Today we commemorate Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses, his formal request for an academic debate over the topic of indulgences and the sale of forgiveness. As we celebrate the 501st anniversary of the Reformation, perhaps we hear the words of Ronald Reagan in our head: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” We replace the references to America and freedom with references to the Church and the Gospel: ‘The Gospel is never more than one generation away from extinction…it must be fought for, protected, and handed on…or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children…what it was like when we had the Church and the Gospel.”
Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a king twice. Today’s Gospel is the first, and the second we heard a few weeks ago when a king gave a wedding feast for his son. In both of these parables we see that the Lord is no ordinary king. He is not out to get what is His. He is not out to make things right, because making things right would put us in eternal debt that we could not pay. Instead we see that He is a King who wishes to be merciful, to give to those who in no way deserve it.
Today’s Gospel is one of the most relatable accounts in Holy Scripture. We can sympathize with the difficult situation of the official. He needed something badly. He wanted the reassurance that Jesus heard him, cared, and would do something about his son’s deadly illness. He pleads with Jesus twice to come with him, but He will not. He sends the official home with only a word in his pocket. He doesn’t have Jesus in tow, he does not have an antidote for death. He has only a word. Through this official, Jesus teaches us to have faith in His unfailing Word. He is faithful and He will do what He says.
Today’s Gospel follows on the heels of Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. After entering Jerusalem, He began to teach. More specifically, He began to confront the Pharisees for their rejection of the Kingdom of God. They had been graciously invited, gave the façade of belief, but rejected the invitation. It’s damning because it’s not as if they were on the fence about who Jesus was and why He came. They knew exactly who He was. They proved that in John 1 when they sent a delegation to interview John the Baptist. They knew what was going on, but they didn’t like it. So they spent the next three years trying to trap Him, trying to eliminate Him. When today’s Parable was first preached, they thought they were finally on the verge of winning, but Jesus knew it was the opposite. That’s why, just a few verses before today’s Parable began, Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Mt. 21:43). What Jesus shows is that His Kingdom isn’t concerned about appearances, but the condition of the heart. While this condition may not be visible to everyone at first glance, Our Lord knows those who are His, whom He has clothed with the garments of salvation.
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.