The requests we made of God in today’s Collect summarize the Readings perfectly. Both Moses and Jesus showed us how impossible the Law is. Jesus shows us how easy it is to break the Law, especially when it comes to adultery and murder. We may think we are doing okay, but our hearts produce all kinds of evil. Before our hands or feet or eyes even have a chance to sin, the heart is already long down the path. The only hope we have in this life and the next is that God, of His great mercy, would keep us in His grace.
You don’t have to answer, but I wonder if any of you groaned a bit during the Gospel. We heard everyone’s favorite two-word Bible verse. Not, “Jesus wept,” but “Judge not.” That has to be the most hackneyed phrase from all of Holy Scripture. Especially if we as Christians have attempted to discuss anything in the public sphere over the last few years, all we have heard shouted back at us are the twin phrases of “tolerance” and “judge not.” To the world, those two things go hand-in-hand. To them, it’s their trump card—“You can’t say a thing about what I’m doing because your own Bible says ‘Judge not!’ Jesus tells you that you must tolerate whatever I’m doing!” The sad thing is that this common understanding of Jesus’ own Words are so far off the mark of what He meant. As we unpack what Jesus really said, we will see that today’s Gospel is instruction in Christian living as the Body of Christ.
The parable is about two different reactions to God’s grace. On one hand is the reaction of the lowest of the low—tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. On the other hand, you have the seemingly perfect and upright Pharisees. To one group, the mercy expressed in the three Parables of Luke 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, commonly known as the Prodigal Son—is amazing. It’s a tale of love and grace, even for the vilest of the vile. To the other, it’s a story of stupidity, of frugality, of weakness. If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you know which is which. The Pharisees see this divine grace as completely absurd. The sinners, on the other hand, rejoice in it. The message is pure Gospel: God has pity on those dead in their sins. He receives sinners and eats with them.
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.