Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sermon -- 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 14, 2013)

LUKE 10:25-37

In the name + of Jesus.

     There are basically two different ways to understand the parable before us in the Gospel.  It boils down to how you answer this question: Who is the Good Samaritan?
     Behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)  This is the question that began the dialogue between the expert in the Law and the Giver of that Law.  The man not only had the credentials of being an expert in the details of the Law, he also thought he had the credentials of one who had kept it.  But he also recognized that he had to tweak God’s Law in order to credit himself with perfect obedience.  He had no problem with loving his neighbor as long as he could qualify who his neighbor was.  Therefore, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
     Now, let’s pretend that you are the Good Samaritan.  Let’s say that you are supposed to do all that the Good Samaritan did.  He was certainly noble, wasn’t he?  He not only loved his fellow man, he also loved his enemy—for Samaritans and Jews were enemies.  Nevertheless, the Good Samaritan was more noble than the religious men.  A priest and a Levite turned the other way when they saw the beaten man.  Getting involved was too messy, too inconvenient, too expensive, and too time-consuming. 
     But the Samaritan saw the beaten man.  The Samaritan was not motivated by his prejudices against him.  He saw a man who would die if he were not treated.  Therefore, the Good Samaritan not only had compassion, he acted.  He not only tended his wounds, he also took him to an inn for extra care.  He not only paid the price for his enemy, he pledged to cover any additional costs.  We are hard-pressed to be this generous for friends, let alone enemies!
     Now, let’s return to the original question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)  “Sir, you are the expert in the law.  You publicly read the Scriptures in the synagogues.  What does it say?”  And he answered, “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.”  And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:27-28)  Will you be a Good Samaritan?  Then, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)  Do this.  Do it always.  Do it without fail.  Do it for friends, strangers, and enemies.  Do it cheerfully.  If you are a Good Samaritan like this, you will have a place in heaven.  If you can’t, then you won’t.
     The problem is not that you don’t know what a Good Samaritan is supposed to do.  Perhaps you have even been called a Good Samaritan.  It’s because you changed someone’s flat tire.  It’s because you gave money to a family in need.  It’s because you pulled children and a dog away from a downed power line.  But, Jesus’ command, “Do this!” is a present imperative.  In Greek, that means, “Keep on doing this!”  “Always do this!”  The Law demands constant and perfect performance.  You cannot justify yourself by limiting who is your neighbor, by what works you will do, or by how often you will do them.  The Law has no limits and no quotas.  You do not need to be an expert in the Law to see that you stand condemned.  You do not have such compassion for your fellowman.  You do not bless and pray for your enemies.  You do not love God or keep his commands with all your heart.  Therefore, you cannot obtain eternal life.
     The lawyer wanted to justify himself.  It cannot be done.  If you want to justify yourself, you must keep the Law perfectly, not find ways to get around it.  But there is one who does justify you—Jesus of Nazareth.  He was raised in a city from the northern tribes of Israel, in other words, Samaria.  His enemies tried to smear him with the title, “Samaritan,” which Jesus did not repudiate.  Just as he is the Good Shepherd and the Good Teacher, so also he is the Good Samaritan.  And the Good Samaritan is the only one who saves the dying.
     Now, consider this parable with Jesus as the Good Samaritan.  You will not find yourself driven to despair because of the works you know you can’t do.  Instead, you find that you have a Savior who does them all for you!  For, you are the one who has been left for dead.  You have been attacked by enemies—sin, death, and the devil.  They have robbed you of the Image of God, the glory God had first given to mankind.  You are marked for dead, and in fact you are dying.  You cannot save yourself, no matter how hard you try.
     Neither the priest nor the Levite can save the dying man.  Obedience to the Law would save if you could do it.  But the Law only highlights your sinfulness.  Sacrifices won’t save you, either.  No matter what you vow to give up, it does not take away your sins.  But then came the Good Samaritan.  He had good reason to avoid you, for you have been his enemy.  The sinful mind is hostile to God.  That is why you despise God when he confronts or condemns you or puts a cross on you. 
     And yet, the Good Samaritan did not pass you by.  He knew that stepping in to save you would be messy and time-consuming and costly to him.  But God became man to pick you up and to bear your burden.  The Good Samaritan has tended to your wounds and has cleansed them.  He has paid the cost.  And he has delivered you to the inn, that is, the Church, for your well-being until he returns. 
     The Good Samaritan is the only one who saves the dying.  Jesus said, “Do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)  Your comfort is this: Jesus has done it!  His compassion does not come with quotas.  His mercy has no limits.  Jesus, your Good Samaritan, has loved even his enemies as himself.  He has been merciful to you in your great need.  He has anointed you in Holy Baptism to cleanse you of all of your sin.  And because you continue to be sinners, he pours out wine by which he gives his divine blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. 
     The Good Samaritan has entrusted you to his Church to care for you, to comfort and console you, and to strengthen and keep you until his return.  For here is where he still pours out the oil of joy and the cup of salvation.  Here, he continues to cover the cost for your sins.  Here, he continues to supply your life; for, the Good Samaritan is the only one who saves the dying.
     Your Good Samaritan has had mercy upon you.  He does not crush you with guilt or drive you to despair by telling you how much you must do to satisfy him.  He has satisfied all of God’s demands, and he has placated all of God’s wrath.  You do not have to invent ways to justify yourself.  Jesus Christ has justified you.  He applies his salvation to you through Holy Baptism, through Holy Communion, and through Holy Absolution.  In this way, he gives life to the dying.  The Good Samaritan is the only one who saves the dying.
     One final thought regarding the lawyer’s question from our Gospel.  He had asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)  As a lawyer, he should have known better.  For, there is only one way to obtain an inheritance, and that is the one who gives good things must die.  And so he has.  Jesus has died to pay for all your sins and win your eternal life.  He has risen to conquer the grave and to guarantee your resurrection from it.  The Good Samaritan is the only one who saves the dying.  For, he IS good, and his mercy endures forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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