The way a question is asked determines how it is answered. The lawyer doesn’t hear about God’s mercy because he doesn’t ask about it. He asks a Law question—what must I do. Not, ‘how will God save me’ or ‘how will God keep His promises,’ just “what must I do.” However, the way he finishes that question shows that he may not have been the best lawyer in town. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Typically one doesn’t inherit anything based on works. An inheritance comes because of the graciousness of the giver. That the lawyer’s question is misguided will become apparent soon, when Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He reveals that the inheritance is given by grace, a pure gift that is given despite sin, not something earned from God.
Today Our Lord tells us a Parable about righteousness and how it is achieved. There are two ways, one of life and one of death. If your righteousness is internal, if it is self-focused, it is not true righteousness. On the other hand, if your righteousness comes from outside of you, if it is counted to you apart from your deeds, then it is true righteousness. Jesus tells us that the tax collector, though perceived as unrighteous, went to his house justified, while the Pharisee, regarded as extremely righteous, goes home condemned. True righteousness only comes when one is covered by the greatest Sacrifice, Christ Jesus.
Our God is a God of peace. We sing it each week: Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. That angelic Christmas hymn is one of the many reminders in each Divine Service that Jesus has come to bring us peace, to restore communion between God and man. All of those works which He does to restore that peace are His natural works. This is what we prayed about in today’s Collect, confessing that God’s almighty power is shown, first and foremost, in His mercy and pity.
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.