From Hearers to Sons to Elvis
C. S. Lewis observed that a surgeon is worse than a cruel person. A surgeon only inflicts to heal; a cruel person means to inflict pain and so could be bribed or begged into relenting. A surgeon has wholly good intentions. "The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless" (A Grief Observed, 50) Our Lord is a surgeon in this text. He doesn't quit till He takes us from hearers, to sons, to Elvis.
This text, unlike last Sunday's, is for hearers. That's the but' this text begins with. It's most emphatic in Greek. Last week, though Jesus was surrounded by crowds of Jews and Gentiles, He "lifted His eyes to His disciples and said to them." "But" this week He speaks "to those who hear" Him. In contrast to last week's text, this is not for disciples but hearers. In the Early Church there was a class of penitents called Hearers who were allowed inside the church, unlike Weepers who had to remain outside, but after hearing Scriptures and Sermon, Hearers had to leave (Schaff, II, 189). These were probably named from the "hearers" mentioned in our text, but the hearers of Bible times weren't under church discipline. They weren't in the Church either.
So being outside the Church, i.e. not yet in the faith, they get law. They first had to hear why they needed a Savior, why they couldn't save themselves, why God was angry, yes as hell, at them. Not feeling well can cause you to go to a doctor and listen, hear him out. But if you're not convinced you're really sick, he's going to spend his time convincing you, showing you, proving to you that you are. And if takes causing you pain, pushing on a sore spot, poking a tender spot, moving a sensitive limb, he'll do that till you are convinced you need a doctor.
That's what the Great Physician is doing in our text. His goal is to turn hearers into sons of the Most High, and it starts with an undoable Law. This un-doable-ness comes out in the original Greek. The theme of His message is your policy must be to love your enemies, to do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you, and to pray for those who mistreat you. So far He's talking about what's going on in your heart. Now He moves to the realm of the physical. He says your everyday policy must be when struck to turn the other check and when someone takes your garment don't even dare think of stopping him from taking your tunic too.
At this point your Old Adam, your fallen conscience, my self-justifying self is running for cover. I'm thinking of things I do that might meet these policies or I'm thinking of why the things I've done aren't condemned by them. So, Jesus brings out the big guns. You can't see that because of the translation. Three times the insert has Jesus asking, "What credit is it to you?" What credit is it to you if you love those who love you, do good to those who are good to you, lend to those you expect repayment from? Translating this way puts you in realm of business, but we're in the realm of theology. The word the insert translates credit' is the word grace'. Hearers can't be sons apart from grace, and it takes no grace at all to love those who love you, to do good to those who do you good, to lend to those you'll get repayment from. Even sinners', that is those whom you consider to be the real sinners, drug dealers, thugs, homosexuals, and abortionists, do these graceless acts of love.
Without grace you're no son of the Most High who is kind, mild, pleasant to the 2 groups that everyone thinks they have a right to be unkind, harsh, and sharp towards. The ungrateful, that is literally the ungracious, and the actively wicked. O how my anger burns against the ungrateful. "You ungrateful" and what follows may not be profane but it's surely harsh. But I feel justified when I lash out at the dog that bites the hand that feeds it, at the ungracious person who doesn't see how gracious I'm being. And every American raised on 50's westerns, 70's cop shows, or 90's comic heroes knows that it is a good to do bad to an evil person. Well, the Most High doesn't, the Father of your Lord Jesus, doesn't. He is mild, pleasant, kind to the ungrateful and wicked, and thanks be to God because that describes me.
Hear and believe you too are the un-gracious and the wicked. You think because you can recall no monstrous act of ingratitude or any particular act of evil that this isn't you. What you're forgetting is as you can die from a thousand papers cuts, so slip-sliding away here and there into ingratitude and wickedness makes you just as guilty of ingratitude as Joash who stoned the son of the man who rescued him (2 Chron. 24) or of active wickedness as Absalom (2 Sam. 15). But if you plead guilty to these charges, then hear and believe the Most High God is kind to you. More than kind He is merciful. This isn't the usual word for mercy that we sing "Lord have mercy" for. The word in our text means not just the feeling of mercy but merciful action.
