TEN WORDS – THE SIXTH WORD.
LOVE SEEKS AFTER A GOOD LIFE.
In the name + of Jesus.
Many of the Ten Commandments are brief, telling us what not to do. “You shall not murder” is pretty succinct. Yet, the Commandment is not limited to acts of murder. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22) Our Lord judges attitudes as much as actions. If you limit the hatred of your neighbor to your heart, you can avoid jail time, but not hellfire.
Most people can boast that they have kept the 5th Commandment in its most literal sense: “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) But no one can boast that he has kept his heart pure in regard to the 5th Commandment. If you drive a car, deal with customers, or have an interest in politics, you have wished evil on other people. Perhaps you have even convinced yourself that the world would be a better place of some people were killed off. This is what the Lord says: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) When others stand in the way of our interests, we despise them and even wish them harm. They may never know the rage or hatred that reside in our hearts, but God sees it. And he holds us accountable for it.
Love seeks after a good life—a life that God defines as good. God's will is not just that we avoid evil. God's will is also that we do good. Both are necessary. The Catechism teaches about sins of commission and sins of omission. Sins of commission are about doing evil. When we commit a crime, that is a sin of commission. Sins of omission are about failing to do what is good, such as when we omit the comfort and aid we could have offered to someone in need. Sins of commission are usually easy to see. There are witnesses to murder, assault, abuse, and road rage. Sins of omission are often hidden. I did not trip the woman, but rather than help her up or gather her groceries which spilled out, I walked by and minded my own business. I may claim that I did no harm, but on the other hand I did no good. God demands that we be guiltless of both sins of commission and sins of omission. We are right to confess: “I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.”
In his explanation of the 5th Commandment, Martin Luther highlights both parts of God's will: “We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.” (Small Catechism) Love seeks after a good life, not just for ourselves, but for others. The good that God wants us to do is to help and befriend our fellow man in every bodily need. In theory, we know this is good. In practice, we have all kinds of reasons why we don't do it. “It will cost me money to bring any real help. What if he squanders my money? Don't get me wrong; I hope the needy people find the help they need. But I am busy; I don't have time to stop and assist that person.” Our love is first and foremost for ourselves, and we can find any reason to justify doing nothing for others. But a faith lived in theory and not in practice is useless. This is what the Apostle John wrote: “If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17) Repent.
If we are going to seek after a good life for our fellowman, we are going to have to engage our fellowman with all his faults and failings. If we are going to have mercy on our fellowman, we will need to show kindness to him in his lowly condition. If we are going to be patient, we will have to love someone through petty annoyances or foolish choices. If we are going to be gracious, we will have to give more and better than people deserve. If we measure everyone according to their worthiness, we will be able to keep ourselves free from risk, expense, and heartbreak. But to do that, we also have to withhold mercy, grace, and love. This is not the nature of the God who saved us and who made us his people.
Love seeks after a good life for all people, despite risks or costs. If you are merciful to someone, he may disappoint you and remain in his destructive ways. If you are gracious to someone, he may take advantage of you. If you love your fellowman and are patient with his weaknesses, he may not even recognize it. But love is not measured by how someone might respond to it. Love is simply given by the lover without conditions or restrictions. This is exactly how God so loves the world.
Love seeks after a good life. The Lord God has sought the salvation of every person on earth. Jesus was sent to redeem us all with all our faults and failings. So, he gave his body over to beatings on behalf of the wicked. He poured out his life blood for ingrates. He suffered hellish torment for people who hate him. He swallowed the full wrath of God for people whom he knew would abandon him and disappoint him and go back to their sins. In all of this, Jesus had no regrets. He was not counting the cost, doling out just enough mercy on those he thought would be worth the investment. Rather, Jesus was seeking for all people a good life that endures into all eternity.
Jesus seeks after a good life for you. He suffered and died for you to cover the cost for all your sins. He is devoted to you with love, mercy, and grace. He did all of this even though you and I do not stop sinning and we fail to love our fellowman as we ought. But he did all this to cover the cost for those very same sins. You and I come back to Jesus seeking forgiveness, and he remains merciful and gracious. He does not tire of loving you or seeking your good. This is not because you are better than others. It is because he is good and gracious and faithful to his promises. That is what secures your good life of peace, comfort, and confidence. And he gives more!
Jesus is your friend who helps you in every bodily need. Jesus will eventually give you a body and life that are free from aches and pains, disabilities and disease, weakness and wearing out. For, Jesus came in the flesh to deliver our flesh from its bondage to sin. That is not just deliverance from the curse of sin, but also deliverance from the effects of sin in our bodies. Jesus gave his body into death to take away all our sins. And that body rose from the grave to guarantee our own bodily resurrection to glory. After the resurrection, our bodies will never have their struggles again.
St. John described it this way: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. … and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17) He who fed the 5,000 will do more than supply our basic needs. Jesus, who healed the sick which were brought to him, assures us that we will be free from every frailty or fault. St. Paul says that “the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:21) That's because the body that God has given you is a precious gift. It was created by him for your good, and redeemed by Jesus for your good. Therefore, every body and life that he has granted are to be honored, cherished, and protected.
Love seeks after a good life; but it is not a good life when people are reduced to hunger or homelessness or sickness. In the case of the rich man and Lazarus, we condemn the rich man for giving no aid to Lazarus at his gate. But we don't know—did Lazarus do this to himself? Was he destitute and diseased because of his own foolish choices? And if so, do we then commend the rich man for ignoring him? We can find excuses for the rich man just as easily as we can find reasons to condemn him. But love does not look for excuses. Love looks for ways to show love and compassion for the needy. While we can boast of what we might have done for Lazarus, we were not there. Whatever aid we say we would have given him sounds pious, but it is only theoretical.
Love seeks after a good life—not in theory, but in personal and practical ways, even when it is risky or costly. If we have disdain for our neighbor, we will withhold mercy, love, and grace. But if we love our neighbor, we will help and be a friend to him in every bodily need. “For, your Father who is in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) God's love is not limited to the worthy; it is given to all. And since we are the children of God, we desire to act like our Father. This kind of love is always seeking a good life for our neighbor, and that is because our God's mercy, love, and grace have guaranteed a good, glorious, and everlasting life for us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.