In our sinful human nature, there is a tendency to avoid the Law. Where God gives us instruction on what to do, the old Adam seeks to not do it, as if we know better than God.
We see an example of this in the Reading from Deuteronomy. The Lord through Moses says, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. ... Every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. ... If among you, one of your brothers should become poor … you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open up your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
This sounds straight forward. The Lord’s goal is that all should be taken care of, and no poor should be in the land because the Israelites are brothers who take care of each other. So far, so good. Even better, every debt would be erased every seven years, so that there would not be perpetual servitude among the Israelites. All the better.
But we sinners in our creativity might get to thinking: “If I lend to my brother at the beginning of a seven year period, then he can repay me for seven years before the debt is canceled. That way I get maximum repayment on my loan. On the other hand, if I loan him at the end of a seven year period, then I get nothing or next to nothing back. I don’t want that! So I’d better make sure that I do all my loaning with an eye for maximum return on my investment. If my brother needs something from me, but I am mindful of the calendar, it might be best to put him off until it is more advantageous for me.”
The Lord, through Moses, anticipates this kind of fleshly thinking: “Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin.”
I want to say that we are above this kind of carnal thought. We should always be concerned with helping our neighbor in need, and consider him instead of our financial well-being. Perhaps in this exact area of helping others in need we do not falter. But there are plenty of ways that we might rationalize why the Law does not apply to me in this particular instance, whatever that may be. I will let you ponder in your own mind where your blind spots are. Try to notice times that you think the Law does not apply to you, or you find loopholes or technicalities to avoid it. We all do this, but we seldom notice what we are doing. We feel that we are still loving and giving even when we withhold something to help someone. We should try to be more diligent in self-examination, as well as more selfless in giving to those in need.
Doctor Luther also found a spiritual meaning in the year of release. He said, “The year of remitting of indebtedness is the entire time of grace, because the kingdom of Christ is nothing but the constant remitting of indebtedness. The fact, however, that it was not remitted to the stranger (in Israel) signifies that forgiveness of sins does not exist outside the church of God. Nor can sins be remitted to those who do not want them remitted to them, who justify themselves and despise the church. … But to the repentant brother everything is to be remitted; for when faith remains, no sins are irremissible and unforgivable; where unbelief remains, all sins are damnable and must be accounted for.”
Now Martin Luther is following a symbolic meaning for this passage. We could argue over whether he was correct to see this meaning in this particular passage. But the fact remains that the reality of the forgiveness of the Kingdom of God is a much greater and important reality than the releasing of monetary debts to the ancient Israelites. An earthly debt forgiven cannot compare to the tremendous debt we owe to God, which has been forgiven in the Blood of Christ.
How much more gracious is our year of release! For we do not wait every seven years, but receive it as often as we come for it, repentant and hungry for the sweet taste of Christ’s Word of forgiveness.
Too often, the Church becomes cold and indifferent. Sometimes people can hardly show up on Sunday to receive God’s grace, much less come for private confession. Christians should be begging and pressuring pastors to offer more services, more opportunities, more excuses to pour out the cleansing river of the Lord’s mercy. The fact that we do not have Communion every Sunday here is a testament to our lack of desire and appreciation for the year of release in which we live.
May we be more hungry and thirsty for the Gospel, by the grace and work of God’s Spirit.
Like the Israelites, we enjoy God’s particular favor. He says that He has chosen us to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. How wonderful! He picked us in His foresight and resolved with His predestination that we should be redeemed by Christ. He valued us so much more than men value their petty, pathetic dollars. He was willing to purchase us with the highest currency of all, which ran in the veins of His Son.
In the year of His favor, He canceled our debts upon the Cross. The price of their remission was paid. All who trust in that sacrifice have exactly what He bought for us: a debt-free existence in His sight. The Lord declares that nothing is left for you to pay Him. All the debt of your sins is erased by Christ’s sacrifice.
To you this remission has come. Your debt is canceled. By His Word is it promised and ratified: You are free.
So remember that you were once a slave. Remember that you owed debts that could never be paid back. But remember that you are redeemed, bought back by Christ Jesus unto eternal life. The books are balanced for you. The ledger is in your favor forever.
In His Name. Amen.
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