Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 10)
July 10, 2016
Text: Luke 10:25-37
We all know what this parable means. Don’t be mean, like the Meany McMean Pants priest and Levite, who have neither the time nor the compassion to help a brother in need, but get over into the far lane to pass by safely and go merrily on their way. Be like the Samaritan. He’s a good fellow. He’ll always stop to help. The camping club to which some of you belong depicts him as a disembodied head with a halo. You’ll note that is not on our bulletin cover. We call someone a good Samaritan when they stop along the freeway to help change a flat tire, return a lost dog, or help an old lady across the street. Those are all wonderful things to do, and I hope you do them. But do you see what we’ve done? We’ve made this parable all about me and the good things I can do to make God smile. Really, we’ve reduced our Lord’s teaching to the simple moralism: always be helpful. This is how the parable is proclaimed from most pulpits, and taught in most Sunday School classes. And if, after ten years with you, you think that is the right interpretation, I have utterly failed as your pastor. This misses the whole point. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has nothing to do with encouraging you to be nice.
The parable is about Jesus! And it is about what Jesus does for you when He comes upon you beaten, naked, dying, and dead in your trespasses and sins. We always want to identify with the hero in the story. You can’t do that with this parable. If you do, you’ll think changing tires and camping make you a good Christian. That’s not it, guys. Here is how it is. A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. It’s never good in the Bible when you go down. Especially from Jerusalem, the Holy City where God dwells in the Temple. And especially to Jericho, that cursed city conquered by the Israelites long ago when they came into the Promised Land, the one where they blew the trumpets and the walls fell down and Joshua declared that whoever rebuilds it would lay the foundation at the cost of his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest child (Josh. 6:26). And so it was for Hiel of Bethel hundreds of years later, who lost his firstborn Abiram as he laid the foundation, and his youngest, Segub, as he set up its gates (1 Kings 16:34). So Jericho has a reputation to say the least. The man in our text is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. We might say something like, “the man is going down from the Church for a good time in Vegas.” And he fell among robbers. Notice the perils of the journey down from what is holy to what is unholy. Who might the robbers be in the story? The devil? The world? Your own sinful flesh? And what happens? They strip him naked. That’s what happened to our first parents when they fell into the clutches of the devil in the garden. Remember? They looked down and they were naked and ashamed. They covered it up as best they could, fig leaves and all, and they tried to hide, but the damage was done. They were exposed… Those robbers stripped the man and beat him to a pulp. As sneaky and enticing as our three main enemies can be, they never leave us unharmed. The odd thing is, we often like the beating at the time. And we don’t even notice the robbery… of our life. Of our faith… They leave us a bloody mess, half dead, soon to be carrion for the vultures, the demons, the rotting creatures of hell. You are not the Good Samaritan in this story, beloved. You are the wounded sack of flesh and bones on the side of the road. Helpless. Hopeless. Dying. Dead.
And now, what about the priest and the Levite? It’s not that they’re just big meanies. They might be really nice guys, and they’re certainly morally upstanding citizens, good Christian folk. It’s not even that they don’t want to help, but that’s just the point. They cannot help you. The priest and the Levite stand for God’s holy Law. The Law of God is good and wise. It is righteous and pure. And if you can keep it perfectly, you will live. But what can the Law do for a sinner? It can only accuse. It can only kill. It can only damn to hell. So I suppose we should be relieved that the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side instead coming over to us to finish us off.
But then Another comes down the road. He is not holy in the way of the priest and the Levite. That is to say, His holiness is not in the eyes of men. It is no mere outward keeping of the Law. It is something much deeper. It is His very essence. Now, in this way, the Samaritan offers a good illustration. It would never occur to a Law-abiding Jew that a Samaritan could be holier than a priest or a Levite. We speak of the Good Samaritan, but a Jew would never call a Samaritan “good.” The Samaritans were hated. They were the unfaithful remnants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, intermarried with the nations and idolatrous, unclean, sinners. Jesus is not a Samaritan, but that didn’t stop the Jews from saying, “Are we not right in saying you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48; ESV). Not just a Samaritan, but a demon-possessed Samaritan, they called our Lord, so consuming was their hatred for Him. Isaiah said it long ago: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:2-3).
