The Good Samaritan
13th Sunday After Trinity
August 30th/31st, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Jesus once sent out seventy-two people in groups of two into each town and place where he himself was about to go. They were sent as laborers into the harvest. They were to carry no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, for God would provide for their needs. They were to greet no one on the road, for their mission was too urgent to be sidetracked by chit-chat. In each town they came to they were to heal the sick and proclaim that the Kingdom of God was at hand. If the town rejected them, they were to wipe the dust of that town off their feet and move on. There were more than enough people who needed to hear the Gospel that the seventy-two didn’t need to waste time preaching to those who refused to listen. The seventy-two went out and did as they were told, and when they returned they were filled with great joy. They came to Jesus and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us!” Jesus said, “I know. I have given you authority over serpents and scorpions and the demons, but do not rejoice in that. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” And turning to his disciples privately he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
For thousands of years, the kings and prophets of Israel waited for the arrival of God’s Messiah. They longed to see the fulfillment of all that God had promised. They longed to see the age of the Messiah that the disciples were now enjoying. And yet, not all of God’s people recognized what exactly the Messiah was sent to do. And so in the midst of all this talk of having your name written in heaven and rejoicing in the arrival of the Messiah, one of the educated men in the crowd stands up and asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The man, like many of his day, like many of ours, missed the point of the Messiah. He was looking for a way to save himself. So Jesus answered his question with a question: “What is written in the Law of Moses?” The man’s response? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said, “You have answered rightly. Do this, and you will live.”
Do this and you will live? Sounds easy enough. “I love God,” we tell ourselves. “I love my neighbors; I’m generally nice to people.” It all sounds well and good until you begin to truly think about it. It’s easy to say, “I love God.” It’s even unfortunately easy to convince ourselves that we do. And, in the interest of fairness, to some extent, we’re probably right. I don’t doubt for a second that each person here today, myself included, loves God. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But do we love him with our whole heart? With all our mind? With all our soul? If so, we have a really odd way of showing it.
Pick one of the commandments, it doesn’t matter which one. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Do we actually do this? Do we joyfully come to church each week to be fed by God’s Word? If so, why do we need an attendance policy for school families? We have 1200 members, but our sanctuary only holds 500 at most. Why aren’t we spilling out of the pews into the aisles? Why does our attendance drop by 100 people a week in the summer? Why don’t we have to hold Bible Class in the sanctuary or gym? There’s no way we should fit in the cafeteria. If there’s almost 500 people in worship on any given Sunday, why are there only 100 in Bible Class? Is it that much of a burden to study our Lord’s Word, to delve more deeply into its truths, to let it shape your understanding of our life in this world? Are the other things on the calendar really that important? If we truly loved God with all our heart and mind, then nothing would keep us from the study of his Word or the services of his house.
We can try to convince ourselves that we truly love God with all our heart, but reality is far from it. If we truly loved God with all our heart then we would bend over backward to support the work of his church. Instead of having dozens of people at a voters’ meeting we would have hundreds. We would have so much money supporting the ministries here that not only could we easily build a new wing of classrooms or install a gym floor, but we would be able to pay our teachers to scale and even hire on new staff and engage new ministries within the church. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. This is not intended to be some backhanded sales pitch or fundraising effort. I know full well that life is full of bills and financial obligations. Neither is the point simply to berate the stewardship life here. It may not be what it could be, but that’s true of every congregation. In all reality, while anyone could easily become discouraged when thinking of all that we could do around here, I am also incredibly grateful for all that we already do in our Church and School, and for the support that we already have. No, the point is simply to expose our flimsy attempts at self-righteousness. If we tell ourselves that we love God enough to earn our salvation, then we’re lying to ourselves. We certainly don’t, and we show it by the way we treat his church.
The same could be said of any of the commandments. Honor your father and mother? We are called to honor the authorities God has instituted in this creation. If you want to see if you truly love God, look to see how you treat authority. How do you treat your boss? Do you grumble? Do you complain about those who have authority over you? Do you look down on the person who schedules shifts at your work? Do you respect the office of President or Congressman even if you didn’t vote for or don’t approve of the actions of the individuals holding those offices? Do you hate the order of creation or society? Do you
look for ways to avoid supporting the government with your tax dollars? Do you try to find ways around city codes? Do you ignore traffic safety laws? If we do not completely honor and obey the authority figures God has placed in our lives, we cannot claim to love God perfectly. For whoever loves God listens to his Word and gladly puts it into practice.
