16 June 2013

We Are Debtors, That Is True

We are all debtors; that is true.  Nor is any one of us able to repay the debt that is owed.

You are obliged, first of all, to keep the Law and obey the commandments of God.  But you do not.  And for every point at which you fail and fall short, for every act of disobedience, and for each and every duty that you have neglected to do, you are under the curse of the Law.

There is more to your burden and your brokenness than that.  Not only do your find yourself unable to fulfill the Law’s demands, but neither can you go back and try again to make things right; no more than David could rewind the clock in order to undo the evil he had done.

You may be able to do better in the future, and maybe you will, or maybe you won’t.  But you can’t take back the sinful words that you’ve already spoken; and you can’t reverse the hurt and the harm that you’ve already caused.  Often enough, it is not even possible to clean up your mess, to repair the damage you’ve done, or to make amends for your failings.  Indeed, your efforts to “correct” and cover up your mistakes may lead only to more and worse sins.  You can’t pay back your debt.

Neither can you repay what is forgiven by the grace of God, or what He gives to you by charity. That is by the very nature of the case: You cannot earn His favor, but can only receive His gifts.  You could not afford to purchase all that He gives you, even if it were for sale, and even if you weren’t already broke.  But He gives it to you freely, by fatherly divine goodness and mercy, for the sake of His own love.  Your debt, in return, is simply to give Him thanks for all His benefits.

It is meet and right to give Him thanks and praise; not only for your life and all that you have, for your body and soul and all that you need, from one day to the next, but especially because the Lord God graciously forgives all of His debtors all of their debts.  He foots the bill and covers the cost.  He forgives even your ingratitude, and continues to provide for you and all, even without thanks.

Under such grace, there is no difference between sinners, as though one were less bad or another much worse.  No one is deserving; no, not one.  And yet, everyone is forgiven everything by God.

For Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, in human flesh and blood on our behalf, has become the curse and has removed it from us all.  He has paid the entire debt of the whole Law, suffering its condemnation and its punishment of sin, while fulfilling it completely in our stead: Not only the letter, jot and tittle, of its demands, but also its heart and spirit, which is divine love, grace, and mercy.  He has acted in perfect faith and faithfulness before His God and Father, and with full and free compassion for sinners, being the one true Man after His Father’s own great heart of love.

The preaching of repentance, therefore, proclaims and points to Him, to this Man, Christ Jesus, and says of Him: There is God, and His Kingdom, and His Righteousness.

The sinful woman in this Holy Gospel heard that preaching of repentance, perhaps from St. John the Baptist, and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, she responded in faith by seeking out Jesus in love, trusting His forgiveness, and giving Him her thanks and praise.

She speaks not a word, but her actions confess her faith and love, and they teach you concerning Christ Jesus: That forgiveness and life and salvation are found in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, in the House and at the Table where He is.  That is where you go to receive His gifts, and to worship the Lord your God.  Faith and love lay hold of God, by laying hold of Christ’s Body.

What this woman does for Jesus is not very practical or “necessary,” but rather quite extravagant.  Many people would say and accuse that her actions are “too much,” or “inappropriate.”  But the Lord acknowledges her, and He graciously receives her love for Him, because it is the overflowing of His great love for her.  She lavishes such grateful affection and loving devotion upon Him, who loves her and has given Himself for her; who also loves you, and has given Himself for you.

Simon the Pharisee perceived the whole situation very differently.  He measured and evaluated everything and everyone according to the righteousness of the Law; except that he didn’t really grasp or understand the Law rightly.  He sat in judgment of Jesus, and in judgment of the woman, while he justified himself in his own estimation.

Simon hid his sins from others, and perhaps he hid them even from himself, but he was not without sin; nor could he hide his sins from God, any more than he could hide his thoughts and feelings from the Lord Jesus.  In fact, on this occasion, anyway, Simon the Pharisee was condemned and cursed by his own condemnation of the woman, because he had no compassion for her.  For he placed himself under the judgment of the Law, by which no one shall be justified.  And he rejected the Christ, who alone fulfills the Law and redeems those who are under the curse of the Law.

The woman, though, acknowledges the true justice of God: She recognizes the righteousness of His Law, and she has been painfully aware of her many sins.  But she also trusts the compassion of Christ, and that He alone is righteous in His grace and mercy and forgiveness.

She forgets herself, and loses herself in love for Him alone, and suffers herself to be crucified and die with Him, as it were; so that she might live, no longer in herself, but in Christ, and He in her.

She has it exactly right.  This is the wisdom of God.  This is the peace that belongs to His children.

The grace and beauty of her love derive entirely from the grace and beauty of her Savior, Jesus Christ.  She sees no one else but Him.  She is not self-conscious, nor is she troubled or dissuaded by the accusing looks, the disapproving stares, and the whispered taunts of Simon and his guests; because she has come to know and to believe that Christ Jesus graciously forgives all sins, and that He is the Savior of sinners.  Knowing herself to be a sinner, she knows, therefore, that He is her Savior.  And she loves Him, because He loves her and has given her a whole new life.

Believe this: Your sins are also forgiven by the same Lord Jesus Christ.  Your life and salvation and peace with God are found in Him.  And all of this is for you, because He loves you.

The Rich Man who made Himself poor in order to make you wealthy with all the treasures of His Kingdom and the righteousness of God; who bore your sin and became the curse that condemned you, in order to bless you by His grace and bear you back to His God and Father as a beloved child and heir — He sees you and beholds you in tender compassion and with sweet affection.  He does not see in you a loose woman or a loser.  He does not see “white trash,” nor any other kind of trash, nor a worthless, wasted life.  He does not look at your sins, nor does He consider them or count them against you.  But He looks on you in love, and, for the sake of His love, He counts your faith in Him as abundant fruit, and your works of love as precious gifts: The way a father loves and receives the simple words and drawings of his children as masterpieces of eloquence and art.

You are not a floozy or a flunky in His eyes, no matter what your past or your reputation may be.  But you are a beloved daughter to Him, or His own dear son, and He delights in you.

Thus, at His invitation, you have entered His House, and here you receive His gentle hospitality.  See, He has prepared His Table before you, even in the presence of your enemies, who no longer have anything to say against you, because the Lord has silenced all their accusations by His Cross.  He washes your feet with His Word of forgiveness, so that, by the grace of His Gospel, you are entirely clean.  He anoints your head with the Oil of His Holy Spirit, whereby you are sanctified; and His own righteousness is your perfume, whereby you and your life are a fragrant and pleasing aroma to your God and Father in heaven.

And now, the Lord Jesus girds Himself to serve you, so that you may eat His Bread and drink of His Cup, and recline here in His bosom, and find your peace and rest in Him.  Therefore, do not be afraid.  You shall not be put to shame.  For the Lord is faithful, who forgives you all your sins and remembers them no more.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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