The first thing that stands out in today’s story is that Jesus pulled a really good “gotcha” on the Pharisees’ disciples & the Herodians. Don’t be smug about Jesus’ gotcha on these religious leaders. It is for your sake — intended to getCHU! To call you to repentance. To call you to invest yourself, your heart, your concern, in the valuable things of God, rather than in the urgent, pressing things of this world, which seem so important, but are truly nothing but vanity and vapor. The coin used to pay taxes to the emperor is imprinted with the emperor’s image, but your heart is imprinted with Christ’s image at your baptism.
Whatever else this difficult passage says, know for certain that we are here today at the wedding banquet, celebrating our Lord Jesus’ marriage to the church. This marriage is called the happy exchange, in which Christ marries himself to all our weakness, misery, and shame, while marrying us to all his grace, love, forgiveness and joy. Let your faith cling to this reality above everything else. Let it guide your heart as you look at the other, more violent and scary images in this parable. Because God’s Word never wants to say anything else to you than Jesus Christ crucified for the justification of the ungodly. Everything is in service to that.
God’s kingdom is for those, who like our Lord Jesus, bear the fruit of the kingdom. But we ourselves are not in charge of production. God produces when and where God chooses. My job and yours is simply to show up for duty, ready to obey God’s Word.
When Jesus reveals Truth to us at the exact same time that Truth judges us. It shows us not only that we are wrong, but also that because we are convinced we are right we dig in & rush more & more intentionally toward what is wrong. The only way out of this hopeless mess is Jesus. He poured himself out for you & me not because we are any more whole or any closer to what God wants us to be than the chief priests and elders. He did it because we are sinners and we need him to save us from the wrath of God’s righteous judgement. As the beautiful hymn says, “When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, … beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.” Hear and believe that his gift is for you.
God’s mercy is a problem for us because God is merciful even to those whose behavior is so egregious that only a fool or a liar or a callous person would fail to be outraged by what they do. There is no sense in which God’s grace encourages us or allows us to be indifferent to outrageous behavior. God knows how to be perfectly just and perfectly merciful. We do not know how to be either. So, we crucify the God of mercy and the God of mercy sacrifices the One and Only Son to have mercy on us.
For sinners, forgiveness is complicated. It can easily work to further victimize the one who was wronged & shield or even empower the wrongdoer to do more wrong. The Bible calls it healing the wound lightly (Jeremiah 6:14 & 8:11) In America we could call it “healing the wound whitely.” when you look at how quickly white America wants to get past the horror of slavery & its fallout. “Let’s not dwell on the past etc…” Across the board, regardless of race, when we are the wrongdoers ALL of us want to shift the focus to forgiveness, ASAP! That is why Peter asks Jesus the question…
Pentecost 14 sermon, Matthew 18:15-17, Ezekiel 33:7-11