The Third Sunday after Trinity
July 5, 2017 A+D (reworked from 2014)
St. Luke 15:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus speaks comforting words to all heavy of heart and downtrodden sinners. His words work true rest and give true peace as it says in Matthew 11—“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” In Luke’s Gospel, we hear openly that He is the true doctor of souls and came for those who were sick (Luke 5:31). Jesus’ words get right to the heart of the matter. And for this reason, tax collectors and sinners drew near to Him.
Lest we miss the shock value recorded in the Bible, these tax collectors and sinners would be the modern-day equivalents to human traffickers, drug dealers, abortion advocates, and children who hurt their parents by pour decisions as will see in the parable. These are the kind of people who were drawing near; but also, don’t misunderstand—they did not draw near to justify their sin or defend it. They were not like those among us today who do what they want and then seek to justify it with modern reasoning and demand that others accept them for who they are. These tax collectors and sinners had heard the preaching of the Law and the Word had cut them to the heart. They were sorry for their sins and wanted to do better. This is where Christ was different than any other person they had ever heard. He preached the Law out of love for their souls, (He stood firm against their sin, not bending on the demands of the Law), offered them ointment for their wounds, soothing words for their ears, and comfort for their burdened consciences.
Through their example we see who the best recipients of the Gospel are. They are those who recognize their sin and despair of their own power and work (like the Prodigal at the pigs troughs realizing he is not worthy of his father’s mercy). With such is the grace of God powerful enough to give comfort.
The Scribes and Pharisees had also heard the preaching of Jesus, but instead of being cut to the heart, they counted themselves righteous and pious on their own account like Jesus explains in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9f). They felt that they had everything they needed for salvation and didn’t need to look to anyone else—even the man they knew to be the Messiah sent from God. The one who thinks himself well enough off on his own doesn’t look to anyone else for help. The one who considers himself healthy does not look for a doctor. The one with a full belly, isn’t looking for food. Those types don’t think they need the Law or the Gospel, or at least don’t need it now.
When you hear the Law, you should be cut to the quick. You should join the tax collectors, the sinners, and refuse to justify your sins. The true Christian posture is one of humility, of depravity, of meekness, of sorrow over sin. And if you are honest with your own sinful need, it will be reflected in how you treat others.
Sick people should have a very hard time snubbing their noses at others who are sick, since they suffer under the same cross. A cancer patient going in for chemo therapy ought to have a hard time feeling superior to fellow patients receiving the same treatment. Sinners should be the most compassionate and empathetic toward other sinners. Yet, we find ourselves looking down at our brothers and sisters in the faith who are suffering under the burden of sin. When our brother or sister in the faith is suffering from their own sin, why is it so easy to look down on them and think that they deserve what they get? When someone is acting poorly and saying hurtful things, it’s easy to chalk it up to them having a personality or character flaw—mean spirited, unkind—not considering that they are hurting inside and dealing with their own personal, family, or spiritual issues (just like you do on occasion). Why do we expect more out of other people than we expect of ourselves? It’s because we are prideful and delusional when it comes to our own thoughts and actions. When we are impatient with our family members and fellow Christians, we betray a self-righteousness like that of the Scribes and Pharisees.
Repent. See yourself for who you are, a miserable sinner, a lost and condemned person, someone who is in desperate need of grace and mercy. In need first and foremost from the Lord and then also in need of mercy from others around you. Repent and follow the example of the tax collectors and sinners. Go to Jesus for words of healing. Receive His medicine and be made well. He has forgiven your debt. He has wiped away your sins by His self-sacrifice on the cross. He has welcomed you home. He has removed the curse that you brought on yourself. He is a doctor that is both willing and able to heal.
Jesus receives and eats with sinners. This accusation was meant to condemn Jesus, but it may be one of the sweetest sentences in all of Scripture. Jesus is not ashamed to receive you. He is not ashamed to eat with you. He is not ashamed to seek after you when you are lost. Quite the contrary, he doesn’t receive with, eat with, or seek you begrudgingly. He is the Father, standing eagerly waiting for the prodigal to return. He seeks out of compassion and love, and when He finds you, not only does he rejoice, but the angels in heaven rejoice. There’s joy. There’s celebration.
That’s the kind of love He has for you. And in Him, we ought to mirror that kind of love to those around us. Has your spouse acted selfishly, again? Have your kids treated you hatefully, again? Have your parents failed to take your feelings into consideration, again? Has someone at church or work offended you by their inconsiderate words or actions? Then talk to them, seek them out, work toward reconciliation. God loves them. There is joy in heaven over just one sinner who repents. There ought to be joy in the Christian Church over one Christian who is reconciled to another. If the Almighty God can be compassionate to habitual sinners, then surely sinners can show compassion and empathy towards other sinners.
Your sin and the sins of others will come to an end as St. Peter writes. “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:11).
At this altar Jesus receives and eats with you. Don’t think that it’s an accident that you kneel shoulder to shoulder with your fellow sheep and coins and prodigal sons. And don’t think it’s a light thing that the angels in heaven rejoice to see it. Gathering together in worship around the Word and the Sacraments brings joy to God, to the angels, and to the whole company of heaven. It brings joy for your Lord Christ to speak comforting words to all heavy of heart and down trodden sinners. Even you.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.