Our Father in heaven is actively merciful to ungrateful, evil people like us not for the sake of us sons and daughters but for the sake of His only beloved Son. The Son, living a perfect life never needed mercy. The Son who always did those things that pleased His Father deserved His Father's love, blessing, and help. However, the Son loaded with the sins of the world, the Son loaded with sins of ingratitude and ugly evil not His own did deserve mercy, but the Father was merciless to Him. Years ago I was in an accident with a driver who fled the scene. My uninsured motorist covered me. My insurance called to say that I got pain and suffering. I said how does that work when I'm dealing with my own insurance carrier. He said, "Think of us as if we were the driver who hit you and ran." The Father "made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us," says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. "Why you ungrateful, wicked Son," thunders the Father as He in wrath unleashes a thousand bolts of lightning and ten thousand hammers of hell on Jesus hanging on the cross bearing the world's sins.
Hearers who believe it was Jesus in place of them become sons of the Most High and from sons the next stop is Elvis. Elvis's second number one hit was "All Shook Up" and he was all shook up because he was in love. God's love for you for Jesus' sake shakes you up. Undeserved, unmerited, unlooked for mercy does that. Jean Valjean being mercied by a bishop and so spared from going back to being a galley slave from which after 19 years he was just freed, Sally Field mercying Danny Glover who stole from her changes both forever. If there is a place in your heart where you see that is how your Father in Christ deals with you, broken will be the iron law of reciprocity between you and others. It's no longer a matter of what that ungrateful so and so or that person who is evil to me deserves. It's a matter of God in Christ not rewarding me according to my iniquities, of while I was still God's enemy Christ dying for me.
Rather than judging and condemning others, make it your policy to let it go as God in Christ did your sins. As PBS admonishes you, "Be more PBS" I say, "Be more Psalm 103." Psalm 103 is where the Introit comes from. It's a Psalm of David who had been mercied after committing adultery and murder and being rock-hard impenitent for a year. When confronted by Pastor Nathan David says, "I have sinned against the Lord." The Lord replies through the pastor's mouth, "The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die." This David writes Psalm 103's paean of praise to the God who "forgives all my sins", who "does not treat us as our sins deserve", but "as far as east is from west so far has He removed our transgressions from us."
Hearers who become sons are forgiven sinners far separated from their sins and this leads to the policy change of others getting our pardon rather than what they deserve. The insert has "forgive and you will be forgiven, but this isn't the usual word for forgive'. This Greek word means set free, release, pardon, let go, send away, dismiss. Do what George Straits sings should be done with all the things that remind him of his ex-wife: "Just give it away." Be more Psalm 103; just give away to the Lord that ache, that pain, that sin, that wrong done against you. "Just give it away" for the sins of others that we keep don't weigh them down, but us.
Make it your policy to not only forgive but give. Present imperative Greek verbs are called policy commands. Having a policy means that what is to be done or not done in a situation has already been thought through. Sons of the Most High, children who've been mercied by their Father for Jesus' sake, live under a new policy. Jesus uses imagery from the market think of flour, grain, beans, rice packed by weight not by volume. Something packed by volume means you get as much as will fill up the container. By weight means you actually get that amount. You are to see, grace, pardon, and gift, always packed by volume. This is a Greek perfect; the grace, pardon, and gift packed by the Most High Father for Jesus' sake is forever pressed down, overflowing, and like Elvis, all shook up.
Just when you thought that God in Christ couldn't give you any more grace, pardon, or gifts, He shakes up the measure and dumps more in. In fact, Paul tells us says where sins abound grace does abound even more (Rom. 5:20). Touched by that sort of grace you can't but be changed, but don't focus on your changing; focus on your being touched by that sort of grace, pardon, and gifts. Be more Psalm 130. We chant not just that "there is forgiveness" but that "With the Lord there is plenteous redemption."
Moderns translate instead of plenteous redemption" abundant, unlimited, generous, overflowing you know like in a marketplace. And your Surgeon won't be satisfied till you're not only a hearer of this overflowing redemption but a receiver of it. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventh Sunday After Epiphany (20190224); Luke 6: 27-38