The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity| September 6, 2009| St. Luke 10, 23-37
Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, “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.” And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.'” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of Him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” St. Luke 10, 23-37
God became a man. What a wonderful sight! Prophets and kings had known it would happen. They longed to see the day when it did happen. But they didn’t. Jesus’ disciples did. They saw. They heard. In seeing and hearing Jesus they saw and heard God. They knew Jesus. Therefore they knew God. They knew life. They didn’t know with the knowledge of a scholar or a philosopher. They knew God as only his children know him.
The child of God inherits eternal life. It is his inheritance because God himself has so decided. His decision was made in eternity. It was a gracious decision. Children of God don’t work for their inheritance. Why, the very idea insults God!
Our God can’t be conned by pretence. The self-righteous lawyer pretended he was righteous. He sought to justify himself, as Luke reports. What an irony! Standing before him was the Lord, our righteousness. The only possible way that lawyer could have been justified was through faith in Jesus. But he was too busy putting Jesus on trial to stop and consider his own need for mercy.
Everyone tries to justify himself. It is the most foolish attempt anyone can make. It cannot but end in failure. But everyone tries to do it.
The lawyer was face to face with mercy incarnate. But he was so persuaded of his own goodness that he could not see who was standing before him. He asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life.
His question showed he was not a child of God. A child doesn’t work for his inheritance. He receives it as a gift for that is what it is. A child of God doesn’t become a child of God by doing anything. He becomes a child of God by receiving. He receives mercy. Then he lives under mercy. The life that he lives under God’s mercy is then marked by showing mercy to others just as he has received mercy from God.
St. Paul writes 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.
When the lawyer asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus pointed the man to the law. He asked him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” Jesus answered a law question with a law answer. The man wanted to do something to inherit eternal life. He wasn’t interested in knowing what he should believe or in whom he should trust. He wasn’t interested in mercy. He wasn’t interested in God or neighbor. He was interested only himself.
His hypocrisy is breathtaking. He correctly cites the two tables of God’s law:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
But note the question he asked after Jesus told him his answer was correct. He asked, “And who is my neighbor?” He assumes that he has already obeyed the first table of the law. He has loved the LORD his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his strength, and with all his mind. How could this be when he didn’t even know who God was? He asked who is neighbor was but he didn’t bother asking who God was.
Well, God was standing before him! The man didn’t even know God and yet presumed that he had loved him sufficiently. How does he demonstrate this love? He puts Jesus – that is, God – to the test. Instead of receiving as a gift the righteousness that Jesus came to bestow he set out to establish his own. He despised mercy for himself, thinking that he didn’t need it.
The parable of the Good Samaritan serves a twofold purpose. First, it teaches us that our neighbor is the one who needs our mercy. Second, it teaches us that Jesus is the one who shows us mercy.
The priest and the Levite were scrupulous in following the rules. The lawyer undoubtedly patterned himself after such men. They prayed the right prayers. They read their Bibles. They went to church. They gave their offerings. They did all of the things you would expect religious men to do. But they walked on by when they saw their neighbor in need. They did not love.
They were revealed for what they were when faced with their neighbor’s needs. You cannot claim to love God when you don’t love your neighbor. And why did the priest and the Levite walk on by? Why did they ignore their neighbor in need? The answer is simple. They had not met God in his mercy. Therefore they could not serve God by showing mercy.
Had they learned to know God by receiving God’s mercy they would have known that God wanted them to show mercy. But they didn’t know this. While they were experts in the law they didn’t know the first thing about its true requirements.
This parable teaches us that our neighbor is the one who needs our mercy. It also teaches us that Jesus is the one who shows us mercy. Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
We travel through life and are mugged by the devil. He leads us into temptation and we willingly conform our will to his as we commit all sorts of sins against God and neighbor. We respond to our neighbor’s needs with indifference, tossing the Golden Rule aside as if it means nothing at all. Instead of asking how we would want our neighbor to treat us if we were in his shoes, we ask what our neighbor can do to benefit us. Thus we sin and are trapped in it and lie on the pathway of life suffering terribly from our guilt.
The law walks on by. He tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. But he does not help us to love. He passes by on the other side of the road. The law walks by again. He tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. But he does not help us to love. He passes by on the other side of the road.
Then the Samaritan walks by. He is despised. He is held in contempt by the most respectable religious leaders. But he willingly bears their contempt. He is set on one thing: to show mercy. The Samaritan sees us in our need. He doesn’t see us in our worthiness because we are unworthy. But we are needful. This is what he sees.
He is merciful to us. He lifts us up out of our sins. He washes them away. He cleanses them with the oil of forgiveness that soothes the pain and heals the wounds. He pours in wine to disinfect the wound, and that hurts, but it is the blessed pain of repentance that is overcome by peace. He sets our conscience at peace.
He bears us to the church, whose ministers care for our needs. He pays for those needs. The gospel we hear and the sacraments we receive obtain their power to save us from Jesus Christ and his obedience all the way to his death on the cross. And he always gives the church all that she needs to be our faithful mother.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He tells the story to show us what it means to show mercy. He tells the story to show us his mercy. The two go together and cannot be separated.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? What a foolish question! It isn’t a matter of doing. It’s a matter of receiving. The man asked a law question and got a law answer. Had he known who he was talking to he would have asked, “How can I receive eternal life?” Jesus would have given him a gospel answer: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by me.”
And as we approach God the Father through faith in his dear Son Jesus, we are always directed to find Jesus in his condescending mercy. He is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. Even when we are covered with sin and wounded by the judgment it brings, he comes to us and washes us clean. The sins he bore on the cross are the sins he forgives. This is his mercy. It is ours by faith and by faith alone. It brings us eternal life.
This is the mercy we show to those who need it from us. We forgive. We consider our need and how our Lord met it. Our greatest joy as Christians is in giving what we have received. This is the beginning and end of love and everything in between. Amen