Oculi – The Third Sunday in Lent
Paul Norris, Seminarian
St. Luke 11.14-28
20 March 2022
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the Lenten season lessons from Scripture, we have seen our Savior doing battle with the Devil. The Devil has tempted Jesus to sin, and in this week’s Gospel reading Jesus casts out a demon. Perhaps some of you were taken aback by the image on the bulletin. It is a little graphic and scary. However, this picture represents not only the demon leaving the mute man, but it also represents how the Devil emanates from people’s mouths that he uses to tell his lies. 
The Devil’s activity in the Garden deceiving Adam and Eve demonstrates that the Devil also likes to argue and confuse. Jesus defends himself against the slander of the Pharisees. In the Devil’s stead, the Pharisees argued that Jesus could have only performed the miracle of casting out a demon because he was affiliated with a Palestinian deity, the false god Beelzebub. This is nothing more than the Devil himself arguing against Jesus and trying to distort the reality that Jesus is divine, the only begotten Son of God.
In the present day, people also like to argue against Christian teaching. Anyone who does speak the truth about Christian doctrine also refuses to battle against the Devil. Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me…” No one can be spiritually neutral. (Matt 12:30)
The Devil does not take a passive view towards humanity. Either one stands up and fights against the Devil, or one is overtaken by the Devil as he is actively seeking to distort and subvert the Word of God and the truth of Christ. The Church must fight or she dies. This is why the Church on earth is known as the “Church Militant.” She actively fights for The Faith just as our Lord Jesus fought against the Devil and his lies.
Perhaps the greatest weapon the Devil uses against the Church is his lies, namely false teaching. Many in the world and even in the church view the devil as a cartoon-like figure. You all have seen it before; all red with horns, a pitchfork, and a pointy tail. Or maybe you think of him as a little devil figure that sits on one shoulder while a little angel sits on the other shoulder, each one whispering directions in your ear. The Devil really isn’t any of those things. What he is, is a liar, and he uses false teaching to teach lies about Jesus.
One of the lies and distortions the Devil likes to tell is about Jesus’ mother Mary. In the Magnificat on Wednesday night, we sang Mary’s words from the Gospel of Luke (1:46-55), “…For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed.” In our Gospel today an unknown woman in the crowd shouts out, “…Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” The unknown woman is saying, “Blessed be Mary the mother of God.”
Here is where we need to be careful and avoid going to extremes. Unlike Roman Catholics, we do not pray to Mary, or as they would semantically argue, through Mary. We do not ask her for guidance or help in our time of need, nor do we rely on her to help us get grace from God. This is because our Lord Jesus never instructed us to do that, and scripture does not instruct us to do this. In Scripture, we have clear instruction for our Lord Jesus to whom we should pray. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he did not invoke his mother or any prophets. He instead taught them to pray to Our Father in Heaven. Jesus promised that God the Father would hear our prayers, not Mary or any other saint for that matter. If we pray to Mary or revere her in any way which elevates her to Co-Redemptrix with Christ, then we deny Christ Jesus and his atoning work on the cross.
We also must be careful not to go to the other extreme. Some regard Mary as a person who is not to be looked up to and admired for her faith and her vocation as the mother of God. To relegate Mary to a minor behind-the-scenes actor in the birth and nurturing of Jesus is also not proper, and discounts what Scripture tells us about her.
But the issue is not the righteous cries of this unknown woman in the Gospel lesson who made a spontaneous confession of faith. We do not know from scripture how much this woman may or may not have known about Jesus. What we do know is that St. Luke wrote that she blessed Mary for being the mother of Jesus. She was blessing Mary for being the Mother of God. And as she was blessing Mary, she was also blessing our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a true confession of faith that Jesus was the Son of God.
This is an essential truth that the Devil loves to cause confusion about. The early church was besieged by heretical attacks that refused to acknowledge the true nature of Christ – fully God and fully man. We confess in the Athanasian Creed: “Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.”
Those who have been attending adult Sunday School may remember some of the heresies that were covered. The lies of the Devil about the nature of Christ have been going on since the beginning of the Church. In the fifth-century Nestorius, the archbishop of Constantinople denied that Mary was the mother of God. Nestorius denied the mystical union of the two natures of Christ, – God and Man. His heresy was condemned by the council of Ephesus (431 BC) where the title of “Theotokos” or “God-bearer” was given to Mary. Mary is the mother of God. The child that she bore, Jesus, was always and will always be God. We join with the unknown woman who rightly proclaimed, “…Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” The promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15 had to be kept, and God fulfilled it by making Mary the mother of God.
