Rev. Paul J Cain
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, 30 August 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
And so we meet the Good Samaritan again. I’m not going to pretend that this is the first time you’ve heard Jesus’ parable. I will ask you to consider anew the questions that led Jesus to tell the parable.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
The man’s primary concern—at least the one he verbally presents—is eternal life. Perhaps there’s a question behind the question. Maybe he’s been in an argument with a friend, a family member or even his own rabbi. Why does he want to know? His question leads to our own questions.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
Jesus is a faithful prophet. He is Son of God and still has the vocation of proclaiming God’s Word. Jesus proclaims both Law and Gospel. We begin with the Law.
26 He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 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.” 28 And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Yes. Do this and you will live. Good luck.
The Law, written on the heart, tells us what we are to do (and not do). It promises eternal life but ONLY if you are perfectly obedient 100% of the time. No lee-way here. Failure means death. And eternal death. Functionally, the law tells us what to do but gives us no power to comply. How do we respond to the law? Ultimately, we end up in rebellion, rejection, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness, or in terror, revulsion, hopelessness, and self-destruction. Secure sinners need to hear the law so that they lose their false sense of security.
It has been said that preachers are given to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. In Christ, that can be understood in an edifying and true way.
Consider the rest of the story, the other main teaching of Holy Scripture, in fact what is to be the predominant, pre-eminent and unique Christian teaching: the Gospel.
The Gospel is made known to us only by the revelation of God in His Word—not nature, nor reason, and certainly not experience. The Gospel tells us what God does for us in Christ. There are no demands. Jesus words, “It is finished!” sum this up well. The Gospel promises Eternal life by grace, through faith, in Christ alone, as proclaimed in God’s Word alone, to God’s glory alone! And what is the threat of the Gospel? None. Zip. Nada. The Gospel gives what it demands: faith. Faith is a gift of God (and so is repentance). In place of the effect of the Law, rebellion and terror, the Gospel produces in you faith, comfort, and salvation. And isn’t that just what alarmed sinners need to hear?
What did this fellow in the text need to hear, Law or Gospel? Perhaps his last question will give us insight: 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
He wanted to justify himself. Let’s put that in plainer language: he wanted to be right. Being right is not always pretty. You’ve met plenty of folks who have paid great costs in order to merely be right. Who is your neighbor?
Allow me to offer some answers. Your first neighbors brought you into this world. If you are married, your spouse is your neighbor. The children you brought into this world are your neighbors. And, of course, the people who live next door, attend your school, and work and play with you. Neighbors inhabit your community and congregation and country.
A pastor’s neighbors include his family, congregation and community, in addition to his brother pastors and sister congregations in the Synod. A congregation’s neighbors include all the members of the congregation, its pastor and his family, the community around it, as well as its brother pastors and sister congregations.
Your neighbor may be sick, poor, lonely, in prison, or even hungry. Your neighbor may look just like you. Or not. Your neighbor may speak English. Or some other language. Your neighbor, simply put, is a person in need that you are given to help and be a neighbor to. And that is why Jesus told the parable. A fellow with many questions may well have wanted to get out of being neighborly to somebody he didn’t want to help.
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 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. 35 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Samaritans and Jews were “neighbors” in the proximity sense, but not neighborly. Who was a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? Even the man with all the self-justifying questions was compelled to answer correctly: the one who showed him mercy.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.
Jesus had mercy on us. He, the true Good Samaritan, did a Good Friday and Easter Sunday work of mercy we could never accomplish so that we would forgive those who have trespassed against us, have mercy on those who need our help, and to share the Word of life, peace, and mercy to a world in desperate denial that it even needs God or the Word. Lord, help us to have mercy on our neighbors. Generously, faithfully, consistently, and always. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.