THE ONE WHO HAS MERCY
In the name + of Jesus.
The expert in the law came to Jesus to test him. The motive behind his question was not good, but his question was not necessarily bad: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) This should be a concern for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. Everyone recognizes that we are to live good lives and stay away from wickedness. Sinful thoughts, words, and deeds bring upon us guilt, but our consciences commend us for good thoughts, words, and deeds. People recognize that a judgment faces us when we die. It is most comforting to know where you will stand when that judgment comes. To be unsure is terrifying. So the questions is good, and many people ask it in one way or another. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)
Since the man was an expert in the law, Jesus appealed to his expertise: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 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.” (Jesus) said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:26-28)
The expert in the law was already uneasy. His answer was right, but he knew that he had not done what the law commanded. But he was a good lawyer, so he wanted to find the loophole. He sought a way to be excused from doing everything the law actually demanded that he do. So he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
Before we come down too hard on this expert in the law, we do the same thing. We agree in theory with God's law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But we insist that there have to be conditions or limits on this. “Love my neighbor, yes, but what about jerks? I don't really have to love a jerk, do I? And what about the people who tell stories about me behind my back or lie to my face? Love them?! What about that guy who cut me off on the freeway or stole my parking spot? And what about terrorists, or drug dealers, or pedophiles? Certainly not them. Love my neighbor, yes, but it doesn't mean everyone, right? There's got to be a line to be drawn somewhere. Who is my neighbor?” This is nothing but an admission that we do not love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we have not done, cannot do, and—if we are honest—are not willing to do what God demands so that we will have eternal life.
To answer the lawyer's protest, Jesus told a parable. A man traveled the windy road down from the heights of Jerusalem to the valley where Jericho was. Robbers beat him and left him half dead. Then came along two clergy men—people who should have had compassion on the dying man. Who knows why they passed by? Fear of an ambush? Laziness? Simply not wanting to get involved? It doesn't matter. They had no compassion for their dying countryman. Then came along a Samaritan. It is hard for us to appreciate the disdain that Jews and Samaritans had for each other. Maybe we could liken it to the Isrealis and Palestinians today. A meeting between these two would probably not end well. But the Samaritan had compassion on the man. He treated his wounds and bound them up. He brought the man to an inn and nursed him throughout the night. Then he covered the man's expenses with two denarii, or two day's wages, and he even pledged to cover further expenses on his way back through. Suffice it to say, this man went above and beyond the call of duty in caring for the man who had been left for dead. And he was a Samaritan, an enemy to the man who had been beaten!
Jesus concluded the parable with this question: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37) Now, this is where the story ends. We do not hear how the lawyer responded. Did he walk away resolved to show more mercy than he had before? Did he walk away dejected, knowing that he was incapable of the mercy Jesus had demanded? Did he recognize that he had no way to gain eternal life? We don't know, and ultimately, we don't need to worry about what the lawyer did. We do need to be concerned about ourselves.
We know that the Law is good. We certainly want others to love us as we love ourselves. And in theory, we know that we should love others and be merciful to them. But the part that convicts and condemns us is Jesus' word: “Do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:28) And if we are doing all we can to gain eternal life, we realize that we can't do it. If we are going to have eternal life, it must come from outside of us. And it does. The one who has mercy saves us.
God's compassion for you is revealed in Jesus. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which is in the northern part of Israel. In the Old Testament when the kingdom of Israel was divided, the south was known as Judah, and the northern tribes were known as Samaria. So, Nazareth was in the territory of Samaria. If Jesus' enemies from Jerusalem wanted to smear him, they could call him a Samaritan. In fact, they did; and Jesus did not reject the smear. Jesus, this Good Samaritan, has had mercy upon you.
Jesus found you in your sinful condition—spiritually dead, destined for the grave, and stripped by Satan of the image of God. Jesus did not concern himself with whether you were lovable or worthy. He did not despise you based upon your background or behavior. He did not reject you for lying to his face about your sins or trying to steal his honor by claiming a righteousness you don't have. He did not let your disobedience temper his mercy. He saw you in your need, and he acted for your benefit. He cleansed the infection of your sin with the waters of baptism. He treats your wounds and covers up your shame. Jesus covered all the expenses to save you. He paid for the debt of sin which he not owe and emptied himself of everything in order to save you. The one who has mercy saves you.
The lawyer's question was a good one, if taken seriously. And yet, there is something humorous about it. He asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) He wanted to know how to inherit something. What do you have to do to become an heir of something? Nothing. You can't do anything to become someone's heir. You might assume that you are the heir in your parents' will. You might even think you've earned it. But the truth is there is nothing you can do to become an heir. Someone has to make you an heir by writing your name into his will. And once he dies, only then do you receive the benefits of that will.
Jesus Christ has made you an heir of eternal life. In order for you to receive the benefits, Jesus had to die. He laid down his life in order to win you a place in the heavenly kingdom. His innocent life of perfectly loving his fellow man—even his enemies!—was given in exchange for your sins. His holy, precious blood was shed to wash you clean of all guilt. His resurrection assures you that you are also now children of the resurrection and heirs of eternal life. The one who has had mercy saves you.
Jesus' final instructions to the lawyer still stand: “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) Having been shown mercy, now you get to go and show love and mercy to others. It remains God's will that you love your neighbor as yourself. Mercy is not given because people are lovable or worthy. We love our neighbor—not according to his behavior or background, but according to his need.
Nevertheless, we do not love our neighbor to inherit eternal life. For us to have eternal life, Jesus has done all the work. Our inheritance comes from Jesus alone. The one who has had perfect, unlimited mercy upon you saved you. Jesus has taken care of your need—cleansing you of all sin, conquering death, and opening heaven up for you. By his death, you receive eternal life. By his mercy, you are saved. And by his love, you see the love that you get to demonstrate to others.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.