Epiphany for the Apostles
What the large catch of fish was to Peter last week, today's text is for the rest of the 12. Today's Epiphany for the apostles. Peter's Epiphany was introduced with "and it came to pass". The next time it introduces the disciples walking through a grainfield eating grain accused of breaking the Sabbath. Then "and it came to pass" introduces another Sabbath where Jesus was dared to heal on it. Then "and it came to pass" introduces Jesus going up on the mountain to pray all night and at daybreak choosing the 12 apostles. Now with no break in the action, we're at our text: Jesus went down with them, the apostles, and stood on a level place.
Jesus is shown as the Man who is God that can attract all. See how Dr. Luke sorts them out. The 12 come down with Jesus from the mountain of prayer, but "a large crowd of Jesus' disciples was there" literally a multitude of many. But that's not all. There was also "a great number of people from all over Judea." They hailed from Jerusalem, the OT church's HQ, and even from pagan lands like Tyre and Sidon. The appearance of God in flesh and blood was a big draw. And look what the Holy Spirit says their first purpose in coming was. First, they had come to hear Jesus, and second, the came to be healed by Him of their diseases. That's better than me most days. Most days I'm more concerned with my physical, mental, or emotional pain than what Jesus has to say about anything. Truthfully, now wouldn't you value Baptism higher if we baptized children into health rather than the Triune God? How about if absolution sent your dour moods away rather than sins? And what if eating and drinking the Body and Blood of God just made you younger? Not the people in our text; they came first for Jesus' Word.
But much like last week where 2 loads of fish so large to tear sturdy commercial fishing nets and sink 2 of their boats was an epiphany of Jesus' power, here it's a real show. Those troubled by evil spirts were cured. What it specifically says is that Jesus cured them of unclean spirits Of course, they're evil. What else is the source of thoughts so vile we feel tainted, befouled, stained by them? What else but unclean spirits in our world and flesh is the source of not just moral guilt for forgiven sins but a physical feeling of being dirty, smelly, unwashed? We know from other reports that evil spirits don't go quietly, so this is quite a sight. But Luke isn't done. Not the apostles, not the large group of His disciples, not even the people but a crowd are all trying to touch Jesus because the power of God was coming from His physical body and was healing all. The first word translated people, is laos and could refer to those elected to salvation from all the places mentioned. The second word translated 'people' is ochlos. It's the opposite of an organized assembly. It's a mob (Trench, 367-369).
From this chaotic seen, Luke moves to recording what is sometimes called "The Sermon on the Plain." There seems to be a disconnect here. The mob "attacks" the Christ, God in Man made manifest, for physical health and got it. And then Jesus launches into a sermon that teaches what appears to be blessing or woe may not be that at all. What gives? I'll tell you what: until Jesus starts speaking I'm in their with the mob trying to get my hands on Jesus to stop this pain, relieve the hurt, heal this woe. I'm in there trying to get relief from poor health, hunger, weeping, and the hatred of men. Then appears this God who is Man saying all that I'm aching to be rid of is blessed! Hmm.
Luther too makes us take another look at our understanding of blessedness and woe. He says, "Satan causes his captives to believe themselves free and happy. For Satan knows that if a man were to realize his own misery, he would not be able to retain anyone in his kingdom, because God could not but at once pity and help him who recognizes his misery and crises for help (LW, 33, 130). You know who styles themselves 'gay' among us. You know the only reason LGBTQ people say they're miserable is because we won't accept them or their unreality. Moreover, it's always been "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" that have attracted not lifestyles of the poor and forgotten. But the Devil is a price changer. He goes to supermarkets and marks hamburger at 18.99/pound and prime rib at 2.99 and we storm the stores of this life seeking the 18.99 happiness of here and now rather than the 2.99 blessedness of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus' name.
According to this Epiphany of Jesus: The poor in Spirit, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, and rejected because of Jesus is the real prime rib though the Devil marks it at 2.99 and the world considers it hamburger. But the real hamburger is to find comfort in riches here, to be completely satisfied here, to find your joy in the world, to want everyone to speak well of you. Here, like last week, though not a parable we have an over the top aspect to this Epiphany of Jesus: to see in the God-Man Jesus that what the world considers hamburger is the prime rib and to rejoice, to leap about for joy when hated, exclude, insulted and rejected in Jesus' name. But that's just plain crazy, isn't it? Who can do that? No one in their own strength. This word for leap about with joy is only used by Luke here and to describe what unborn John did when he first met Jesus in the womb of His mother. Mary's greeting his mom filled John with the Holy Spirit. It's only by that Spirit the unborn or born can leap about for true joy in any situation.
