably been asked that, or have asked it yourself. Of course, there’s the regular stuff – giving up ice cream or pop or TV or social media. What you give up, if you choose to do that, isn’t what’s important. The underlying reason we talk about fasting or giving things up for the season is what’s truly important. The reason we give things up is for the mortification of the flesh, that is, attempting to bring our bodies into subjection. But as soon as we attempt to do that, even if it’s just for a few hours, we find out how difficult it truly is. We realize that our desires and impulses control us, body and soul. And the control they have is not good. Only by the Holy Spirit’s help can we do anything to control our sinful bodies.
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me!” This is what the blind man, who St. Mark tells is us named Bartimaeus, cries out as Jesus comes near him. He knows his sin. He knows the effects sin has on the world, and upon his own body. So he begs for forgiveness, for healing to the only One who can give it. And He does. Jesus is merciful. He forgives Bartimaeus his sins, He heals his body. This is what Jesus always does. Throughout the Gospels, whenever a person or persons cry out “Kyrie eleison,” “Lord, have mercy,” He does. Never does Jesus ignore the plea or deny the mercy begged of Him. Whenever Jesus hears “Lord, have mercy,” He is merciful, He forgives.
I am content. Contentment is a fleeting concept. Something we think we understand, but in the end can’t really wrap our minds around. Not in this world, anyways. But we just sang it twelve times. I am content. But did you notice the source of the contentment? It wasn’t things. It wasn’t money, it wasn’t good health, it wasn’t the absence of sorrow or trouble or any other thing on this earth. I am content! My Jesus ever lives, in whom my heart is pleased.
When god created the world, everything was “very good.” In that perfection, man was able to hear the Word of God rightly. Adam and Eve’s hearts were, by nature, good soil. The Word could take root and yield a hundredfold harvest. There was only faith toward God and fervent love toward one another. Unfortunately, the sower in today’s Parable isn’t the only sower. The devil also sows. He sows the seeds of doubt and unbelief. He sowed those seeds in Adam and Eve and there was an immediate harvest of death. Man fell into sin and lost the image of his Creator and the perfect relationship between God and His creation was destroyed. Because of sin, man’s heart now has rocks, thorns, trampling feet, and demonic, devouring birds, all ready to destroy the seed of faith and its fruits. Each seed bears fruit according to its kind, and we are now in the image and likeness of Adam, marred by sin, and we, too, are inheritors and breeders of sin and death. No one is exempt from this death-causing sin.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house.” I’m not sure why Jesus bothers with the Parable, because it’s not going to make sense to us anyways. We say we get it, that God gives His grace lavishly, but in the end it’s a concept that we will never wrap our minds around. We rejoice in God’s grace as it is represented in the landowner, but we still don’t get it. We can’t, because our minds are terminally infected by original sin, the prideful, arrogant sin of Satan, that tells us to see ourselves as the most important, the highest judge of all things. God, the rule of nature, everything must be subservient to me, to what I can comprehend, to what I can dictate. And God’s grace does not work in those ways. It is entirely ludicrous to human reason. It works in ways we cannot and never will. But, that’s why Jesus tells the Parable. Not so we can master the concept, but so we can rejoice that our God does not limit Himself to man’s ways, to those things that make sense to us. God’s grace is limitless and gives gifts greater than we could ever deserve.
When Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a cantata for this day in the Church Year, he based the text on St. Simeon’s song. In one movement, he paraphrased what St. Simeon said with this simple phrase: “I have enough.” There is so much more to what St. Simeon said, but it is all well-summarized in those three words.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.