The world is a dangerous place, but it’s easy to misunderstand where the true danger lies. It’s easy, for instance, to see danger in sickness. When you’re sick, you can feel malfunction in your body and you realize how frail man’s life is. It’s easy to see danger in the rage of unbelievers as they push for communism, as they push for an abortion clinic, as they push against a court that has angered them, as they push against Christ and his Church. It’s easy to see danger in war or natural disaster or temptation to sin. “I walk in danger all the way. / The tho’t shall never leave me / That Satan, who has marked his prey, / Is plotting to deceive me.”
And yet the danger that Jesus warns us about both last week and this week does not come from things that appear openly harmful and hostile, but from things that look good and beneficial, things that look like blessings and not curses. Indeed, who would look at the rich man from last week’s reading and say that his wealth is evil, or his purple clothing is a threat to his life, or his feast is from the devil? Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a great feast. There’s obviously nothing inherently evil about a great feast. And the same can be said of all the good things of earth. God created them. We wouldn’t say that Satan created the field or the oxen or the wife that served as excuses in today’s reading. God made them; therefore, marriage and property and the very earth itself is good.
And yet these things at which God looked and said, “It is good,” these things are a danger to us, a very grave danger to us, not because God created them to be so, but because man misuses them. God made the things of earth to support man, to delight man, to show us what a gracious God we have. But since the fall, man has turned the good gifts of God into idols. Instead of man’s nature responding to created things by giving thanks to God, man’s nature now responds to created things by worshiping them and forsaking God to go after them. And thus we find ourselves in a world where a great danger lies in what is good. It’s easy to pray for healing, because it’s easy to see the danger in sickness. It’s easy to pray against a hostile and unbelieving world, because it’s easy to see the danger in the world’s raging. But how often do we pray that God would spare us from being rich, or that God would guard our souls as we have a feast, or that God would protect us as we get married? The world is a dangerous place, but it’s easy to misunderstand where the true danger lies.
Today Jesus instructs us. Jesus was sitting at a feast in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. One of those present, apparently in an effort to sound pious, declared, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The man is not wrong in his words. In the book of Revelation an angel declares to John, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” This invitation is the call of the Gospel. In the Old Testament, the invitation was the preaching of the Christ who was to come: the promised seed of the woman who would overcome the devil, the promised offspring of Abraham through whom all people would be blessed, the promised Messiah who would descend from David and reign forever. The invitation had long been going out. The Lord had long been preparing his people for the arrival of their Savior.
And at long last the servants of the Lord could proclaim, “Come, for everything is now ready!” The angels announced it when Jesus was born. John the Baptist announced it when he preached, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The apostles announced it as they went about proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The feast is ready. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (Jn. 6:51). Blessed is the one who eats this bread by hearing the Word of God and believing it. Blessed is the one who eats this bread by receiving the Sacrament of the Altar and trusting that by it his sins are forgiven. Blessed is the one who comes to church to eat of the Lord’s feast. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
Jesus didn’t fault the man for these true words, but Jesus told the parable that follows because those at the feast, including the man who spoke, didn’t actually believe these true words. The good news of the Gospel had gone out, and men had better things to do than come to the Lord’s feast.
In the parable, two men had bought something that enticed them away: one bought a field, another bought five yoke of oxen. These two men teach us two things about our money. First, money is good for buying masters. Money is good for buying masters. I’ll explain. The man who bought the field exercised a certain mastery over the field by purchasing it. He made the field become his by spending his money on it. You would think that the field was his and he could do what he wanted with it. And yet how does the man speak in the parable? He says, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it.” The Greek makes clearer how backwards this man is. He more literally says, “I have bought a field, and I have a compulsion to go out and see it.” I have a compulsion. The field is compelling him. He spent the money. He bought the field. He is the rightful owner and master of it. And yet the field exercises compulsion over him. And he willingly obeys it! This man had heard the Gospel. He heard the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life and deliverance from all harm and danger. And yet – consider how tragic this is – he casts aside Christ because he feels a compulsion from the field that he bought. Money is good for buying masters.
