The Thirteenth Sunday after Holy Trinity – Luke 10:23-37
Every Sunday, we chant the Introit which is usually based upon the Psalms. Every Sunday also has a Psalm attached to it which we typically don’t chant. You wouldn’t know that because we don’t do the Psalm for the Sunday, but I do use them on shut-in visits. This week’s Psalm is Psalm 32. It starts off wonderfully:
“1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
This is the plea of every believer, Old or New Testament. God has always been known as merciful by His people. Even when, and especially when, they didn’t deserve it. How many times to you read in the Old Testament that God heard the cry of His people and acted in mercy? It’s all over the place, isn’t it?
God’s mercy is not just a New Testament reality. It’s who He is. From the beginning. You see in this Old Testament Psalm the Old Testament believers saw God as merciful. Just as we look to Jesus in faith through His Word and Sacraments, the Old Testament believers looked forward to the Messiah in faith through His Word and Old Testament sacrament of circumcision.
It is true that God wants His Christians to be merciful, like the Good Samaritan, but it is also true that God wants His Christians to know even more His mercy personally. Only when you know the mercy of God personally are you in a position to show that mercy to others.
Psalm 32 starts off with the recognition that you must receive the mercy of God first:
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Only then are you free to live your life unencumbered by the debt of sin. It is very similar to owing people a lot of money. If you owe a lot of money, you aren’t free to spend your money how you like. This is a great analogy because we all understand it on some level. A better analogy is someone who has committed a felony. He has paid his penalty and totally changed so that he’ll never commit that felony again and yet he’s always treated like a felon. Even though he’s paid his debt to society, he lives the rest of his life with the shame of his felony. You never really recover. God’s forgiveness is not like a felon who suffers even though they’ve paid their debt to society. God treats your sin as if it never happened. That’s how powerful God’s forgiveness is! As another Psalm confesses, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) We probably cannot hear that verse enough. When God forgives you with His abundant mercy, it’s like you never sinned in the first place! That is true freedom!
And it’s easy to forget that. Listen again to the second verse of Psalm 32: “Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit is no deceit.” You can understand this a couple of ways.
Have you ever had someone accuse you of something you didn’t do? It’s horrible, isn’t it. You’re like, “Look buddy, if you want to find something wrong with me, there’s plenty of places you can look, but I didn’t do what you’re accusing me of.” And if they don’t let it go, it kind of ruins your relationship. You can think of God counting no iniquity against you in two ways, 1) you’re forgiven, so He doesn’t count it against you, or 2) you didn’t do it, so God doesn’t count it against you. I think we’re tempted to think in this second way more often… God doesn’t count sin against me because I’m generally a good person.
And then we’ve fallen into the same trap as the lawyer in our Gospel who thinks he’s a good neighbor.
I think the reason we fall into this mistake is because we’re hardwired for works righteousness. Have you ever worked really hard and gotten a great grade? Have you ever worked your tail off for a promotion and gotten it? These are good things and generally how the world works. I emphasize generally because we all know deserving people get poor grades or get passed over for promotion, but generally, if you work hard, you get rewarded. But the kingdom of grace works differently. It’s all about the mercy of our dear Father in heaven.
People may accuse you of sinning and get it wrong sometimes. Our heavenly Father accuses us of sinning and gets it right every time. When God says through St. Paul that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” He knows. (Romans 3:23) God created you and sustains you. He knows you intimately. He knows you better than anyone in your life, no matter how close they are to you. He knows your deepest, darkest secrets… and still loves you. This is why St. Paul continues, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) And this love continues no matter how much better you’ve become. God does expect you to progress in your sanctification, but He doesn’t justify you because of this progress. He still justifies you by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone.
The lawyer had become deceived by thinking he earned merit before God with His works. When God says that there’s no deceit in you in verse 2 of Psalm 32, He means that you know you are still a “poor miserable sinner” who relies on grace. The lawyer wants to deny that he is a “poor miserable sinner” dependent on God. Jesus puts Him in his place with this parable, but also shows that He is the Good Samaritan.
