In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The word here for “visitation” is a variant of the word for “bishop.” What we translate the “time of visitation” might be translated as the “day of oversight” or “day of the bishop.”
God visits earth in two different ways. He has always visited the earth in the mighty acts of salvation. That certainly means He visits earth in the column of smoke and fire, in the miraculous feeding of Elijah by ravens, in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But it also means He visits earth in the Temple services, the sacrifices, and in His preached Word by the mouths of prophets, priests, and kings. He visits His people with grace. He is present for them.
He is a visitor because He is not of creation. He has no beginning. He was not made. And also because creation has been stolen away from Him by the rebellion of Adam and his willing cooperation with the devil. God is good, holy. Creation is broken, semi-chaotic, infected, and corrupt.
But God will not let the devil win. He visits creation physically. He takes up flesh, becomes a Man, by way of the virgin. He joins Himself to fallen creation as a Man. He gets blisters and callouses, scraped knees and the flu. He knows what it is to have your bowels turn to water, to be stung by a bee, to suffer a migraine. He is subject to all the trials and hardships that the ruler of this world inflicts upon his subjects and worse. For He knows what it is also to be abandoned, betrayed, mocked, ridiculed, and slandered. He knows what it is to be tortured and killed. Nothing has befallen you that is not common to man, so nothing has befallen you that the Lord Himself has not also suffered and endured.
But He is still a visitor, even though He is our flesh. Because He still has no place to lay His head. He is despised and rejected, condemned with evil men, denied a home or even overnight lodging among His own people.
This visitation is the presence of the Good Shepherd, not the wolf. He comes not for vengeance or justice, but He comes as an overseer, a bishop. Yet He is hidden from the world. They see Him mainly as a harmless and naive fool, someone easily killed. He does not even fight back. He turns the other cheek and gives His back to the smiter. Why would we follow or respect Him? He is weak. He is gentle. He is easily killed and put out of the way. Kill the Heir and we can take His inheritance.
The world refuses His oversight, this visitation, because He is not the kind of God they want. They choose not only Barabbas, the murderer, they choose also the father of lies, the devil. They choose darkness, death. They do not want what is good. They want what is evil. Good is a threat. It dares to expose them. They live in fear. Thus does Jesus weep angry, judgmental, sad tears.
His divine oversight, of course, will triumph in the end. Grace remains forever sovereign over judgment. He will not let the devil win. The strange irony is that our killing of the Heir to take His inheritance works. His inheritance is ours, but not by theft, rather as gift.
But in the meantime, for as long as the world insists on its own oversight – for as long as we will not abandon our sins but insist on our own way, on taking what we can for ourselves – judgment will inevitably seem sovereign over grace. People will starve. Children will be beaten. Taxes will be raised. Women will be raped. Houses will burn. And wars will rage. On and on and on it goes, and we will never, by our own devices, find the things that make for peace.
Thus does Jesus proceed to the Temple as our peace, to make way for peace. One week before the Resurrection, six days before His crucifixion, five days before He institutes His Holy Supper, four days before His betrayal, He drives out those who set up a market in the Temple. He overturns the tables. He knocks over the seats of those who sold pigeons. He fashions a whip and by brute force and violence drives them off and says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” His visitation, his gracious shepherding and bishoping of creation, asserts itself again. Of all the places in the world that should have stood witness to grace and truth, that should have allowed for peace between God and man, the Temple was THAT place. But the world infected even it, and there is nothing to be done with such a ship of fools but to pronounce upon it the judgment it deserves and drive them off to the place they belong: outside the Temple.
And yet after He acts out that judgment, His visitation remains one of grace. The blind and the lame, losers all, come to Him in the Temple, and He heals them. He didn’t clean out the Temple for Himself,. He cleaned out the Temple so that there would be a place for the losers.
It is the sovereignty of grace over judgment all over again. It is the exaltation of losers who are willing to believe in grace over winners who think they can make it on their own. Judgment does fall on the world, but since the world is populated entirely by losers – in the end, none of us ever wins here, because in the end we all die – there is hope for everyone. Good Friday always precedes Easter, the Law precedes the Gospel, death precedes life, judgment precedes grace, and confession or repentance precedes the absolution or forgiveness.
First comes judgment and weeping. Then comes grace. For we must be losers, we must be emptied. And then we find that grace has been waiting all along for our destruction, in order to recreate us, restore us, resurrect us. We find that what was driven out of the Temple was only that which would hurt us, which was deceiving us, and there is Jesus beckoning us to come in like long lost, beloved sons that we might be healed and feast and rejoice with Him in His Father’s house. For His House is called a House of Prayer for all people, but might well also be called a House of Prayer for all losers.
The day of visitation had been hidden from them. They were blind by their own sin, to be sure, but so also it was hidden by grace itself. For the Father willed that the Son be sacrificed for the sins of the world, that He lay down His life as a substitute. Who knows what they would have done if they’d known the things that make for peace. Because the things that make for peace are the betrayal, the beating, and the crucifying of Jesus, along with His resurrection. If they’d known the day of visitation, would they have tried to stop it, or refused it? St. Peter tried once and was rebuked and exposed as being in league with Satan.
Grace reigns sovereign. God rules. Life comes out death, peace out of war, love out of hate. He makes for peace by rejection. He welcomes sinners back to Himself without grudge or regret. If His Body had not been ripped from His bones, we could not eat it, nor could we drink His Blood if it had not been shed, if He had not died. We do not eat or drink the dead Body and Blood of Jesus, but the risen, living Body and Blood. But it is, nonetheless, the Body given, the Blood shed, and that, by grace, through death, for the forgiveness of sins and peace, that bestows and leads to life.
God be praised. He does all things well.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The major ideas, and even entire sentences, have been borrowed from Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus by Robert Farrar Capon as posted by Pr. David Juhl