So, is everybody ready for Christmas? It is right around the corner. Today is the the final Sunday of Pentecost. Advent begins next week. We are in a time of ecclesiastical transition and change. The church has always been about change.
The Old Testament changed into the New Testament. The bridge linking the two is Jesus. Today’s gospel lays down the final plank in this new bridge—the crucifixion. Look at what is happening at this critical juncture that will unalterably lead to the fulfillment of the Old Testament by showing the way to God’s promised salvation. In Luke and only in Luke, two events of forgiveness are what happens on the cross. The other evangelists don’t record Jesus forgiving his captors, nor do they tell of the repentant criminal. More than a millennium of human relationships with God in the OT have led to this moment. This climax, this ultimate Jesus object lesson, “This is what my life has been and is and will be all about, people. This is the point my Father and I have been trying to tell you all along,” transformative redemption comes from forgiveness.
That is far from extraordinary in Luke tho. The entire gospel is geared toward universal salvation. Some of its biggest stars and heroes and winners were sinners and outcasts. Dom Wansbrough from Oxford, wrote “It is a striking fact that Luke does not expect those who follow Jesus to have earned their vocation by any previous merits or good conduct. On the contrary, it is almost necessary they they should have been sinners, and the first prerequisite is that they should recognize this.”
Look at all the times Jesus forgave someone and then look at the result. On the shores of the sea of Galilee, Simon Peter was recruited as the first disciple after falling to his knees and saying “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Remember when Jesus called Levi the tax collector to follow him—a tax collector for Pete’s sake—and Levi did. At a banquet Levi hosted, filled with yet more tax collectors and other deplorables, the pharisees and scribes were aghast at this breach in protocol. Jesus said, “Those who are well have need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Then there’s the woman of many sins who washed and anointed Jesus’s feet in the house of the Pharisee. In contrast, the righteous Pharisee offered no hospitality. Jesus forgave her, pointing out that “Therefore I tell you, her sins which were many are forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Think about the lost lamb parable and its promising moral—“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.”
That’s the beauty and the power and the majesty of Christ’s message. When we do something wrong, redemption is at hand through forgiveness. It can start as a one-way street. Consider Jesus at the time of his crucifixion saying “Forgive them Father for they know not what they’re doing”. The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, and plenty of the people in the crowds weren’t sorry at what was happening, but Jesus still forgave them. After he died, many of those people did repent and they were able to take the gift of forgiveness with them. Redemption. After the fact, but still redeemed. Blessed are they who hear and believe. Forgiveness can also be a two-way street. Consider the Good Thief in today’s gospel, acknowledging his wrong-doing on the cross to Jesus and Jesus’s redeeming response, “Truly you will be with me in paradise this day.” The first guy to cross that new bridge I mentioned at the beginning was a convicted criminal.
I try very hard not to do wrong, and usually end up doing it anyway in some way, shape or form. I have two little angels sitting one on each shoulder. One is dressed in white, has a halo, and plays a harp. The other is clad all in red, has horns, and wields a sharp pitchfork. The good guy keeps reminding me do the right thing while the other guy is busy telling me to take the easy way out. Why can’t my good guy be the one with the pitchfork? It seems I often need to be goaded with a sharp jab to do the right thing.
Ah, there’s the rub. That’s the cost of discipleship. Instead of taking the easy way out, instead of doing nothing, instead of doing what we think it right, we are called to do the right thing in the eyes of God. The intro to Luke in the New Oxford Annotated Bible says, “Jesus himself, and, in turn his disciples call people to true repentance which means a new relationship to God and to other human beings in a manner of life that embodies God’s will for human existence.” The introduction goes on to describe discipleship as “a way of life as a member of the repentant and saved people of God. For Luke, one is not a disciple alone, but one finds finds profound personal significance in becoming one of the people of God…”
So, a lot of words about today’s gospel, but how do they translate into everyday life? Can I offer a look at my own life since I came to Trinity. I have been on a remarkable journey since finding myself safely housed in the sanctuary that this place is to me. The gifts given me here were faith, hope, and love. With those gifts in my heart, I freely seek forgiveness for my own transgressions and forgive other more readily. I have unabated joy in being a power of example of living the life of a disciple. Sinner I may be, but redemption is always at hand when I seek it.