The Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 6:27-38] is the last in the series that was making its way through the start of the Gospel according to Luke. There were texts from chapters 4, 5, and 6. The next Sunday will be Transfiguration Sunday (Luke 9), and then we will be heading into Lent.
Since Easter is so late this year, there are a LOT of Sundays after Epiphany, almost as many as there could possibly be. But that just means that there will be a later start when we take up the Gospel according to Luke again, when we continue in the church year with the texts after Pentecost (we will be starting up again at Luke 8, but we COULD have started as early as Luke 6).
That is to say both the season of Epiphany and the season of Pentecost have a similar foundation. Epiphany means a revelation or manifestation, and that points, of course, to Christ. And the season of Pentecost is a time of growth for the Church—the color is green—but the proper focus there is also on Christ. Growth does not happen apart from focusing on Christ.
It is easy to think of the second half of the church year as one that focuses on the Church and its growth, and it is a wonderful thing for the Christian Church to grow. But there is a phrase from The Book of Concord (the documents that lay out what we believe), that says the Spirit works faith, ‘where and when it pleases God’ (The Augsburg Confession, Article 5; and, in the German, it sounds surprisingly beautiful at this point: ‘…wo und wenn er will…’). That is a very small phrase, but there is a lot within it.
After coming to faith, there are a lot of ways we can start to focus on the wrong thing. That phrase is a good reminder that we are not in control. It is not OUR Church. True growth is also not under our control. We are not to focus on the Spirit; we are not to focus on ourselves; we are not even to focus on the growth—it is usually not so obvious!
When Martin Luther ‘broke away’ from the church at that time, it was important that he followed what the scriptures had to say regarding the true Church. (This was also important when C.F.W. Walther and others came over to America.) To be clear, it is not only helpful to say what you do not believe, but what you DO believe. And it is very easy, after a person ‘breaks away’, for that person in some ways to start focusing on himself or herself instead of Jesus. This has unfortunately happened in the leadership of some other church organizations.
The thing that struck me this time going through those starting chapters of Jesus’ ministry, as he starts to ‘plough the field’ and overturn the various types of soil, was the important work of understanding who he is. Jesus will meet certain people along the way, he will certainly influence them in various ways, and then, ultimately, he will start toward Jerusalem. I do not think it a coincidence that three times within just a few chapters, the very same question is asked regarding Jesus’ identity. And there is a noticeable progression regarding them.
In Luke 7:49, the question is asked by ‘those who were at the table’: ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ In Luke 8:25, the disciples ask, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?’ And in Luke 9:9, Herod says this: ‘John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things? And he sought to see him.’
I also do not think it a coincidence that the most ‘out of place’ of those three texts is the first one. Usually that text is near the end of a gospel account. In the Gospel according to Matthew, its parallel appears in 26:6-13. In the Gospel according to Mark, its parallel appears in 14:3-9. A parallel is also in the Gospel according to John at 12:1-8. But to have it so close to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry obviously makes that issue of forgiving sins (and being at the table with Jesus) very important.
The writer of the Gospel according to Luke told us up front that he would give us an orderly account, and this should be understood as a theological order, not a historical one (see BDAG, page 490). Comparatively speaking, a theological order is much more important. (If you know what happened to Jesus chronologically, you may still be dead spiritually.)
The proper focus for the entire Church year is Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. And his identity is important, because that leads to his purpose, his gift of salvation for all.
A proper focus on Jesus and his good news will not only bring blessings throughout the year, but it will bring blessings throughout a lifetime.