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.
In today’s introit we praised God for His “steadfast love.” If you’re a Psalm reader, you know this phrase well. “Steadfast love” is the English Standard Version’s translation of the very important Hebrew word hesed. NIV translated it as “unfailing love” and the King James used “lovingkindness.” This word is used in the Psalms 127 times, and it is in more than half of the Psalms. Obviously steadfast love as one of God’s many attributes is an important thing. David and the other Psalm writers felt it was so important that it had to dominate their writings. The translations of hesed give us a bit of an understanding of the definition of this major word. It’s much more than mercy. Mercy, while it is something wonderful, especially when it comes from God, falls short. Mercy can be a one-time event. “I had mercy on the passenger behind me on the airplane who kicked my seat, but next time he does it I’m going to get angry.” Hesed endures. It is rooted in patience. It is not temporary or measured.
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.