Again, this is not because there’s something inherently evil in the field. But there is something inherently evil in our corrupt flesh that is all too eager to subject itself to worldly things instead of heeding God. And this brings us to the second thing these two buyers teach us: Our flesh values that which has cost us something more than it values that which has cost God something. This is connected to our innate trust in our own works. We feel a certain confidence and delight in being able to say, “I bought this.” We can picture the second man strutting off to his oxen, feeling pretty good about himself, feeling pretty good as he walks away from salvation, feeling pretty good as he strays down the broad road to hell. But he’d rather delight in himself than delight in God. He’d rather have confidence in himself than live by the charity of his Lord. And so off he goes to worship the creation rather than the Creator, and he worships the creation not by bowing down to the oxen, but by praising himself in his heart, because he has buying power, and he can get things for himself.
So beware of the possessions and property of earth. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t own anything or have any money. But watch out, lest the desire for earthly wealth and possessions take you away from church. Because of our own sin, there is grave danger in that which God has called good. God made that field. God brought forth those oxen. God did this because he loves man and wants to give him good things, and for that same reason God prepared the great feast of the Gospel through the sacrifice of his beloved Son. Yet many love earth and throw away heaven, they delight in time and forsake eternity. Let it not be so for you.
There is a third man in the parable. He has not bought something, but married someone. The man saw no danger in marriage. Perhaps he even rightly thought of it as a gift and institution of God. And yet he entered into marriage heedlessly. He married a wife who not only would not join him at the Lord’s feast, but also prevented him from coming: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” How often have we seen this happen? How often have we seen someone stop coming to church because of a problem within marriage?
It is not our natural thought to consider marriage a danger, just as it is not our nature to look at a field or an ox and think of it as a danger. And again, God did not make marriage to be a danger. The fact that it can be a danger doesn’t point to any fault in God’s institution, but indicates a fault in man, that he considers the outward beauty of the daughters of men and considers Cupid’s arrows more than he considers the eternal consequences of being yoked to an unbeliever. The Apostle Paul admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 6, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” Yet the third man in the parable has married the world, and taught himself to despise the Lord’s feast, and now, as he says, he cannot come.
Hear the Word of the Lord from the Apostle John, recorded in 1 John 5, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” It is the will of God that you come to his feast. It is the will of God that you come faithfully to church to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is the will of God that you not perish, but have eternal life.
Consider what God offers in the Gospel and compare it with what the world offers. That’s a great way to avoid the pitfalls of danger round about us. What is the best that the world has to offer? Is it wealth? No one had more wealth than Solomon, and he says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” But what is the best the world has to offer? Is it pleasure? Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes how he sought women and laughter and wine, how he made great works―gardens and parks and pools―how he bought slaves and accumulated possessions. He says, “I kept my heart from no pleasure.” And his conclusion? “Behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” That’s the best the world has to offer: Vanity. Nothing. Even if the unbelieving rich man seems temporarily happy, even if the philanderer seems temporarily happy, that happiness is fleeting, and the world is passing away. The world invites to its feast, but there is no feast. There are plates made of fools gold and filled with nothing but dust, and the cost of admission is your soul.
But what does God offer at his great feast? He says, “My beloved Son has been sacrificed. He shed his divine blood to provide you with everything you will ever need, both in time and in eternity. Would you have wealth? I give you the courts of heaven, the New Jerusalem, with streets of gold and gates of pearl, and I give you all that you need for this body and life, neither withholding what is good for you nor tempting you with mammon. Would you have pleasure? There is no greater pleasure than the peace of a good conscience or the joy of eternal life. But I have more than wealth and pleasure to serve you at my feast,” God says. “On this golden plate is the forgiveness of sins. In this chalice is eternal life. Spread on the table is deliverance from all harm and evil. I give you the Holy Spirit to comfort you and work in you all good fruit. I give you a family, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. I clothe you in white for Christ’s sake and seat you in my banquet hall. All is ready. Sit and eat.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.