The Gospel text for this Sunday [John 20:19-31] should be familiar to many; in the three-year series and in the one-year series, it is ALWAYS the text for the second Sunday of Easter. You cannot get away from this text.
For a while, a couple of these verses also appeared within The Small Catechism. In the section on Confession, in the 1986 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism (notice how Luther’s name somehow moved to the primary position), there were the following three questions and answers:
What is the Office of the Keys?*
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?*
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ [John 20:22-23]
What do you believe according to these words?*
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Note that each of these three questions has an asterisk. In that edition, the following sentence is also given: ‘* This question may not have been composed by Luther himself but reflects his teaching and was included in editions of the catechism during his lifetime.’
To borrow a question: What does this mean? These questions could be included, and they could be left out. This is not about Luther; this is about teaching, and that is more important.
If these three questions would be included, that would be okay. The five-hundredth-anniversary booklet of this catechism, entitled A Simple Explanation of Christianity, leaves these three questions in, but it leaves out the footnote. Leaving the footnote out helps to bring a greater focus on the included text. The year 2017 was an anniversary of the START of the Reformation. There is much more that could be said. There is much more that WILL be said as the 500th anniversaries of various Reformation events continue.
If these three questions would be left out, that would also be okay. This section would, in the end, focus on Confession, and that is not a bad thing. Obviously more emphasis should rightly, then, be given to the Absolution. Another good thing is the decreased emphasis on the pastor; the Lord’s words are the important thing.
You can see this lack of emphasis also in the fifth article of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the article on ‘The Ministry’. Here is the translation given in the ‘Reader’s Edition’:
‘So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake (Second Edition, 2005, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri).’
Where is the pastor? That is the point! All the way through the scriptures, it is the Word of the Lord that is the important thing (see Acts 28:31).
This is the Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. The Gospel text is Luke 24:1-12. Recently in my writings I have been trying to point to a much bigger picture, what a particular text says in relation to the other gospel accounts. This time I would like to look at just one word.
And [the women] remembered [Jesus’] words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:8-11 ESV).
When I read the translation, that the words of the women seemed to the disciples as ‘an idle tale’, it did not seem that those words were too frequently used these days. I looked into this word that ended up being translated into two words: ‘idle tale’. It turns out much more could be said.
It ends up that it takes a lot of words for BDAG (page 594) to define this word: ‘That which is totally devoid of anything worthwhile.’ And speaking of words being infrequently used, that book also gives these synonyms: ‘idle talk, nonsense, humbug(!)’.
This is the only time that word is used within the entire New Testament, but all words have some sort of history. And Luke is very careful with his vocabulary. In the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (volume 2, page 387f), there was significantly more.
It seems this word is a technical term in medical vocabulary for the delirium caused by a fever. It especially appears in the observations of Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’, the man who is the basis for the Hippocratic oath. He lived about four hundred years before Jesus.
It is interesting that Luke, a physician, chooses to use to this term. The lexicon goes on to say the following: ‘This meaning [of delirium] seems too strong as a description of the remarks of the holy women to the effect that they had found the tomb empty on Easter morning.’ But, perhaps by using this term, Luke is wanting to make a very strong point. He is, after all, talking about the very basis of Christianity.
If Jesus was still dead, and if you could go to his tomb, what difference would his words make? What difference would the rest of the bible make?
Another interesting thing was a somewhat biblical (Jewish) writing that also used this term, ‘idle tale’. In a book called 4 Maccabees (only 1-2 Maccabees typically appear within The Apocrypha), the ruler, Antiochus, is trying to get Eleazer, a lawyer, who is also connected to the priesthood by blood, to renounce the Jewish laws and eat some delicious pork (Who could make this stuff up?!). Antiochus asks him: ‘Will you not wake up from the foolishness that your philosophy produces? Will you not abandon your delirium (5:10)?
The book of 4 Maccabees was designed as a comfort and encouragement for the persecuted, so I would imagine that you know how this is going to turn out. What is most interesting is that, right as Eleazer is about to die, he says this: ‘You know, O God, that though I might have been saved, I am dying in the tortures of fire for the sake of the Law. Be merciful to your people, and be satisfied with this punishment for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs (4 Maccabees 6:27-29).’
I would think that this might remind you of someone else. That this man is related to the priests and that he says these similar things near the time that Jesus was around—that is interesting. And it shows how very easy it is to get what Jesus did wrong. It is important to remember that he is both fully God and fully man.
Prayers are requests made to God. When you have God the Son making a request to God the Father, that seems to me to be a different category. What people can do is make a good example for others to follow. What God does is totally different. That is why his Son has the name that means one who SAVES—not helps.
This Sunday is very special; it is the Sunday of the Passion. And so, the Gospel text for this Sunday is very special … and very long [Luke 23:1-56].