You may be asking, “Vicar, why are you telling us all this?” Well, because the heresy of Nestorianism is not dead. It is very much alive in American Protestantism. Just refer to Mary as the Mother of God and see how your protestant or non-denominational friends react. Some Lutherans will even bristle at this title. But understand this, if Mary is not the mother of God, then Jesus did not really become a man. And if God did not become man in Jesus, then we do not have a savior. Only the sacrifice of God in human flesh can satisfy the judgment of God. To challenge this personal union, the mystical union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ is to deny the Christian faith.
Yet Jesus does not leave the blessing of the woman to stand on its own. As blessed as Mary was to be the mother of God, there is something more blessed than that. I think the New King James version captures the translation the best. Jesus responds to the woman’s blessing, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Jesus is saying, you who bear God in your hearts are even more blessed than Mary who bore God in her womb.
Some, like the Roman church, argue that Mary had to be sinless to be the God-bearer. That does not make sense. To say that Mary had to be sinless in order to carry God in her womb is the same as saying we must be sinless for God to dwell within our hearts. But that is not what Jesus says. “…Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” God’s Word dwells within us, and God cannot be separated from His Word. We hear the Word of God, put our trust and confidence in it, and God himself lives within us. For where God’s Word is, there He is also.
There are two words in this passage to pay attention to; “hear” and “keep”. I don’t think the meaning of hearing needs too much explanation. To truly hear someone we must listen closely and understand the meaning of what they are telling us. If we truly “hear” something we don’t let it go in one ear and out the other. We lean in close so that we hear every syllable and understand it as best we can.
Perhaps a little more difficult to grasp is the word “keep”. When we hear the word “keep” used in this verse often our minds think its meaning means “obey”. This is true when we think of the Law of God. We are to obey it. We obey God’s Law because it is a delight to Him. God gives us the Law, not as just an arbitrary set of rules to follow, but the Law is a place of safety as we strive to live sanctified lives according to God’s Word.
But the word “keep” has a broader meaning. In Greek, the word translated as “keep” φυλάσσω is a military word. It means to guard or to watch over. The word “keep” in medieval times meant a physical place within the castle where a ruler kept prisoners and kept his most valuable treasures. The keep was also a place of safety as it usually was in the innermost parts of the castle. It can also refer to one who guards and watches over a flock of sheep. Perhaps this is why the King James version used this word in its translation and why it remains today. We should also remember this meaning when we hear the Word of Jesus as he blesses those who keep the Word of God.
If we “keep” the Word of God, this means that not only do we obey it, but we also hold on to it, we cherish it, we guard it as a precious treasure. This is probably best expressed in the Small Catechism in the explanation to the Third Commandment. “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Like many of your vocations, there is constant reading and studying to continually learn. In the same way, we study and learn God’s Word. In our walk with God, we are constantly learning and relearning.
Jesus, the Word made flesh, true God, and true man said, “…Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it”. And Jesus did this. Jesus fulfilled every word written of him in Scripture. God’s Word had to be kept, and it is kept in Christ Jesus. On the cross, Jesus suffered and died for you because of your sins. Jesus suffered and died even for those who despise His Word and hate him. And by his victorious resurrection, Jesus destroyed the power of the Devil. No longer can the Devil hold the threat of death over you. You have God’s preached Word and his written Word in Scripture. In the Sacraments is the spoken Word, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Jesus the Word made flesh, who by keeping God’s Word faithfully all the way to his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead has delivered you from sin, death, and the Devil.
The Kingdom of God has come upon us. It is here, it has already arrived! We remember how the Small Catechism on The Our Father states: “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” The Holy Spirit comes to us and lives within us by the Word we hear, the Word we read, and the Word that we obey and cherish as a precious treasure. The Word of God is a living Word that is infused with the power of Christ Jesus’ obedience, suffering, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension. The Word that we keep is the Word that keeps us and sustains us. Even when our strength is failing us, when we suffer from deteriorating health, or our faith is faltering, the Word of God sustains us in the one true faith.
There is nothing in this world as precious and valuable as God’s Word. Keeping God’s Word is keeping Christ. Where God’s Word lives, there also Christ lives. Mary became the God-bearer by conceiving in her womb, giving birth to, and raising Jesus who is the eternal God. And by keeping God’s Word, we also bear God within us.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.