Reformation Day • Matthew 11:12–19 • October 30, 2011
By Kent Burreson
What have you come here to see? (Mt 11:7–9). This is one of the questions Jesus puts to the crowds at this turning point in Matthew’s Gospel as opposition to Jesus grows. Perhaps more appropriately, on Reformation Sunday the question should be: “What did you come here to do?” This alternate Gospel reading will not permit Reformation Sunday to be a horn-tooting, self-congratulatory, back-slapping celebration. Such an affair would be in contradiction to the Gospels themselves, which focus not on human achievement, but upon the humbling, mighty deeds of God. Faithfully celebrating the Reformation would entail voicing Jesus’s own call, “Let the one who has ears hear” (v. 11).
Neither should Reformation Sunday preaching be a form of historical fiction. Not to say that there isn’t a place for giving thanks for the mighty acts of God in the sixteenth century. The call to hear was made by Luther over and against the allurements of the Roman system of salvation. However, the allurements of the present age are not the same as those of the sixteenth century. Today, the allurements are those of the marketplace, mammon, possessions, and personal self-fulfillment and happiness. In the sixteenth century, Christians were seduced by a system that displaced God’s mighty acts. Today, Christians are seduced by the global commercial world and the gods, such as self-fulfillment, of its own making. So preaching ought to ask the baptized what they came here to do. Hopefully, they came not to manipulate a God and Savior who affirms their personal desires, guarantees their personal happiness, and promises to perform as their personal lackey god.
Rather, Jesus’s voice should cry out: “Let the one who has ears hear.” For the generation to whom the days of fulfillment have come in Jesus’s preaching, the call is to hear and so be wise regarding the works of God manifested in Elijah (John the Baptist) and the Son of Man who came eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. Luther’s voice cried out in his day: “Hear that salvation is for sinners by grace through faith for Christ’s sake alone.” It is a cry reflected in the words of his own Kyrie utilized in the LSB Luther mass, divine service setting 5: “Salvation for all you came to bring . . . Hear our cry and grant our supplication” (LSB 942). While God’s call in the past is not mute today, the call today must help the baptized to see that they did not enter the reign of heaven manifested in the church’s life on earth to see people dressed in soft clothing. Life as part of the people of God can bring violent consequences spiritually, relationally, materially, and physically. Death to the old ways, life in the new.
True wisdom resides in the Father through his Son and Spirit and in his mighty acts of salvation. The people of God, by the Spirit, see God’s wisdom that “Christ is the hope and saving light” (LSB 938). Preaching of this gospel on Reformation should help the church to see itself rightly through God’s wisdom. This entails two things in terms of this text. First, it entails the wisdom to recognize that the church remains under attack and “that violent men are trying to snatch it away” (v. 12). Second, it entails the wisdom not to declare “wisdom innocent of her own works” (v. 19) and to lead the world not to condemn God for doing the very saving acts he seeks to do.1
Preaching should help the church to envision itself as associated with John the Baptist, one who soberly awaits the establishment of God’s reign by seeking to follow God’s will. Preaching should help the church to envision itself as united to Christ Jesus the Lord, the one who reveals God’s wisdom by befriending (having mercy on) sinners. The church should be accused of living soberly according to God’s will and forgiving without reservation in God’s name. The mighty deeds of God—preaching and speaking forgiveness and peace in the body of Christ, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper—should be the way that those who have ears hear. In living this way, the church will witness to the wisdom of God implicated in God’s mighty deeds. That is why people come together on Reformation Sunday.
1 The interpretation of v. 19 reflects that advocated by my colleague Jeff Gibbs in his Concordia Commentary on Matthew 11:2–20:34, Concordia Publishing House, 573–4, 578–9.