THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
“Is This A Blessed Time?”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Luke 10.23-27
11 September 2022
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
We seldom pay much attention to the first two verses of this Gospel reading. We usually skip right to the parable, one we know quite well. It is always good to look at the context of our readings, whether it is the immediate context—a few verses—or an extended context—perhaps even a chapter or two. When the 72 disciples return to tell Jesus of the success they had on their short missionary journeys, our Lord rejoiced in the Father’s will. He rejoiced that this was the time of grace. The Gospel was being proclaimed and Satan’s kingdom was being assaulted. But then Jesus spoke privately to this disciples and called this time “blessed.” It was a blessed time because the disciples were seeing and hearing what many prophets and kings had desired to see and hear but did not.
On the heels of last Sunday’s Gospel account of Jesus healing of the deaf man’s ears and tongue, this seems to remind us of that. This was a time of grace. The Gospel was going out into the world, and Jesus rejoiced and gave thanks to his heavenly Father for revealing the truth of his kingdom to children and hiding it from smug, self-righteous people. He tells his disciples that they are particularly blessed to have seen and heard everything that was happening.
“Is This A Blessed Time”—these days in which we live? I must confess that these words of Jesus catch me off guard. These times? These days when so much seems upside down and being carried to hell in a hand basket don’t seem very blessed. Quite the opposite, most of us lament the conditions of our society. Crime seems out of control, morals have degraded even further because there is no shame for anything anymore. Sins once committed under the cover of darkness are now committed in the daylight and society cheers the perversion and rebellion against God. Life seems to have gotten harder. Eden does not appear anywhere on the horizon. “Change and decay in all around I see,” wrote hymn writer Henry Lyte in that beloved hymn, Abide with Me. The hymn is filled with a kind of sorrow at this passing world, perhaps in light of the death of friends and his own impending death.
Persecution of Christians worldwide has been estimated to be about 360 million in a report this past week by Open Doors USA, an organization that advocates for the persecuted Church. It has labeled persecution “intense in up to 60 countries across the globe” [The Daily Signal, September 06, 2022]. And today is September 11, a day which brings a reminder of one of the worst days in our nation’s history. “Is This A Blessed Time?”
There are many days like these in this world of sorrow and tears, so why is Jesus rejoicing even though his death by crucifixion lies on the immediate horizon? Actually, he follows the great saints of the Old Testament in blessing God for what has happened. Two weeks ago we heard Eve rejoice at the birth of Cain whom she thought would be the Savior. She was looking forward to redemption. David, too, could find joy, as did Isaiah and Jeremiah. Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” found joy in what God would do in Christ.
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” said Jesus to his disciples. But is that true of us? Can we really say that this is a blessed time to be alive? We can and we should because we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears the glorious Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life bestowed to us as a gift! Like old Simeon in the temple we sing every Sunday just that. Our eyes have “seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” [Luke 2.30-31]. We have received Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament.
This is a blessed time because the Gospel is preached. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are reaching many who have never heard it before. The one who hears this goodness and believes it rejoices even in the most dire circumstances. Those who treasure this eternal Gospel will let nothing get in the way. For them the darkness of eternity separated from God has given way to the bright dawn of Easter morning with the risen Christ. We have have had this placed before our eyes and in our ears.
A scribe, an expert in the Law of Moses, stood nearby, as they usually were, always hoping to catch Jesus in some kind of contradiction or error. He asks a question with which he will show off. He focuses on the Law only, the main part, not peripheral things. Jesus redirects the question so that he can catch him in his own words. The expert in the Law responded,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But this hypocrite can’t let it go at that point. “Do this!” said Jesus, but the lawyer is looking for a way out of Commandments 4-10. EvenMoses failed at this point as did every other Old Testament saint. He knows that he’s failed here. No one is as merciful to his neighbor as God demands. And there is no one as unmerciful as a hypocrite.
So what shall we do with this parable? It indicts us all. In this parable Jesus presents himself as the one who is merciful. His mercy is the essence of his kingdom. “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” Yet Jesus’ enemies called him a Samaritan when he accused the Jewish leaders of being sons of the devil, and if that weren’t enough, he was accused of having a demon. [John 8.44-48].
In this parable our Lord makes himself the Samaritan and us the victim of the robbers. The man lies beaten nearly to death, unable to help himself. He will die unless someone rescues him. This is really a picture of the chief doctrine of the Christian faith, justification which we have been studying in our Sunday morning Bible class. We are unable to help ourselves nor can any works we do help. Christ is the one who came to us, bound up our wounds, poured on the medicine of oil and wine, and brought us to the Church, this hospital for sinners. In the ancient world the oil was from the balsam tree, a kind of ointment which helps heal the wound. The wine is the disinfectant which cleanses the wound first. He has rescued us from eternal death. He has borne all the cost in himself. He has cleansed our souls by his precious blood and applied the medicine of immortality in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Jesus wants us to see that he is the true neighbor who correctly fulfills the commandment to love the neighbor, even the enemy. This is the reason that his earthly ministry was filled with healings of the sick and ill, why he raised the dead and restored life to them. It is really about the whole earthly ministry of Christ.
That ministry of mercy to the neighbor has not ended. We who have been shown mercy by Christ are to show that same mercy to others. His mercy is perfect and needs nothing more to be added; ours, however, is imperfect because we remain sinners until our last day on this earth. But his love flows through us. “We love because he first loved us,” writes the Apostle John in his First Letter. That whole letter is about the love of Christ in us and through us. We have Good Samaritan laws which compel us to help victims, but love cannot be compelled. It must come from God’s love in Christ.
John is sure to tell us what real love is not in that letter. The love of Christ does not tolerate immorality. After all, Jesus drove the buyers and sellers out of the temple with whips. He accused the Pharisees of being sons of the devil. The lies of Satan don’t change. One cannot deny Christ and who he is and what he has done and claim to have love.
Christ shows the love required by the Second Table of the Law in himself. He endows us with his Holy Spirit. He has given us new hearts to see others as those for whom he has also died. The Holy Spirit speaking through his Word moves us to see others as Christ sees them. His Word must move us to action. Hearing is simply not enough if we ignore our neighbor’s needs. Our words of love mean nothing if we do not respond. There are opportunities beyond our own community. Our Synod seeks to help meet human needs around the globe. A trip to our Synod’s website will present you many opportunities to help your neighbors in far flung corners of the world. Mercy is one of those anchor points of our Synod’s mission.
Who is the real neighbor? Jesus asks. Even the blind lawyer could see this one. He is compelled by the evidence to say, “The one who showed him mercy,” even if the name “Samaritan” sticks in his throat.
“Is This A Blessed Time?” Indeed, it is because we have the privilege of sharing the blessings that we have seen and heard in Christ. Christ sends us forth to serve our neighbor, whoever he may be—even an enemy—by being merciful. And Jesus says to us, too, “You go, and do likewise.”
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.