How does one get such joy in the Spirit in the midst of suffering? English poet and pastor, Edward Shillito, wrote the poem "We Need Thee O Jesus of the Scars" in 1919 in the wake of the horrible sufferings and loss of life inflicted on England by WW1. The last stanza reads: "The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;/ They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;/ But to our wounds only God's wounds can speak,/ And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone." Only those poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, and insulted need the scarred Jesus. Only those unsatisfied ultimately with any kingdom now want the Kingdom of God that comes with and in the Man Jesus.
Johnny Cash a year before dying seems to finally have gotten this. He recorded Nine Inch Nails' song "Hurt" where he sings with more pathos than the original: "And you could have it all/ My empire of dirt." What else can any empire, kingdom made by men who are made of dirt be but dirt? And who can redeem us men of the dirt except the one who descended into our dirt to take our place under all the requirements of the law and God's judgments for breaking them? Jesus did this winning not only forgiveness for men of dirt but His Holy Spirit for us too. But get this: Today He gives us the Holy Spirit He won through visible things on this planet of dirt. By Water poured on us. By Words spoken by another man of dirt. By Bread and Wine which are His Body and Blood. Note to whom the text says Jesus spoke His sermon about what is truly woe and what is truly blessed. "Looking at His disciples He said." It was only to disciples, whether apostles, disciples, people from OT church or even pagan lands. It wasn't to the crowd mobbing "genie" Jesus. They got all they came for: healing for their bodies of dirt.
Fellow disciples, you know that today Satan attaches glory, power, freedom to open rebellion against God, to sexual license, to every vile thing you can think of and not. Those in Christ see these for the sins they are, but we're not so discerning about the glory of the world. Remember whom Paul says this world's god is? Satan (2 Cor. 4:4). He attaches glory to having the most toys, the best of everything, a robust body. We have a hard time seeing that we're pursuing 2.99 hamburger not 18.99 prime rib. We have a hard time seeing that's me in the mob clamoring to get me a piece of genie Jesus. The wonder is that Jesus gives it here, probably for the benefit of His disciples. To those satisfied with physical blessing that's all they get.
For those not satisfied, for those poor, hungry, crying, hated, excluded, and insulted for Jesus' sake, Jesus of the scars calls them to where God has safely hidden His kingdom where only those drawn to seek, ask, knock for it will find it. He hides the power and the glory of His kingdom. In our text, during Jesus' earthly ministry, it's hidden in the flesh of the Man Jesus. After Jesus had finished paying for our sins and the Father had risen Jesus from the dead to show He had accepted His payment for the sins of the world, He received the God-Man back into heaven. But the kingdom of Jesus of the scars, didn't go with Him. No, it's hidden here in that Water, these Words, and that Bread and Wine.
Historically, the church placed a physical veil over the Communion Elements as an indication that much more is here than meets the eyes. But only when the Word removes the scales from our eyes, can we stand before these elements and say with Thomas, "My Lord and My God." Or with David "My health and salvation." Thomas said it to the Man Jesus; David said it of the God who appeared in the Cloudy Prescence, the Passover Lamb, the Scapegoat. We say it of Bread that is the Body of Christ and Wine that is His Blood. We say it of the Words of forgiveness spoken by a man, and of Water used in His Name.
Luther quotes St. Augustine, "'The miracles of God that happen daily are regarded as trivial,[i.e. as hamburger not prime rib] not because they are so easy, but because they take place so constantly and unceasingly.'" It's a miracle that God rules and preserves creatures: "it is a greater miracle than when Christ fed five thousand men with five loaves and made wine from water" (LW, 58, 127). It is a greater miracle still when He forgives your body of dirt and your immortal soul of sins with things easily found on this ball of dirt: Bread, wine, water, words. Guess who else can do that? Nobody outside of God in Christ. That's an epiphany for apostles and those who cling to their teachings. Amen
Rev Paul R Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (20220213); Luke 6:17-26