There are three noticeable parts of this Passion narrative that do not appear in the other three gospel accounts. Some people might consider them to be insignificant. But I believe they serve an important purpose.
In the first part of chapter 23, we hear that Herod and Pilate became friends because of Jesus (see verse 12). Near the middle of the chapter, as Jesus is making his way to the cross, he speaks to the female mourners for a significantly long time—especially if you consider his busy schedule! Jesus predicts some hard times ahead for the people in Jerusalem, and this was fulfilled in 70 A.D (see verses 27-28). Soon after, when Jesus is on the cross, one of the criminals next to him ends up repenting for his previous actions, and he asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus responds with those beautiful words, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (verse 43).’ When looking at the other three accounts, there is no indication that these three things happened.
The writer of the Gospel according to Luke begins the account by writing that he has done his homework. People have been interviewed. But I think there is something more to this.
These three ‘additions’ are similar in that Jesus is in contact with those who would have been looked down upon in some way. Those who govern are often corrupt (as is our own human nature). And perhaps you already knew that those who are women were also looked down upon. (The ISBE, volume 4, page 1089, starts with the following summary, and then goes on in some detail: ‘Nowhere in the ancient Mediterranean or Near East were women accorded the freedom that they enjoy in modern Western society.’) And it should go without saying that a criminal is also looked down upon.
The work of Luke-Acts as a whole has a high regard for those in authority, those who are women, and, frankly, those who are criminals. People change. Situations turn around. God works miracles. Jesus saves.
I also would be remiss if I do not bring up what could be considered my favorite reason for these differences. The living creature that is most often connected with this gospel account is that of the ox. I do not think it is a coincidence that the Hebrew word for ox, ‘shor’, is similar to the Hebrew word for wall, particularly a retaining wall. A retaining wall has to have some strength. It is not there to look nice. The ox does not look like a mighty one in the same way that a lion does. The ox does not have the great looks. The ox is usually silent and concentrates on getting the job done rather than fighting the enemy. The important jobs need to get done. The ox is willing to get dirty to get those jobs done. He is also willing to go alongside other animals, all with the purpose of doing his job.
To have a God that is willing to die next to a repentant person branded as a criminal, but before that happens, to promise him Paradise. Now that is a job well done.
This Sunday is the fifth Sunday in Lent, the Sunday before Holy Week. And the Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 20:9-20] certainly ‘takes the excitement up a notch’. The last verse of the appointed text often is connected to the section that follows, and it speaks of the scribes and the chief priests sending spies.
By itself, the so-called ‘Parable of the Wicked Tenants’ has enough excitement for me. And this is especially true when I compare the account in the Gospel according to Luke with the other two synoptic gospel accounts.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, it gets exciting at 21:39:
‘And [the wicked tenants] took [the owner’s son] and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ [The chief priests and the elders of the people] said to [Jesus], ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’
In the Gospel according to Mark, it gets exciting at 12:8:
‘And [the wicked tenants] took [the owner’s son] and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.’
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus ends up being a good teacher. Even though they are enemies, they have learned something. They know how to answer Jesus’ question. They end up receiving some of the focus. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus ends up being the focus. He asks the question, and he answers it himself.
I think that possibly a ‘middle ground’ text is found in the Gospel according to Luke. The excitement starts at verse 15:
‘And [the wicked tenants] threw [the owner’s son] out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When [the chief priests and the scribes with the elders] heard this, they said, ‘Surely not!’
So how can it be that in the Gospel according to Matthew, the enemies of Jesus get the answer right, and it the Gospel according to Luke, those enemies cannot bear to hear the right answer? The first way to answer is that two people in the same group may be two people with completely different perspectives. Different people answer the same questions in different ways.
What I consider to be the more important answer is to see a different role for Jesus in each of these accounts. And the different roles of Jesus are seen in his connection to each living creature.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, the living creature is the man, and a man is a much better teacher than all the other living creatures. Jesus, as a teacher, fulfills his role in that gospel account.
In the Gospel according to Mark, the living creature is the lion, and a lion is a much better fighter than all the other living creatures. The writer of this account keeps the attention on the person of Jesus, because there is going to be a great battle quite soon—this event, after all, takes place only three days before Jesus’ death.
And in the Gospel according to Luke, the living creature is the ox. The ox has the power of the lion but the gentleness of a man. For those people who do NOT give the right answer, who are ‘stuck’ with their wrong perspective, the ox is there to help. The ox is there to lead them in a different direction, a much better one. And Jesus also wants to keep going in the direction that he was headed.
In these few verses, we see Jesus’ multifaceted salvation. He is, at the very same time, teacher, fighter, and helper. That is good because we do NONE of those things as well as he does. (Incidentally, I hope you are glad that we have four gospel accounts instead of just one.)