But it is the despised and hated Samaritan who comes upon the man and has mercy, who binds up his wounds and pours on oil and wine, who sets him on his own animal and brings him to an inn and personally tends to him. And when he must go away the next morning, he pays the innkeeper to tend the man, with a promise that he will return and repay the innkeeper for any added expense. And so it is the despised and hated Jesus who comes upon you in your sin and death and has mercy on you, who binds up your wounds and anoints you with the oil of the Spirit in the water of Baptism and gives you to drink of the wine of His blood. He picks you up and brings you to an Inn, Holy Church, and He tends your wounds, and He charges an innkeeper, your pastor, to care for you. And there is the promise: He will come back for you. He will see your healing all the way through. And to the innkeeper there is the promise: “I will repay you when I come back” (Luke 10:35). The final healing for all your wounds, and the reward for a pastor’s faithful care, these things are given in the end, when Jesus returns and raises you from the dead and gives you eternal life in the New Creation.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Jesus is the Neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers. Now, it is true, our Lord says at the end of the parable, “You go, and do likewise” (v. 37). If we aren’t careful, we’ll turn this story back into a moralism: Be helpful… Be kind. But remember, the lawyer who put Jesus to the test asked a Law question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25; emphasis added). He was seeking to justify himself, to clothe himself with fig leaves. Well, ask a Law question, get a Law answer. It’s really quite simple. Have mercy, like Jesus. Perfect mercy. Love perfectly, like Jesus, from your heart. Rescue your enemy, who hates you and wants to kill you, from what otherwise would be certain death. And give yourself and all you are and all you have for the healing of that enemy. And do this all the time, all the way, no exceptions, no omissions, perfectly, from your heart. All the way to Golgotha. All the way to the cross. All the way to death and hell, to spare your enemy from death and hell. That’s what Jesus does. Go and do likewise. And you can’t, can you? Not even the lawyer could do that. Nor the priest, nor the Levite. Only Jesus. This is not a moralism, this is the mirror of the Law in all its gory truth. The Law accuses you. The Law kills you. The Law damns you to hell. And that is why your Good Samaritan, Jesus, must rescue you and care for you and bring you to the Inn. That is pure Gospel. Jesus does it. Not you. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Not you. Jesus is the Good Samaritan for you.
But then, there is something else here for you to keep in mind. Here you are, in the Inn, and your wounds are being tended and your ultimate healing is assured. You’re still very weak. The old sinful nature keeps popping up again to plague you. He must be drowned in repentance. But you have the medicine, the Gospel, that assures your recovery. And so, it is true that ever so weakly and far short of the perfection of Jesus, you can begin to love your neighbor and have mercy on him. Now, understand, you aren’t doing this to inherit eternal life, as the lawyer wanted to do. You’re already in the Inn of the Church, and Jesus has promised to come back for you, so all of that is taken care of. You already have eternal life. No, you’re doing this because your neighbor needs you to do it. And having received all of this love and mercy from Jesus, it just overflows in works of love and mercy for your neighbor. That is always the way of faith. That is always the way of the Christian life. You can begin to give yourself up for your neighbor, as Christ gave Himself up completely for you. You can die to yourself. You can forgive and ask forgiveness. You can give to missions and to charity. Generously, even. You can change flat tires and walk old ladies across the street and do good work at your job and be a faithful spouse, parent, or child. And when you aren’t faithful (and you’ll never be, perfectly), nevertheless, there is the medicine. There is Jesus in His Word and Sacraments. There are the fruits of His cross. There is Christ crucified for you, risen for you. You don’t do anything for this. Jesus has done it all. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.