Jesus shows us, through the paralyzed man, what the Christian life is all about. The Christian life is not about having it good in this world. It’s not about being free from disease, pain, poverty, and the like. If that’s what the Christian life is all about, if that’s what makes someone a Christian, then there are no Christians! There isn’t a single person anywhere in the world who can honestly say that they are free from anxiety, pain, disease, weariness, or any other problem. Everyone, despite economic status, gender, age, or any other demographic, struggles with something. And all of that proves what Jesus shows in this healing of the paralytic. What we really need is not the elimination of all problems. What we need is forgiveness. That is to say, what we need is Jesus.
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.
Today’s collect revealed a great truth about our God: He shows His power, not by destroying, not by being filled with rage—no matter how righteous it may be—but He shows His almighty power by showing mercy and pity. Today’s Gospel is a prime example of this. What is recorded for us reveals Jesus’ mind at the outset of Holy Week. Today’s Gospel is what Jesus said and thought as He rode into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. He wasn’t concerned about Himself. He didn’t lament what that week held. He lamented that the people of Jerusalem didn’t want what was about to happen. They not just rejected but vehemently opposed the one thing that would give them peace. Not the temporary peace of those days of David so long ago, but the true peace, the peace of sin forgiven and eternity with God.
There are two things we have to get right in our own minds before today’s Gospel makes sense. First, we have to understand why Jesus commends the dishonest manager. He does not commend him for his dishonesty. The manager is stealing from the master. He is not obeying the Seventh Commandment by helping him to improve and protect his possessions and income. However, Jesus commends the manager for his shrewdness. What does it mean to be “shrewd?” As the dictionary defines it, to be shrewd is to have an insightful awareness and a realistic discernment. In other words, the manager knew himself well, he knew how desperate the situation was, and he knew how he could take a bad situation and make it work out for himself. He knew how all the moving parts had to come together for the best outcome.
What does it mean to discriminate? We all know the negative meaning—to treat someone differently, not because of merit, but because of some trait like skin color, gender, age, or the like. And we know that kind of discrimination is wrong. But there is good discrimination. The real meaning of discrimination is to distinguish the differences between two things. A chef has a discriminating palate, distinguishing between high quality and cheap ingredients. A musician has a discriminating ear, distinguishing between well-practiced performances and someone who hasn’t put in the effort. Today Jesus tells us to be discriminating hearers of the Word because not everyone who preaches or teaches speaks the truth.
As we consider Our Lord’s miracles, we often divert our attention away from the miracle itself and towards eternity. Especially when we look at the healing miracles, we’re quick to say that it reminds us of the perfection we will enjoy in heaven when we receive our bodies back perfected. It’s our way of telling ourselves not to look for or expect a miracle like Jesus performed during His earthly ministry. While that’s understandable, maybe it’s not the best thing to do. God has not sent His Son to die merely for our future spiritual good. He has sent Him to redeem us, to make us His children now. He who was crucified and is risen from the dead has done that in order to be with us, to keep on feeding us. And He is concerned with all of us, our bodies and souls, our spiritual lives and our family lives, our churches and our cities, and everything else. Still today, He has compassion on us and He acts on it, He delivers that compassion to us in real time in Word and Sacrament.
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.