“The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37)

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 10, 2022

“The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37)

Our text is the Holy Gospel for today, from Luke chapter 10. It’s the parable of “The Good Samaritan.” And, as often happens, there’s something that happens in real life that leads Jesus to tell this or that parable. On this occasion, it’s an interaction Jesus has with a certain lawyer in the crowd. Now when it says “lawyer” here, it’s not talking about the kind of lawyer you see advertising their law office on a billboard or TV commercial. It’s not the kind of prosecuting or defense attorney you see portrayed on TV shows or movies. No, when it says “lawyer” here, it’s talking about an expert in the Law of Moses. This would be a Jewish scholar who knows all the moral, civic, and ceremonial laws of ancient Israel, as found in the books of Moses.

This expert in the Mosaic law asks Jesus a question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And, as Jesus often does, he answers a question with a question of his own: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And the lawyer replies: “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 commends his reply: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Notice what’s going on here. The lawyer asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Do you see what’s wrong with the premise of the question? It presumes there is something you can do to earn eternal life by way of your works. And that isn’t going to work. You and I and that lawyer back then–we can never do enough works to earn our way into heaven. Our good works aren’t good enough. They can’t offset or outweigh our sins.

So Jesus needs this lawyer and us to realize this, that we can’t do enough to gain eternal life. He tells the lawyer, “You know the Law of Moses. How would you sum it up?” And the lawyer responds with two verses from the Old Testament that really do sum up what God wants us to do: to love God with everything that’s in us, and to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. And Jesus says: “That’s right. Go ahead and do those two things, love God, love your neighbor, do them consistently and perfectly your whole life long, and you will indeed gain eternal life by way of your works.”

Oh, now the lawyer is on the spot. He realizes that’s a pretty tall order, so he tries to cut it down to a manageable size. “Love God? I can put on a pretty good show for that. I can make it look like I love God by going through all the religious motions. But loving my neighbor? People might notice when I’m not acting so kind toward my neighbor.”

So, what the lawyer does in order to justify himself–that is, to make himself look good after painting himself into a corner for having just said that you need to love God and love your neighbor to inherit eternal life–“desiring to justify himself,” he says to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

The lawyer is trying to make loving my neighbor into something manageable, into something I can do a pretty good job at. Thus, if I can limit who my neighbor is, that makes my job a whole lot easier. Because I know I can love the people who love me, the people I like and get along with. Yeah, I can love my own peeps pretty well. As long as I don’t have to love those other people, the people I don’t like, the people I look down upon. So, Jesus, who qualifies as my neighbor?

And that leads Jesus now to tell a story, to make the point that the loving-your-neighbor commandment doesn’t depend on who qualifies to be your neighbor. God doesn’t put a limit on that. You’re looking at it the wrong way, son!

And that brings us to the parable itself. Jesus begins: “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 guys, yeah, the robbers–they certainly are not loving their neighbor as themselves! They’ve robbed the poor guy, beat him up really bad, and left him there lying on the road! And I, I’m not like them! I’ve never robbed anyone or beat them up half-dead. OK, so far, Jesus, I’m on board with you. I’m keeping the commandment very well compared to those guys! Good for me!

But the story is just beginning. Jesus continues: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road.” Oh, a priest! Now we’ve got a good guy entering the story. I’m sure he’ll do the right thing. I mean, he’s a priest, after all, and who can be holier than that? “Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him . . . he passed by on the other side.” Oh. “He passed by on the other side.” That doesn’t sound very good when you put it that way. But, uh, maybe he was in a hurry to do something religiously important. Or maybe he avoided the half-dead guy because he thought the fella was 100% dead, and coming into contact with a dead body would make him ceremonially unclean. Or–well, anyway, I’m sure the priest had a good reason.

Next man up: “So likewise a Levite.” Ah, a Levite! Another good guy. The Levites did all sorts of things at the temple, and they knew the Levitical laws inside out. But wait: “So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him . . . passed by on the other side.” Ugh. Now we’re oh-for-two. Two highly religious guys, and neither one of them does anything to help the half-dead guy on the road. It sounds like Jesus is making a point here.

He is. And the point is, it’s not just the robbers who broke God’s law by beating the guy up and stealing his stuff. They committed what we call sins of commission, actively doing wrong to one’s neighbor. But the priest and the Levite are breaking God’s law, by not doing anything to help the poor guy. He was lying right there in their path, and they went out of their way to not help him! They are committing what we call sins of omission, when, even if we haven’t done anything wrong, we don’t do anything right, either! We choose not to help our neighbor, when we have the opportunity to do so. That ain’t right, either.

So the beat-up, half-dead guy is still lying there, and no one is helping him. Soon he’ll be a fully dead guy in the middle of the road, stinkin’ to high, high heaven! Is there no one who will stop and help? Wait, I think Jesus sees someone coming. . . . “But a Samaritan. . . .” Oh, wait. False alarm. It’s only a Samaritan. He can’t be any good. He’s a Samaritan, after all, and we all know the Samaritans are a bunch of low-lifes who aren’t as good as us Jews. “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him . . . he had compassion.” Huh? What? The Samaritan had compassion on him? How can that be? Well, OK, he was moved with pity. He felt sorry for the guy. Fine. But then he must have moved on, right?

Wrong. True compassion is more than a feeling. True compassion will move you into action. And that’s what this Samaritan does: “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” What the Samaritan does actually helps the guy. He treats the man’s wounds. He puts him on his own animal, which means the Samaritan has to walk. He takes him to an inn, where the fella can recuperate. The Samaritan takes care of the beat-up guy. This is very inconvenient. The Samaritan went out of his way, not to avoid the man, but to help him.

What’s more, Jesus says, “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.’” This is costly love! The Samaritan goes the extra mile and spares no expense to love his neighbor in very practical care and help. Jesus is saying, this is how you keep God’s law of loving your neighbor as yourself.

Friends, this is exactly what Jesus has done for us. He saw us lying there on the road, not just half-dead, but fully dead spiritually. That’s what we were, dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead, unable to help ourselves. But the Son of God came down from heaven and came to where we were, and he had compassion on us. He didn’t pass us by. No, Christ came and dwelt among us. His compassion moved him into action.

Jesus’ love is a costly love. He has redeemed us, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, which are worth far more than all the denarii on earth. Christ lifts us up by raising us up to new life and eternal life in the waters of Holy Baptism. He brings us into the welcoming inn of the church, where the Holy Spirit cares for us through the means of grace, and the holy people of God care for one another. Jesus comes today with healing, the perfect and eternal healing promised in the bread and wine that are the body and blood of Christ.

The good Samaritan in the story is acting like how Jesus himself acts toward us. This is how you love your neighbor as yourself. So, now Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three”–that is, the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan–“which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” And the lawyer has to answer, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise.”

Notice, lawyers, it’s not about who qualifies as your neighbor, to be worthy of your mercy. No, it’s about: Are you a merciful person? Will you be a neighbor to whomever it is who lies in your path? That’s what the loving-your-neighbor commandment means. And, all you lawyers out there, if you go and do likewise, you will soon discover you don’t do as good a job of that as the Samaritan in the story. Thus you will learn that you are not able to inherit eternal life by what you do. Your works aren’t good enough.

But there is one whose works are good enough. It’s Jesus. It’s through his good works of loving his Father and loving you, the dead guys on the road–it’s through Jesus Christ that you will surely inherit eternal life. For, dear friends, Jesus is our Good Samaritan!

Published in: on July 9, 2022 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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