Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jesus Receives Sinners

Third Sunday after Trinity
June 16, 2013
They should have known. Of all people, they should have known. There are two readings we’ve heard this morning that show this. One that was written before the instance of our Gospel reading and one after. The Old Testament reading beautifully describes God’s gracious and merciful love for us. The Epistle reading shows that obviously it was still a problem of people resting in their self-righteousness and resisting the notion of grace and mercy for the less-desirable among us.

So Jesus doesn’t straight out explain to them, You guys should have known. No, Jesus does here what He so masterfully does. He tells a story. Sometimes there comes a point where saying, You should have known, falls on deaf ears. So Jesus is going to come at this with a different tack. He will show these Pharisees and scribes what they should have known.

This is how it’s stated in the Gospel reading: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Those religious leaders should have known. They should have known that, yes, Jesus does receive sinners and eat with them. They should have known, as the Old Testament so clearly lays forth, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Yes, that’s what Jesus does, He receives sinners and eats with them. He forgives them. And those Pharisees and scribes should have known that. They were so consumed with their own self-righteousness, they forgot that Jesus came for sinners. They were so caught up in being worthy and being a person of good repute, they dismissed the Jesus who came for those who realized they were unworthy and unrighteous. They should have known. They knew the Scriptures. They knew what Micah said in chapter 7, which is where our Old Testament reading today is from.

In the Epistle reading we see that this problem never goes away. Those who should have learned have not. Those who should have known forgot. Those who continue to place themselves above others are not seeing Jesus for who He is. Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

They should have known, but they didn’t. The Pharisees and scribes were indeed upstanding people. But they should have known what the Scripture says about God and His love for people.  It is for sinners. It is for those of questionable character. It is for those who are humbled because they come to see that they truly are not worthy of the favor of God or any reward from Him. What was a beautiful thing, “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus],” was abhorrent to the religious leaders. Their condemnation of Jesus, “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” was actually the purest Gospel.

And they should have known that. So Jesus tells them His parables. A sheep that is lost. A coin that is missing. Should the man just be glad that he had ninety-nine other sheep and just chalk up the loss of the one? Should the woman just be glad it was only one coin she lost, and just be glad she didn’t lose more, and for that matter, she still had a house to live in? No, Jesus’ approach is that the man goes after that one sheep. The woman tears up the house to find that one coin. There were already those fine, upstanding, by the book righteous Pharisees and scribes, that should have been good enough. But He went looking for those who were lost. As the religious leaders condescendingly refer to them as, ‘sinners’.

They should have known. All through the Scriptures this is the story of God. It is Him seeking out and saving the lost. Sinners. Those who are not worthy. Those who have no righteousness of their own. You see, the Pharisees, the scribes, the self-righteous, the good people if you will, they feasted sumptuously on their own works and egos and desires and righteousness. But who did Jesus eat with? The sinners. The unrighteous if you will. Those who were unworthy. Now it’s a fact that everyone is unworthy. But notice the difference. The tax collectors and sinners realized it. They believed it. They knew their only hope was the mercy of God. They repented. They saw in Jesus one who would accept them not for who they should be but for who they were. And who was that? Sinners.

And when that sheep was found, the guy rejoiced. When that coin was found, the woman rejoiced. When just that one sinner repented, the angels had a huge party. There was rejoicing all across heaven. Meanwhile those who were filled up in their own righteousness were eating a meal of their own pride, which only leads to death.

So if it’s the case that you, too, should have known, here is your opportunity to know that the Bible is ceaseless in its bringing Christ to you, a sinner.  If you were building yourself up by the knowledge of all the wonderful things you do to serve in the Church or all the good you do in serving those outside the Church, you should have known that those are simply unworthy works your Lord Himself has prepared for you to do. That they are, in fact, part of the way in which you rejoice along with the angels in heaven. After all, when Jesus comes to you and eats with you the focus certainly is not on you, but rather on Him.

And that is why He will continue to receive and eat with sinners. It is why He will keep inviting you to eat with Him and actually partake of Him. It is why He will give you often in the bread and wine of His Supper His very self, His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Because that’s really the key to this all. You are a sinner. And you know who He welcomes to His Table? Sinners. Those who are unworthy so that He can fill them up with His worthiness, His righteousness, His forgiveness, His salvation, His very self.

You should have known this. And actually, you do. You know Him and believe He is your Lord and Savior. But you continue to falter and stumble and fall and sin. In those times you should have known. In those times it’s more apparent than ever that you are a sinner. That you need forgiveness. That you need Christ. And it’s at those times that it’s more apparent than ever that, thank God, you are Baptized. You are a sinner who has been redeemed by God. You have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection in those waters of Baptism. And that daily, daily!, you die and rise with Christ in repentance and receiving forgiveness.

So that on that day when your Lord calls you home, whether it be soon or many years from now, you will see what it’s all about; all those angels rejoicing. That they will be rejoicing for one sinner, for you. That when you stand before the Almighty God on the day of judgment, and though you should have known, you will say, God Almighty, I have nothing to offer you. All of my works are as filthy rags. All of my righteousness is self-righteousness and therefore unworthy. All I have is filled with sin and evil. I have nothing good to offer you and so the only thing I can offer to You is my sin and my unrighteousness. I am unworthy and deserve only eternal damnation.

You should have known, and that is why He will remind you, and why perhaps the best way to observe Father’s Day today, is to ponder what your Heavenly Father will say to you, This is why I have given you My Son. Because He receives sinners and eats with them. He does not welcome the righteous, those who have something to offer. But rather those who are exactly as you are, a sinner. And all of that sin and unrighteousness that you offer Me? I will gladly and joyfully take it. For it has already been done. It has been laid upon My only-begotten Son. It has been put to death in His death on the cross. It has been drowned in those waters of Baptism that flowed over you. Welcome into My eternal Kingdom and the Eternal Feast.

And now you know why those angels have so much rejoicing going on! Amen.


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