“Law Questions and the Good Samaritan Answer” (Luke 10:25-37)

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2019

“Law Questions and the Good Samaritan Answer” (Luke 10:25-37)

Our text today is one of the most well-known parables in the Bible. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan. And Jesus’ parable is prompted by a couple of questions that someone asks him. Law questions, questions about what we have to do to keep God’s Law. And so our theme this morning: “Law Questions and the Good Samaritan Answer.”

What prompts Jesus to tell this story? It’s a little exchange he has with a lawyer in the crowd. Our text starts out: “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘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.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’”

Now when it says “lawyer” here–“a lawyer stood up to put him to the test”–it means an expert in the Law of Moses, the Torah. This would be someone very knowledgeable in all the laws given to Israel through Moses–the civil laws, religious laws, ceremonial laws, the moral laws.

This expert in the Law is trying to test Jesus, to get his take on an important question. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” the man asks. That’s an important question. What could be more important than gaining eternal life? If you don’t have that, then death is the end for you–and something even worse after death.

But notice, the lawyer’s question is a Law question: What shall I “do” to inherit eternal life? He thinks that by his doing, by his keeping of God’s Law, he can earn his way to eternal life. But the truth is, you and I will never do enough to merit eternal life. Our works won’t cut it. This lawyer doesn’t grasp that. So Jesus wants to straighten him out on this, to dispel the notion that you can work your way into heaven. Maybe we need to get that straight, too.

The lawyer asks a Law question. So Jesus turns it around and sees if the man can come up with a Law answer. That’s where this guy’s head is at. Jesus asks him: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” In other words, what would you have to do if you’re going to gain eternal life on the basis of the Law?

The man answers, “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.” Now that’s a correct answer, as far as it goes. It’s a good summary of the Ten Commandments: Love God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. In fact, on another occasion, Jesus himself uses that same twofold summary to talk about the Ten Commandments. So these are the two tables of the Law: Love God. Love your neighbor.

Jesus commends the lawyer’s answer: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” “Do this,” and you will live. Ah, there’s the catch! Do we do this? Do we love God and love our neighbor well enough to earn eternal life? The answer is no. I don’t love God as much as I ought, and you don’t, either. That’s what God’s Word says about our sinful nature. Likewise, with loving my neighbor as myself. I’ve got the loving-myself part down pretty well. It’s the loving-my-neighbor thing I have trouble with. You too?

Well, this lawyer thinks he does perform the Law well enough. Oh, as long as he can narrow down who qualifies to be his neighbor. Lawyers are experts at parsing words and looking for loopholes. And this lawyer right now is scrambling to make himself look good. I mean, he has just given the right answer about how to earn eternal life by way of the Law, so he’s pretty much painted himself into a corner. Now he’s got to be able to meet the criteria he’s already established. He takes it for granted that he’s fine on the loving-God part. Now if only he can limit loving his neighbor to only those people he already likes, well, then he’s home free.

So the lawyer, “desiring to justify himself,” our text says, follows up with another question, a second Law question. He asks, “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, who qualifies to get my love? You see, if I can eliminate the bad people and the disgusting people and the people who inconvenience me, then I think I just might be able to do this “love your neighbor.”

But “Love your neighbor as yourself” does not put a limit on who your neighbor is. And so that’s where Jesus takes it next. He starts telling a story, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” Well, those bad guys, the robbers–obviously they are not very loving. They beat the guy up! I’m glad I’m better than those robbers! I haven’t beaten anybody up and robbed them.

Jesus continues, with the beat-up guy lying there half-dead on the road: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road.” Oh, a priest! Here’s a good guy for our story! I mean, who could be more pious and religious than a priest? I’m sure he’ll do the right thing. “A priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.” Oops! The priest doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t hurt the guy, but he doesn’t help him, either. He does keep himself ceremonially clean by not coming into contact with what might be a dead body.

Next? “So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” Passed by on the other side. The Levite doesn’t help, either. Anyone? Anyone? The beat-up half-dead guy can’t last much longer. Will this story have a hero?

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” A Samaritan? Really, Jesus, a Samaritan? You make the hero of your story some marginalized guy we all look down upon? Well, in a way, that’s like Jesus himself. Marginalized. Looked down upon. An outsider to the insider circle of the Judaism of the day.

So it’s a Samaritan who comes to where the injured man is, and he has compassion on him. Just like Christ came down from heaven and came to where we are, lying not just half-dead, but completely dead spiritually, unable to save ourselves. Our Lord did not pass by on the other side. No, he comes to us, where we are. And he has compassion on us. Jesus is moved with mercy within him, and his mercy moves him into action.

Which is what the Samaritan in the story does. “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” Loving your neighbor means actually helping your neighbor. And so Jesus comes to us with healing, with his restorative care. And this healing happens by Jesus himself being beaten up, whipped, and nailed to a cross. For by his wounds we are healed.

Christ’s love is sacrificial love, like how the Samaritan helps the man in the story: “Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’”

In the same way, Jesus pays the price, whatever it takes, for us to be saved. As the Samaritan supplied the innkeeper, so Christ supplies the church with the resources necessary to extend his love to others. This is the church’s ministry of mercy.

Now we see what loving your neighbor looks like. We see it in the story Jesus tells. We see it in the story Jesus lived, in the life and death and resurrection with which Jesus loves us.

So now Jesus brings the story home to the lawyer. Of the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Look at what Jesus does to the lawyer’s original question. The lawyer asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus turns it around and asks, “Who was a neighbor to the man who was hurt?” You see, it’s not about who qualifies to be your neighbor and thus deserves your love. No, it’s about you being a neighbor to others. Love means being a neighbor to whoever happens to be lying in your path. That’s what loving your neighbor is all about.

So, who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? “The one who showed him mercy,” the lawyer responds. And Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise.” Yes, go out and try that. See how well you do at trying to justify yourself. I bet you’ll fall short. You cannot save yourself by means of the Law. That’s what you need to discover.

No, you and I cannot gain eternal life by our works. If we are going to have eternal life, we’re going to need to inherit it, to receive it as a gift. So give up on trying to justify yourself. Admit your sins, your lack of love for God and neighbor. Receive the free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Joined to Jesus in Holy Baptism, you become an heir with him. This is how to inherit eternal life. It’s the only way.

Then, once you are a Christian, you will take this love you’ve received from God, and you can and will show this type of Good-Samaritan love, this Christ-like love, to others. To your neighbor, that is, to any person who happens to come across your path. Not to justify yourself. Not because you think you can earn your way into heaven. But because you are a new person now in Christ, and so you reflect his love and compassion to the people you meet.

Dear friends, the good news today is this: Jesus is our Good Samaritan! He comes to us where we are. Jesus does not pass by on the other side. He has compassion on us. He is moved with mercy, and he does something about it. Jesus does everything it takes to give us the help and the healing we need to have eternal lie. Oh, and one more thing: He also teaches you and empowers you to love your neighbor as yourself. Now you will go and do likewise.

Published in: on July 13, 2019 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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