In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We used to say, “No good deed goes unrewarded.” But we’ve changed that. Now we say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” And it doesn’t even have to be a good deed. It could be an excellent deed, or a mediocre deed. It doesn’t have to be a deed. It could be a word: a good word, excellent word, mediocre word. And someone, somewhere—especially if you say it on the internet—will punish you for it. They will come with their experience or their expertise and will tell you how you’ve got it all wrong. No good deed and no good word will go unpunished.
That’s the way of the world. And so we take up those ways. If people do something to me, then I can do something to them. If people say something about me, then I can say something about them. If that person won’t forgive me, then I won’t forgive him. Do to others what they do to you is how things go. And no will say you’re not justified in acting toward others the way they act toward you. That’s just how things are.
And then Jesus says, “But I say to you who are hearing Me.” Because not everyone hears Jesus. Sure, the sound waves might activate the ear apparatus, but that’s not what it means to hear Jesus. For that, you need to have new ears dug out by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 40:6), so that the Word can get in and make faith in our hearts. Then you can truly hear Jesus. I say to you who are hearing Me: don’t be like the world.
How often do the ways of the world take root, take up residence, in us who should not be of this world? But Jesus says, it should not be so among us. Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; pray for those who abuse you. These are the opposite to the ways of the world. Everyone in the world will do good to those who do good to them. Everyone in the world will love those who love them. Everyone will lend to those from whom they expect to get repaid. None of that makes any difference between the children of the world and the children of God.
But loving enemies, doing good to those who hate you, and praying for those who abuse you is how the children of God act because that is how God acts toward his enemies and those who hate Him and those who abuse His Name. He does not repay evil for evil. He does not give according to what His own creatures give to Him. He does the Good Deed, and it does not go unpunished. And God doesn’t wait to do Good until we do good to Him. In fact, it’s impossible to do good for God before He does good to you, because a long time before any of us were born, God sent His Son and gave Him into the world. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. Instead, His enemies hated Him and had Him crucified, abusing Him with thorns and nails and cross. And He returned forgiveness and love. In fact, His cross is His love for those who crucify Him.
A picture of Jesus: if anyone had something to repay, it was Joseph. His brothers had sold him into slavery and lied to their father—Joseph’s father—about what happened to him. But here’s one of those reversal-of-fortune stories: Joseph went from languishing in prison to being the second-most-powerful person in Egypt. And now his brothers stand before him, and they know exactly what they deserve. And Joseph has the power to do whatever he wants to them. So they tremble in his presence. But Joseph does not give them what they deserve. He forgives them. He says, I have been sent here to save you. Come and eat. Come and share the table of the king.
Another picture of Jesus: there’s a movie called Calvary, about a priest in Ireland. And someone sits in his confessional and tells him that he was abused by a priest as a child. And now he’s going to kill the priest, not because he’s guilty, but because he’s innocent; not because he’s evil, but because he’s good.
Have we acted like Jesus? Have we been kind and merciful as our Father is kind and merciful? Dear God, how rare it is. How seldom I have acted like the God who does good and loves. How often the ways of the world have taken up residence inside me, so that I return evil for evil and hatred for hatred. God help me. And we come and stand in the presence of God, and we confess what we deserve: temporal and eternal punishment. We know what we deserve and He has the power to do whatever He wants. We ought to tremble before our God.
But God does not give us what we deserve. He gives us Jesus, who is killed not because He is guilty or evil, but because He is innocent and good. He come and says, “I have been sent to save you. Come and eat. Come and share the Table of the King.” He doesn’t just tell us to do what is right and good, although that should be enough for us. He doesn’t simply say it, as if we hadn’t heard it enough or as if we didn’t know what we should do. He shows it, and He becomes it. He is the mercy, kindness, and compassion of God in the flesh. He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. And then He takes all of that as His own and gives us His own life and love. O Lord, have mercy on us! Strengthen us through the same Sacrament and the same love in faith toward You and fervent, prayerful love for one another, that we might be children of our Father in heaven. O Lord, have mercy on us! Thanks be to God.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/22/19