Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (C)
July 15, 2007
Text: Luke 10:25-37
If you want to live by the Law, you have to do the whole thing, and do it perfectly. St. James said, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10; ESV). If you’re seeking salvation by works, you’re sunk from the very beginning. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). You cannot justify yourself before God. If you want to try, go ahead, but be forewarned: the standard of righteousness is none other than God Himself. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). God is perfect in His holiness. A keeping of the Law which leads to life must be perfect, as God is perfect… holy, as God is holy.
The whole Law is summed up in this way: “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). If you do this, you will live (v. 28). The lawyer knew that. He desired to justify himself. He desired to live by the Law. He wanted to earn salvation by his own efforts. So he decided to put Jesus to the test. “Teacher, what shall I do
to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25; emphasis added). Jesus gave a Law answer to a Law question. If you want to justify yourself, you must fulfill the Law. You must love God with your entire being, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The lawyer thought he could do it. As a matter of fact, he thought he had
done it. But Jesus has a way of humbling us in our self-righteousness. The lawyer sought to justify himself, and asked, “who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). Jesus, Who always knows what is in the heart of a man, told the story of the Good Samaritan. You all know the story. A man on a journey between Jerusalem and Jericho is brutally beaten by robbers and left for dead. A priest and a Levite, both supposedly “holy” men, pass by on the other side without aiding the wounded, not wanting the beaten and possibly dead man to make them unclean. Then along comes a Samaritan, who sees the man lying, beaten and bloodied, on the side of the road, and has compassion on him. This is true mercy in action. The Samaritan interrupts his trip to tend the wounded. He binds the wounds and pours on oil and wine to disinfect them. Then he takes the man to an inn and pays the innkeeper to take care of him, promising to return with even more money for the man’s care. He does not expect repayment. He does not expect even so much as a thank you. The Samaritan saw a man in need of help, and he had compassion. Now, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three,” the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan, “do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (v. 36). The answer is quite clear to us, and it was clear to the lawyer. “The one who showed him mercy” (v. 37). The Samaritan was the neighbor.
Now, you have to understand, Jews hate Samaritans. Samaritans were the descendents of the northern tribes of Israel who survived the exile to Assyria, and who, among many other grievous offenses, built a temple on Mt. Gerizim to compete with the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Faithful Jews hated Samaritans even more than they hated outright pagans. So when Jesus brought the lawyer to the conclusion that the Samaritan was a good neighbor, and the priest and Levite were not, this was a very offensive thing. This divide also teaches us a great deal about the character of the Samaritan’s mercy. It would have been just as distasteful for an average Samaritan to give aid to a Jew. But the Samaritan in our text does not take this into account. Rather, he has compassion, and freely helps the man in need. This was, indeed, a very difficult parable for the lawyer to swallow. He thought he had fulfilled the law. He thought he could justify himself. But he could not love as the Samaritan loved. Nor could he love the Samaritan. He could not go and do likewise, as Jesus said (v. 37). He could not be saved by his works.
We Lutherans know exactly where the lawyer went wrong. He should not have been trusting in his own works, but in the work of Christ for his salvation. But we are often just as guilty of self-righteousness as the lawyer is in this regard. The evidence is in the way we typically interpret the parable of the Good Samaritan. We often put ourselves in the place of the Samaritan. Of course, we would help if we came across a wounded man. We thank God that we are not like the priest or the Levite, who pass by on the other side, and fail to have mercy because they don’t want to get their hands dirty. When we read the parable of the Good Samaritan in this way, the story becomes nothing more than a fable with a good moral. When we see someone stranded on the side of the road, we should pull over and help. We should be Good Samaritans.
But, dear friends, the parable means so much more than this. If you put yourself in the place of the Good Samaritan, you have completely misinterpreted the story. You are not the Good Samaritan. You are the wounded man lying on the side of the road, broken, bleeding, and on the point of death. You can do nothing to save yourself. The Law cannot help you. It passes by on the other side. It cannot be dirtied by the blood and gore of your sin. But Jesus can. He is the Good Samaritan. Though He is despised by you and your people, He comes to your rescue anyway. Though you have in no way deserved His mercy, He has compassion on you, and cleans and bandages your wounds. You cannot repay Him. Your money has been stolen. Your innocence and good works have been stolen by sin. You cannot even open your mouth to thank Him. You are as good as dead. But He helps you anyway, out of His pure grace. He puts you on His own donkey and brings you to the inn of His Church, a hospital for sinners just like you. He charges His innkeepers, the Christian pastors, to tend your wounds and take care of you. They will do so in His stead. They will continue to pour oil and wine on your wounds as you receive the Holy Sacrament. They will tell you of the Good Samaritan Who so graciously rescued you and generously provided for your needs. And the Good Samaritan, Jesus, promises to return, finally, and see to your healing Himself. When He comes, He will take your hand and raise you out of your sickbed, out of the grave, for He is risen from the dead, from the death He died for you, for your forgiveness, and He has the power over life and death.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan. And it is because He has first done all this for you that you can go and do likewise. The lawyer had no power to go and do likewise, because he refused the care of Jesus, the Good Samaritan. But not so you. You have received His care. You have been rescued. You have been shown mercy. Now you can show mercy to others.
Notice the order here. We can only go and do likewise because He has first come and done to us. First comes justification; then, and only then, sanctification. First Jesus shows us mercy, then we show mercy to others. Good works are not the cause of salvation, but are a result of our salvation. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). “And let us not grow weary of doing good… as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9, 10). “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
The Christian life is a life marked by mercy. It is marked by the mercy our Lord has had on us by becoming one with our flesh, paying the penalty for our sins, and earning us eternal life. And it is marked by the mercy of Christ reflected in His saints. You are called to be merciful. You are called to go and do likewise. You cannot do so by your own power, but you can because of Christ. The Father has pronounced you righteous on account of Christ. The Holy Spirit actually makes you righteous in Christ. He makes you merciful in Christ, our merciful Lord. Jesus is our Good Samaritan. Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? Jesus did. He is your neighbor. He has had mercy on you. Go and do likewise.
If you want to live by the Law, you have to do the whole thing perfectly. You cannot fail in even one point. But you have failed. Nonetheless, the Lord has had mercy upon you and forgiven you all your sins. Jesus is the One Who has fulfilled the whole Law perfectly. He has never failed in even one point. He did this in your place. He binds the wounds of your sin with His perfect righteousness. Now, in Christ, you are holy, as the Lord your God is holy. Now you measure up to God’s standard of perfection, not by your works, but by the work of Jesus Christ. He is both God and Man, and you are baptized into Him, and He dwells in you. Therefore when God looks at you, He sees Jesus, and counts you as righteous. When your neighbor looks at you, he likewise sees Jesus, and finds mercy. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.