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Pentecost 21 Devotion on Cleanliness

Our Old Testament Reading for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost comes from Isaiah 1:10–18. Our devotional reading is from Reading Isaiah with Luther by Brian L. Kachelmeier, focusing on the last few verses from today’s passage.  

Scripture Readings

  • Isaiah 1:10–18
  • Psalm 130; antiphon: vv. 3–4
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:1–12
  • Luke 19:1–10

Read the propers for today in Lutheran Service Builder.

Devotional Reading

When the conscience works properly, it feels guilt when sin is committed. When something other than the Word of God forms the conscience, it becomes numb to iniquity. The self-chosen methods of holiness that Luther talks about are the heart’s false antidote when something other than God’s Word forms the conscience. People’s inventive righteousness does not please God. Such holy acts are centered on the people involved, rather than on God. People want to decide for themselves what is righteous and what is not. But even what looks good on the outside is not pleasing to God. Only what is done out of fear, love, and trust in Him, according to His Word, pleases Him. Therefore, it is impossible to please God without faith. As He said through Isaiah:

When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:15).

[Luther states:]

Here the prophet says that they are all murderers. By the hands are meant the works which should be done for the needy neighbor. But he who does not help his neighbor destroys him. 1 John 3:15 states: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” We read (Matthew 25:42): “I was hungry, and you gave Me no food.” Again (1 John 3:17): “If anyone has the world’s goods, etc.” In short, he who does not practice love toward his neighbor is regarded by God as a murderer; for even though he is able to help, yet he does not do so. So far as he is concerned, he lets his brother perish. In brief, the meaning is this: “You have hands full of blood. Therefore your prayers and all your efforts are ungodly.” Thus with one word he involves them in all sins and proves them guilty of damnation. … We do everything except what love demands; we give much for monstrous and godless religions but nothing for the need of the poor. Clean before men, but unclean, cruel, and murderers before God. Who could rest when thinking of these things? God grant that these things do not come to mind in the last hour! One aspect of ungodliness is unfaithfulness. Another is bloodiness; that is, a lack of love, which is the fruit of faith. We neglect these, and meanwhile we busy ourselves in vain with various religions. Nobody considers how great the demand of faith and love is. (16:17–18)

True love issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a genuine faith (see 1 Timothy 1:5). Israel’s self-chosen methods of holiness caused them to rejoice in the works of their hands while the Lord lamented all the sin they committed against their neighbors with those same hands. While the people preached their own prosperity, they oppressed the widows and the orphans among them. God’s people would not listen to His voice, so He would not listen to their prayers.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; removes the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:16–17)

[Luther states:]

What then is to be done? Now he sets forth a command in an affirmative manner. …

He mentions two parts. One is to put aside filth, unfaithfulness, hatred, and all ungodliness. The other is to do good. Thus David says (Psalm 37:27): “Depart from evil and do good.” The filth is removed by a bath. Cleanness is a new kind of life. Therefore wash yourselves from ungodliness; cleanse yourselves through godliness. Put an end to the unclean blindness and the bloody hand. …

“The evil of your thoughts,” that is, of your plans, blindness, ungodliness, hypocrisy. Keep quiet, stop acting spitefully and doing evil to your neighbors contrary to love. Do no harm; do not offend them. …

The defense of an orphan consists in bringing it about that he is not oppressed. When there is no defender in the world, then a poor man lies exposed everywhere to every act of robbery. Consider the dealings of guardians and those who draw up wills, whether they are guilty of blood. Widows have been bereft of a defender. Here there is sinning in an extraordinary manner. Many live for themselves. Meanwhile they neglect the poor, devote themselves to prayer, and consider themselves saints. Yet it is not enough not to have harmed one’s neighbor; God also demands positive uplifting of the needy though love, and one’s whole substance and life must be expended for the brethren, as John 3:17 says. Would that we only realized that this is our duty! For it is evil for us to think smugly that we are living a good life. (16:18–19)

God does not listen to the prayers of those with blood on their hands, but He hears the voices of the ones who have been afflicted by those hands. God’s prophets in the Bible regularly speak up for those who suffer but to whom no one pays attention: the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the foreigners. Some theologians in our day have interpreted this to mean they sufficiently speak on behalf of God if they merely advocate for social justice. Many such liberation theologians become so overly concerned about the outsiders in society who are burdened in thoughts, words, or deeds that they reduce the Gospel to freedom from earthly oppression, rather than robust and eternal forgiveness of sinners’ sins. This social gospel is a popular form of Christianity in our culture.

Those who make the Gospel solely a message of antioppression don’t realize that the biblical prophets were not concerned about oppression simply for oppression’s sake. Biblical prophets were concerned about sin. Though sin was manifest in God’s people’s oppression of the weak and vulnerable among them, the biblical prophets also spoke out against all sin of any kind. Failing to love one’s neighbor was just as abominable in God’s eyes as murder, fornication, homosexuality, rape, adultery, and idolatry. God’s purpose for His prophets was to correct His people’s consciences according to His Word, because they had become misshaped by the corrupted creation. As we can see from Isaiah, God’s prophets spoke in exactly the opposite direction of the people’s felt needs in most cases.

Our culture wants to champion freedom without truly knowing what is good or evil, right or wrong. Love and tolerance are touted without any idea of what true love is. Yet, the more we tune into the voices of our culture, the more those voices form our consciences, making our consciences numb to what God says is good and evil—and numb to sin.

Devotional reading adapted from Reading Isaiah with Luther © 2018 Brian L. Kachelmeier, published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Hymn of the Day

Hymn of the day from Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God by Paul Bouman © 1967 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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