You don’t have to answer, but I wonder if any of you groaned a bit during the Gospel. We heard everyone’s favorite two-word Bible verse. Not, “Jesus wept,” but “Judge not.” That has to be the most hackneyed phrase from all of Holy Scripture. Especially if we as Christians have attempted to discuss anything in the public sphere over the last few years, all we have heard shouted back at us are the twin phrases of “tolerance” and “judge not.” To the world, those two things go hand-in-hand. To them, it’s their trump card—“You can’t say a thing about what I’m doing because your own Bible says ‘Judge not!’ Jesus tells you that you must tolerate whatever I’m doing!” The sad thing is that this common understanding of Jesus’ own Words are so far off the mark of what He meant. As we unpack what Jesus really said, we will see that today’s Gospel is instruction in Christian living as the Body of Christ.
Today’s readings center around the realities of our Christian life as people redeemed by Jesus Christ, but waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body, and the glories to be revealed. Until that day, we are in need of instruction on how we live together in this life, both in the Church and in the world. Besides instructions on moral living—how we keep the Law of God, what sins we are to avoid, and the like—our biggest need of instruction in Christian living is how to live with one another in forgiveness. Jesus gives us the model of how we must live together: we must be more eager to forgive than to hold onto anger or resentment, we must be zealous for our neighbors’ spiritual and eternal wellbeing, and crowning all of that is a life of repentance and reception of Jesus’ forgiveness which makes us able to live in God-pleasing ways.
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.