Elisha, thinking he is as good as dead, asks: “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”
Isaiah, thinking he is as good as dead, exclaims: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
The women who went to the tomb on the first Easter, thinking they were as good as dead eternally, questioned: “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?”
What’s the moral of the story? What is the point of today’s Gospel? I know what your answer is: be thankful. Is that all today’s Gospel is, another voice reinforcing your mom’s voice that echoes in your head: “Say thank you to the nice man!” No!! This Gospel is not a moral tale, a lesson from Miss Manners. Today’s Gospel is about faith and what it does. Faith wants Jesus. Faith forsakes the things of the flesh and of this world if it means being with Jesus.
When we hear the Parables, we’re so tempted to hear moral stories. We hear in each detail something that we must do. And the Parable of the Good Samaritan is the prime example of that. Be nice, do for others what most people would refuse to do, and you can inherit eternal life. Right? Not quite. As attainable as that Law sounds, it isn’t. Pretty soon we find out that it’s impossible to do enough. Pretty soon we find out there are people I don’t want to do that for. So, as nice as that Law sounds, it’s damning. We know what’s right, but we don’t want to do what’s right. So that leaves us in one of two places—either crying out for mercy or trying to find ways to relax the Law. And that’s exactly where today’s Gospel puts us. The reason for the lawyer’s question is clear. If I am to love my neighbor as myself, it would certainly help if I could make that list of neighbors shorter. If I don’t have to worry about how I treat him or her or that entire group of people, I might just stand a chance!
Throughout the church Year, at various times we will hear these healing miracles worked by Jesus. When they come up, the question is always, How do I apply this to my life? Does Jesus tell us about healing a deaf and mute man so that we look for our own similar miraculous healing? While we would all love to be healed of the things that plague this body, healing here-and-now is not what the miracles are about. The Holy Spirit caused the Evangelists to record Jesus’ miracles to teach us their spiritual application in our lives. Yes, Jesus can and does work miracles still today and He completely and in ways that defy logic heals the deaf, mute, paralyzed, cancer patients, and all the rest. But He hasn’t promised that kind of healing for us before this mortal body puts on immortality. Instead, He has promised us the same kind of healing—the true healing—He gave to this man in the Decapolis.
There are two ways to approach God. One is safe, and the other leads to death. Since the Fall, to approach God uncovered, that is, without blood, is to die. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden. After they sinned, they tried to make coverings for themselves with fig leaves. But there was no blood. God covered their sin and shame by the first shedding of blood. He killed an animal and turned its skin into clothing.
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.