The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 18, 2011
“The Good Samaritan”
By telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches us both the law and the gospel. Concerning the law, Jesus teaches us that the law is not given to us so that we may use it to benefit ourselves. It was given to us so that we may learn how to benefit our neighbor. The lawyer who wanted to justify himself assumed that the law was given to teach him how to justify himself. He appeared to know the law very well. When Jesus asked him what God’s law said, the lawyer answered correctly. But in fact, he didn’t know the law at all.
He didn’t know the law because he didn’t know its purpose. He indicated this to Jesus as soon as he opened his mouth. He said, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Now imagine that! What would your father say if you went up to him and said, “Dad, what must I do to get you to give me an inheritance?” It would be like asking your father what you must do to become his son or daughter. There isn’t any doing involved here. There is a relationship that exists before you have done anything. You are born or adopted into the family. Then you are an heir of whatever the family has.
Those who think they must do something to inherit eternal life clearly don’t regard themselves as members of God’s family. And they’re right. They are not. St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:26 that we are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the One who reveals God the Father to us. Only when we know Jesus do we know God as God’s dear children.
This is what Jesus was saying to His disciples when He said,
Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.
From the first time God spoke to Adam and Eve after they fell into sin, he promised that one day the world would see their God standing before them in the flesh. How many prophets prophesied concerning the promised Savior! God revealed to them all of the essential facts concerning Him. He would be born of a Virgin and be both true God and true man. He would be born in Bethlehem and would be a Descendent of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David. He would rule over all the nations. He would suffer rejection. He would be killed. He would rise from the dead. He would rule over a kingdom that would have no end. He would be the Savior of sinners.
Long before God revealed his written law to Moses, he taught sinners that they could not be delivered from their sins by their own good works. This is why he promised a Savior. He promised Abraham that in his Seed all the nations in the world would be blessed. In your Seed, he said. That is, in Jesus Christ.”
Not in their works, not in their achievements, not in their obedience, but in Christ all the nations on earth would be blessed. Jeremiah the prophet called him: “The LORD, our righteousness.” The Old Testament Scriptures clearly teach that a sinner is justified by God freely by God’s grace, through faith in the Savior, and not on the basis of obeying the law. The prophets and kings desired to see this Savior, but they never did. They desired to hear his gracious voice, but they never did. They lived believing that God would keep his promise to come into this world as a man to deliver man from sin and death. Through this faith they lived as saints. In this faith they died. By this faith they were saved.
And now the center of all human history has arrived. The time and place of God’s revelation of grace, truth, and righteousness is here and now. He is now appearing in the flesh. Blessed are the eyes that see him and blessed are the ears that hear him. And the lawyer, so infatuated with his own good deeds, cannot see in Jesus the only righteousness by which he could ever be justified before God.
But look at how Jesus treats this self-righteous, works-righteous man. He meets the man on the man’s own terms. How else can he meet him? I suppose Jesus could have come right out and said to him, “Listen friend, you cannot do anything to inherit eternal life. You’re a sinner and you need a Savior who will gain eternal life for you and give it to you freely as a gracious gift. Here I am. I am your Savior and I have come to take your sin away and to give you my righteousness in return for it.” Why didn’t Jesus say this? The man was in no position to hear the gospel. He hadn’t yet heard the law. The gospel binds up the brokenhearted, and so it is to be given only to those whose hearts have been broken. The gospel is meant only for those who have been convicted by God’s law. The man was self-righteous. He hadn’t been convicted in his own conscience. He hadn’t yet felt the accusations of God’s law. He needed to hear the law from Jesus. And that’s what he heard.
See how the master teacher teaches the law. He introduces the holiest models the lawyer could have imagined and shows them to be utter hypocrites. They did nothing to help the victim who was assaulted by thieves and left for dead. The priest saw the man in his need, but he did nothing for him. He passed by on the other side of the road. Likewise, the Levite saw the man lying helpless and in need of help but he offered him no help. He walked on by. Why? Why did these men not help the man? The reason is simple: they did not love the man.
The man wanted to justify himself. But the law was not given for that purpose. It is as St. Paul says in today’s Epistle Lesson:
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:21-22)
The law cannot bring us eternal life because the law must be obeyed and nobody has obeyed it. The law teaches us what we must do, but it does not enable us to do what we must do. The law tells us what is truly God pleasing and beneficial to our neighbor, but the law cannot make us capable of being what we are not. It cannot give us what it promises. When Jesus said to the lawyer who had just correctly summarized the law, “Do this and you will live,” he was not teaching that the man would inherit eternal life by obeying the law. Jesus never said that. He said, “Do this” and you will live. It is only if you do this. It is only when you have obeyed the law that you can claim the promise the law gives. The law promises life only to those who obey it. To those who don’t obey it, the law promises God’s curse both now and forever.
The law makes promises. But they are conditional promises. The condition is that you obey. This obedience may never be merely following the rules. The priest and the Levite always obeyed the rules. But the rules cannot show you how to love your neighbor as yourself. There was no rule as to what to do if you found a man robbed, beaten, and left half dead on the side of the road. God’s law is deeper and broader and higher than any rules. It says we must love our neighbor, period. There are no rules. There is only the law of love. This is how St. Paul puts it in Romans 13:8-10.
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Are you willing to stake your eternal future on your own obedience to this simple, but unarguably true, fair, and right standard of behavior? Have you done this? Can you claim life from your obedience to God’s law? Can you say to God this morning that you have done as the Good Samaritan did?
The fact of the matter is that none of us can find our lives in the law. The law stands opposed to us. It accuses us. It cannot help us be what we must be and it cannot help us to do what we must do. It can only judge us for being sinners and condemn us when we sin. We are that man who is lying helpless, beaten, and half dead on the side of the road. We’ve been mugged by Satan and left helpless in our sins. The law sees us in our helplessness and walks by on the other side of the road. We have not loved God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. The law condemns us for it as the priest walks on by without helping us in any way. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. The law condemns us for this as well as the Levite walks on by without helping us in any way.
Then the Good Samaritan sees us. He, who is despised as a Samaritan, sees us in our need and loves us. What the law could not do for us, he does. He bandages our wounds and pours in oil and wine. He forgives and he heals. He puts us on his donkey, a beast of burden, even as he bears the burden of our sins upon himself as he goes to the cross. By his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death he purchases what he gives to the innkeeper. Jesus has purchased the treasures of salvation – the gospel and the sacraments – that he has entrusted to the church. So we are placed into Christ’s church where God daily and richly forgives us all of our sins.
While the Samaritan, not the priest or the Levite, helped the victim of highway robbery, the Samaritan remains despised while the priest and the Levite are lionized as great and holy saints. Jesus and his gospel will remain despised until the end of time. Meanwhile sinners who lie helpless in their spiritual poverty and impotence will be left to languish at the side of the road even as one works-righteous pretender after another walks on by on the other side of the road. It is only Jesus who stoops to help because it is only Jesus who can help.
God has seen us at our very worst and he has not judged us and looked the other way. He has not walked by on the other side of the road. He has saved us in our helpless condition and has entrusted us to the tender care of his holy Christian Church. As he shows us his divine condescension to bear the burden of our sins, he teaches us as well to bear one another’s burdens as we share with one another the same forgiveness we have received. Meanwhile, Jesus keeps us by his Holy Spirit united with his holy Church where we will remain safe and secure until he returns to take us to heaven. Amen