Jesus uses a Samaritan in His parable because He knows it will anger His listeners. The Jews hated the Samaritans even more than the Romans. And they loathed the Romans. Jesus telling these Jews that the one who showed mercy was a Samaritan would be like telling the Klu Klux Klan that the Good Samaritan was black. It would be like telling the Black Panthers that the Good Samaritan was white. It would be like telling the Chinese that the Good Samaritan was Japanese. And it would be like telling the Japanese that the Good Samaritan was anything but Japanese. This reveals something about Jesus.
I cannot emphasize enough the depravity of original sin. We are all born sinful with no fear or love or trust in God. In other words, we are born enemies of God. And we do a great job of proving this again and again. But God doesn’t hold this against us. He joins Himself to His creation to save us. In our natural man, the One we detest the most came to us and showed us mercy.
We are like that man in the ditch, beaten up by sin, death, and the devil. And Jesus, the Good Samaritan comes to us and binds up our wounds and brings us to the inn of the church to take care of us. He feeds us His own body and blood as sustenance. This provides not only healing for our physical bodies but for our spiritual bodies as well. And Jesus pays the price for this healing. He hung alone and despised on a cross bleeding and dying for you! He distributes the fruit of His labor to you in the means of Grace.
This is why the Divine Service is such a big deal. The Holy Spirit used the Word of God to clear our minds so that we aren’t deceived by sin or the world or the devil. He then pronounces that we are counted righteous for Christ’s sake. He then teaches us through His Word and preaching. And then He gives Himself to us personally in His Supper. Then, and only then, are you prepared to show mercy to others.
It’s similar to what God teaches us in the fifth petition:
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
We forgive others because we’ve been forgiven. We show mercy to others because we’ve been shown mercy. And you know this is a difficult thing. It’s difficult because it involves Law and Gospel. Sometimes people need to hear the Law. And sometimes people need to hear the Gospel. Here’s a good example.
Yesterday, I conducted a service in remembrance of aborted babies. We take time to remember aborted babies because they matter to God. Abortion is a grave sin. The rhetoric of abortion has been so powerful to convince some that they are doing a virtuous thing by aborting their baby. They need to hear the Law that it is a sin. It’s the taking of an innocent life. If someone is utterly convinced that they have done the right thing with their abortion, then showing them mercy is doing damage to them. It’s like throwing pearls before swine. It cheapens the mercy of God.
But thanks be to God, many who have participated directly or complicitly in abortion have seen that it’s a sin. They don’t need to hear the Law. The Holy Spirit has already done His work through the Law. They need to hear grace. Jesus died for those who have participated in abortion. It is not the unforgivable sin. Jesus bled and died for that sin.
If you have participated in that sin and repented, God has removed that sin from you as far as the east is from the west. In God’s eyes, it’s as if you never did it. This is where the devil likes to come in and mess with you. “Can God really forgive you… YOU?” When you are plagued by the devil, look to the cross. Here you see the love of God for YOU. He bled and died for YOU. You are no longer under condemnation. When you are plagued by the devil, remember your baptism. This is where God came to you personally, claimed you as His own, and forgiven you ALL your sins. Every. Single. One. No matter how grave. Listen to these beautiful words from St. Paul talking about baptism:
“In Him, [you] have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of [your] trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavishes upon [you.]” (Ephesians 1:7-8)
“Lavishes” is a baptism word. There’s no doubt that Paul had in mind baptism as he wrote this through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And God determined this before the foundation of the world! He knew every single sin you would commit in your lifetime. Yet He determined to “lavish” His grace upon you in your baptism.
Once you know this, and are repeatedly reminded of this, then you’re in a position to lavish grace to your neighbor.
God wants to be known as merciful. God wants you to show His mercy to your neighbor. That’s why He says, “You go, and do likewise.” (v. 37) But you don’t extend your own mercy, as if you could. You extend the mercy that has been so richly lavished upon you. You live out the first two verses of Psalm 32: “1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit is no deceit.” And when you do that, God the Holy Spirit, works repentance and faith when and where He wills to the glory of God our Father. Amen.