by Matthew C. Harrison
“The world is like a drunken peasant. If one helps him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off on the other side.” — Martin Luther (Luther’s Works, vol. 54, pg. 111).
Sometimes the Church can be “like a drunken peasant” too.
Jesus says, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). This text comes at the end of the account of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus was just the sort of unlikely character that Jesus sought out, and boy did the “religious experts” complain about it (v. 7). But Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (vs. 9–10).
Luke’s gospel makes a particular, joyful emphasis on the “the lost who are found.” In the parable of the wedding feast (Luke 14:7–11), the “master” invites the guests to the great banquet. Those invited repeatedly come up with excuses, so the master commands that his servant go “to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23). Then follows the sobering teaching: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). And after that comes the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7). The point? “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Next the woman finds the lost coin. “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost. Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:9–10). Then the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) with its fabulous conclusion: “‘This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’” (v. 24). Throughout all of these, who does the finding? It is certainly God the Father and also God the Son in these and many other texts.
How did Jesus in His earthly walk “seek the lost”? He went! He preached! He healed! He also appointed apostles (“sent ones;” Luke 9:1–6), and the 72 (Luke 10:1–12). The Book of Concord rightly states, “The office of the ministry [preaching office] stems from the general call of the apostles” (Treatise 10, German). But folks who encountered Jesus and who did not have a vocation as an apostle also had a tremendous hand in “seeking the lost.” Think of the woman at the well. She went home, told others about Jesus and “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). Or consider the Gerasene. After Jesus sent the demons named “Legion” into the swine, “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away . . . And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:38–39). These lives were radically changed by Jesus’ Gospel, and they stayed in their communities, told others and many believed.
Here’s the “drunken peasant” part. We are prone to pit the glorious gift of the spiritual priesthood of all believers (with its right and privilege of speaking the Gospel in the context of everyday life) against the Office of the Ministry, which has the responsibility of serving at the behest of Christ through the call of a congregation. The former exists so “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). All of us as spiritual priests have the right and responsibility to speak of Jesus to those in our lives and communities and to invite them to church! As pastors, some are given the responsibility of shepherding, proclaiming the Word and giving the Sacraments to the gathered flock. Both activities are part of the mission of Jesus “to seek and to save the lost.” When we pit these two offices or vocations against each other, we are on the wrong track.
To fall off one side of the horse is to say, “Lay people don’t have the right and responsibility of speaking the Gospel” or worse, “The Gospel is only effective when spoken by a pastor.” To fall off the other side is to assert, “We don’t need pastors. And men who are regularly preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments don’t need to be pastors.”
God keep us sober . . . and on the horse!