September 9, 2022 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Proper 19/C [Pent. 14] September 11, 2022: Ps. 119:169-176; Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 Timothy 1:5-17; Luke 15:1-10.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (vv. 1, 2).
One can almost empathize with the scholars of Moses’ law. Jesus invited outsiders into feeding fellowship, an intimacy that would turn Israel’s leader’s world “upside-down” (cp. Lk. 7:34).
It must have seemed Jesus endorsed lawlessness while eschewing Pharisaical “righteousness”. For scribes, Torah lawyers, Jesus’ associations with sinners were “crazy”, threatening centuries old vocations as spiritual shepherds of God’s people. Jesus’ meal invitation to sinners seemed to endorse “evil as good, and good as evil” (Isa. 5:20).
Jesus, in the train of JB, taught a baptism of repentance, a turning from sin; yet this baptism of repentance was altogether different than understood by Moses’ shepherds. In turning from sin one must turn toward Someone, Jesus, God’s shepherd par excellence, a stature the Mosaic teachers arrogated; thus their disbelief of JB and Jesus.
St. Paul observed of the Ephesus congregations the confusion Jesus addresses today, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Paul identified the danger, “Certain persons by swerving from these [aims] have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding …” (1 Tim. 1:5-7a).
The problem confronting Jesus, St. Paul, and every Christian congregation is to understanding “repentant faith”; the question: is repentant love begotten of God’s law or of Christ’s gospel activity on the cross?
Pharisees and scribes thought Abraham’s faith located in obedience to God’s command. Baffled by JB’s and Jesus’ call to repentance, they grumbled “sinners, tax collectors, and others ‘afflicted of God’: the poor, crippled, lame, and blind, must be excluded from Jesus’ communion of unmerited grace.
At their own Sabbath seder Jesus taught; “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you (Lk, 14:12-14). Jesus endorsed repentance oriented, not in the law’s demand, but in God’s love of sinners.
For teachers of Moses’ law, ancient or modern, Jesus’ drawing of sinners to himself was exactly the wrong way of salvation; in short, a congregation of confessed sinners were perceived as “deplorables”, “irredeemable”, “abominations”.
Pharisees and scribes, are purveyors of God’s perfect morality, holding themselves-out exemplars of “righteous” behavior; so that by following their lead the Kingdom of Heaven would be ushering-in.
To their astonishment, JB proclaimed the Kingdom already arrived, wholly apart from Pharisaical “righteousness”; “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29, 36).
These shepherds of Israel rejected John’s baptism; on the other hand, sinners admitting their condition and inability to obey God’s law, believed the proclamation that in turning to God’s Lamb all men find atonement, forgiveness, gracious love, and a good conscience in sincere faith.
JB’s answered two outstanding questions: 1st) Isaac asking his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7, 8); and, 2nd) “from whence comes our repentance?” St. John, the evangelist replies, “not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins … We love, [by what God desires most, repentant faith], because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:10, 19).
This morning and next Jesus illustrates source of our repentant faith in three parables: 1) the lost and found sheep, 2) the lost and found coin, and 3) the lost and found son.
God sent Jesus, his Davidic Good Shepherd to replace those without understanding … [and] that Jesus came into the world to save [not the “righteous”] but sinners…” (1 Tim. 1:7, 15b).
The thing about sheep is that any one is pretty much like another; certainly, in the sense that all have gone astray (Isa. 53:6). But God by his love of sinners takes exquisite concern and care of us; “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ezek. 34:11).
God’s obsessive concern constantly counts, seeks, and sorts the flock. When one goes missing, he goes out to save, restore, carry, bed-it, bind its wounds, nourishes, and strengthens it in the power of his word and Sacrament.
God’s love for his wandering sheep knows no bounds, to the extent of sending his only Son, to be crucified Lamb of our propitiation, the place to where our following leads. Is it any wonder that ostracized sinners flocked to Jesus for a new begetting in repentance, not of the law.
Finally, Jesus employs a feminine figure for his church, illustrating the word’s illumination for coming to repentance. The woman lost, a part of her dowry, who is Christ, one of ten valuable coins. The Emphasis congregations would have recognized the loss of its treasure, as “persons … without understanding” (1 Tim. 1:6, 7), associated with Christ in the Church. To counter ignorance and false doctrine, St. Paul left Timothy, their Overseer.
By the light the woman’s lamp, the sweep of God’s word proclaims Jesus only; the woman locates her Coin. By law and gospel distinguished, the church has dowery joy. Amen.