The point of the parable, then, is two-fold. First, it is a strict condemnation of our silly self-righteousness. When confronted with a self-righteous question from a self-righteous man, Jesus doesn’t even bring out the big guns. He doesn’t attack the way that we don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength. He simply demonstrates that we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves. You know the story, so there’s no need to rehash it. But it is worth thinking about it in contemporary terms. Do we love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves? People will stand in line for days before a Black Friday Sale or when the new iPhone comes out. Are there lines of people waiting for their turn to help at a homeless shelter in Detroit? Is there a waiting list of names for people who are eager to help with MCREST? Of course not. There’s no way we can legitimately claim that we love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. There’s no way we can legitimately claim that we love anything as much as we love ourselves.
Which is where the central point of the parable comes in. For as much as we want to consider ourselves people who can at some level love God with our heart, soul, and mind, and people who love our neighbors as ourselves, the reality is much different. The Word of God will not allow us to live in that lie. The Law overtakes us like a band of robbers on the road. It unceasingly accuses us in our sin, and each accusation is like a fist to the face or a kick in the gut. The hammer of God shatters our pride and leaves us lying by the side of the road in a bloody mess. And that’s exactly where we need to be, for that is where our Lord comes to rescue us. That is exactly where Jesus picks us up and carries us someplace safe. He brings us into the inn of his church where he feeds and nourishes us. He binds up our wounds pouring on oil and wine. Oil was at one time commonly used in the service of Holy Baptism. Wine is a central element in Holy Communion. Jesus heals and strengthens us in his church through the gifts of the Sacraments. He does not leave us to die in our sin – he rescues us and takes care of us.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
He is good because he loves the unlovable. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. We were laying there dead in our sin, unable to offer anything worth having, laying in a heap on the side of the road. And our Lord took pity on us. Our Lord acted in mercy toward us. It didn’t matter that sin had made us his enemies. Samaritans and Jews hated each other. They treated each other with contempt. They had a long and bitter history of mistreating one another. They were enemies. Paul says that our sin has made us enemies of God. Our selfishness, our failure to love God and serve our neighbor has made us enemies of the Almighty. And what did the Almighty do when he saw his enemy beaten and bruised by the crushing power of the Law? A bruised reed he did not break. A smoldering wick he did not extinguish. Instead, he picked us up and nursed us to health. He brought us back to life – new life in him.
Jesus is the one who loves God the Father with all his heart, soul, and mind. He listens to his Father’s Word and obeys it even to the point of death. Jesus loves his neighbor as himself, even more than himself. The ultimate message of the parable hinges on the last few words. “Which of the three men in the parable proved to be a neighbor to the men who fell among the robbers?” asked Jesus. The lawyer’s answer? “The who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
You go, and do likewise. Do you think you can earn God’s favor by showing that kind of mercy? Do you think you can fulfill the Law of Moses? Do you think you can love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind? Do you think you can love your neighbor as much as you love yourself? If so, you’re simply deluding yourself. The Word of God is truer that our excuses and self-justifications. It will expose our flimsy lies and excuses and leave us battered and bruised by the side of the road. But when we confess our sin, when we acknowledge the truth of God’s Word, when we acknowledge our failure to love God or our neighbor in the way we are called to, that is when our Lord picks us up and tends to our wounds. “You go, and do likewise,” says Jesus. And in a humble confession of the truth we say, “Lord I cannot.” And he replies, “Take heart, for I have done it all already.”
And then he binds our wounds. He heals our injuries. He brings to us the gift of new life in him. And with the gift of the new creation given by our Lord, a new creation that includes a new will and sanctified desires, we set about loving our Lord and our neighbor to the best of our ability, never trusting that such love will earn us a ticket to heaven, but simply rejoicing that because our price has been paid we can now live as the people we were created to be: people who love our Lord, people who support the work of his kingdom, and people who tend to the needs of those around us.
May God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.