Luke 10:25-37 (Pentecost 5C)
St. John, Galveston, Tx. 7/10/22
Rev. Alan Taylor
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A lawyer, an expert in the Law of God, asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Even though salvation has always been by grace through faith in the Christ of God, this man was working with a warped understanding of the Old Testament, the Torah. But, being that he was an expert in the Law and since he was trying to justify himself, Jesus let him answer the question according to the Law. What does it say, that is, what does the Law say? The man put together an answer based on two passages from the Books of Moses, one from the Book of Deuteronomy and the other from the Book of Leviticus. He said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
He spoke rightly. The love of God and the love of one’s neighbor is, in fact, the fulfillment of the Law. Of the two great commands, the lawyer evidently knew what it meant to love God, or, at least he thought he did, and he apparently thought he had accomplished such a high command. What he wasn’t sure about was whether or not he had sufficiently loved his neighbor as himself. If he could narrow the meaning of “neighbor” just a bit, it would serve him well. And so, he asked, who is my neighbor?
At that point Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the most well-known and beloved parables in the Bible. A man was robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Three people saw him there, a Priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. Only one of them though, the Samaritan, stopped to help the man. Who, Jesus asked, was a neighbor to the wounded man? The Lawyer, perhaps eager to answer, said why, the Samaritan, of course. Jesus said, “You go and do likewise.”
There is then no limitation to hide behind when it comes to the command to love one’s neighbor. In fact, the Law never leaves us even the slightest little bit of wiggle room. Even though he likely didn’t even know the man, the Samaritan loved him as his neighbor by having mercy on him. The other two, the Priest and the Levite, for whatever reason, chose to pass the battered and beaten man by. Thus they despised their neighbor, if not in their hearts, at least by their actions.
In answer to the man’s question about inheriting eternal life, the parable seems to be prescriptive. Do this and you will live. But, Jesus didn’t tell the lawyer the parable to give him hope, or, to help him in his quest to justify himself. Rather, it was intended to drive him to God for His mercy and forgiveness, which would ultimately be showered upon him in Christ. Whether the man turned from his self-justifying ways we don’t know. If not then, perhaps on another day he would come to see just how far short he came from loving God and loving his neighbor.
As for you and me, too often I think we read or hear this parable and we come away with a very moralistic understanding of it. It sounds like the message to us is to “be like the Samaritan and not like the Priest and the Levite.” That is, in fact, the will of God, to love our neighbor as ourselves. But, you and I know full well that we haven’t loved our neighbor as ourselves. Indeed, we have often confessed that very sin to God. “We have not loved you with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and your eternal punishment.” Thus, if the parable of the Good Samaritan is simply to command us to love our neighbor, we cannot but come away from it condemned, even battered and beaten, if you will.
Perhaps we should back up for moment though and ask a really basic question. Where is God in the parable? Generally, when we read one of Jesus’ parables we find a God figure in it. For instance, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the long suffering father, who receives his wayward son back home with open arms, is the God figure. Thus, with that parable we have an image of God as the forgiving and loving father who runs to embrace his wayward children emblazoned on our minds and we hold the image very near and dear to our hearts.
But, where is God in the parable of the Good Samaritan? There are only five characters in the parable. There’s the man who was beaten, the Priest, the Levite, the Samaritan and the Inn Keeper. We know very little about the Inn Keeper and the Priest and the Levite certainly don’t stand out as godly figures. In fact, they are clearly examples of what it means to fail to love your neighbor as yourself. But, what about the Samaritan? Actually, I should say, what about the Samaritan and the man who was beaten and left for dead? If we are to find ourselves and God in the parable, perhaps we’ve been looking at it in the wrong way.
By deceit the devil robbed humanity of the image of God and plunged him into death. He leaves us for dead, battered and beaten by the righteous demands of God’s Law. Mind you, it’s not the law that so oppresses us. It is rather our nature that leaves us unable to fulfill it. The wages of sin, you see, truly is death! Every “thou shall” and “thou shall not” leaves us, it leaves you and it leaves me guilty before God. We must simply lie by the side of the road and await our fate. Yes, “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; death brooded darkly over me. Sin was my torment night and day; In sin my mother bore me. Daily deeper still I fell; My life became a living hell, So firmly sin possessed me.”
“But God had seen my wretched state before the world’s foundation. And mindful of His mercies great, He planned for my salvation. He turned to me a Father’s heart; He did not choose the easy part but gave His dearest treasure.” Considering others more important than Himself, Jesus took on a servant’s form in order to fulfill the Law, not just outwardly, but inwardly, by the Law of love.
Therefore, it is He who kneels by your side, who has compassion on you. His heart is wrenched. He’s moved at the very core of His being because of your suffering. He bandages your wounds by bearing in His own body the vicious stroke that justice gave. He bears your burden by taking the curse of death upon Himself.
He washes you in Holy Baptism and He places you in the safe harbor of the church where you are to remain until He returns. Therein, He feeds you with His own body and blood to give you hope and to strengthen you. And by that very same body and blood, given and shed for you, He ordains that all of your debt be charged to His account.
Thus (says Luther) when we now come before God the Father and are asked whether we have also believed and loved God, and have wholly fulfilled the law; then the Samaritan will step forth, Christ the Lord, who carries us lying on his beast, and say; Alas, Father! although they have not wholly fulfilled thy law, yet I have done so, let this be to their benefit because they believe in me. Thus all saints must do, however holy and pious they may be, they must lay on Christ's shoulders.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? Lay on Christ’s shoulders. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +