Friday, August 27, 2010

Sermon for 8/29/10: Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

The Samaritan’s Love
Luke 10:23-37

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A parable can sometimes be a means of getting a man to drop his guard just enough that he learns who and what he really is. In the Old Testament the best example of that is the prophet Nathan’s story told to King David about the little ewe lamb that belonged to another man, with its final and devastating “Thou art the man” directed at David. In the Gospels, perhaps the finest example of this is Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan, with its final and equally devastating “Go and do likewise.”

The lawyer in this parable was an expert in the Law of Moses, with all of its many rules and regulations. To understand the discussion between this lawyer and Jesus we must remember that, long before this, the Law of Moses had been summed up in that admonition to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. And so, when the lawyer put his question to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he wanted to cross-examine Jesus as an interpreter of the sacred Law. But Jesus turned the tables on His questioner, first by showing that the lawyer already knew the answer to his own question, and then by making him measure his life by the standard he, himself, set up in this battle of wits.

Jesus did not, in fact, answer that question, but replied by asking a question of His own: “What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?” The lawyer answered, “You will love the Lord with your whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself.” “Quite right,” Jesus told him. “Do this and you are on your way to eternal life. Stop theorizing about love and get down to doing it.” It was then that the lawyer, unable to spring his trap on Jesus, asked the question that was really foremost in his mind: “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, where am I to draw the line? To his chagrin, Jesus declined the debate. And, knowing that it was time to strike home, he told a story instead, not to answer the man’s question, but to show him that he had asked the wrong question. The right question is not, “Whom may I regard as neighbor?” It is, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” And the right answer to that question is, “To anyone whose need can be served by my help.”

What about this parable? First we see this lonely traveler, no doubt a Jew, making his way along what was called in those days the “Path of Blood,” seventeen miles of dangerous and rocky road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Suddenly, the robbers swooped down out of the hills, beat up their man, stripped him of his money and anything of value, and then vanished as quickly as they came. A bit later, along came two pillars of the Jewish church, one after the other, a priest and a Levite. They could not help but see the robber’s victim—after all, he was lying there in plain sight—but they did not lift a finger to help him. Why? We do not know, and cannot for sure. Human nature being what it is, we do know that good reasons to avoid involvement always have a way of offering themselves when we are faced with a difficult or distasteful duty. So, off went the priest and Levite, passing by on the other side.

Then, soon after, there came the hero of this story, and of all people he was a Samaritan—a half-breed heretic. One glance at the victim was enough to move his pity. Dismounting, he applied what help he could on the spot; wine and oil to disinfect the wounds, and bandages to bind them up. Then he placed the man on his animal, and he went with him to the nearest inn, to care for him that night. The next morning he came to the owner of the inn, gave him some money, and said: “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.” What a truly extravagant love this was! He did not even know the victim’s name. Even so, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to nurse this man back to health. The story over, Jesus asked the final question: “So which of these do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The lawyer gave him the only answer he could. “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus said, “Go and do as he did.

No parable Jesus told, except perhaps for the Prodigal Son, has been so loved and known as this one. But do we sentimentalize the story? Has it merely become the story of a man who did his good deed? Is the point of the parable merely the virtue of doing a good work? Is it not, rather, that our neighbor may end up being the person we would least expect? The lawyer could not really love his neighbor because he did not know who his neighbor was. Jesus answer was this: Love for one’s neighbor has no boundaries or restrictions, but only asks for the opportunity to be put to use.

When you think of it this way, it ceases to be just the story of the man who did his good deed. It is, instead, a story about the nature of true love; the love of God for us which is revealed in this life through our love for our neighbor. To ask, “Who is my neighbor?” is still to ask the wrong question. Love asks, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” To all of us who bear the name of Christ, he says, “Go and do what the Samaritan did to any and to all you meet along the path of this life.”

But, there is even more about the love of God here, something which is essential to fully understanding this parable, and will keep this parable from becoming nothing more than a bit of moralizing. Jesus is, Himself, the Good Samaritan. He was, and He is still among many, hated like the Samaritans were hated. Isaiah tells us, “He was despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.“ He became, by His cross, the Good Samaritan for us all. He helps us when all others and all else fails. He cleanses the wounds of our sins, and binds them up again that we might be healed, strong and healthy once again. He has healed us eternally through the life He brings us in His death, that life that will never end. And since all of this is true, we are under the sacred obligation to do as He did, as much as we are able. This is just what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Inasmuch as you did this to one of the least of My brethren, you did it to Me.” He who served us in this way is honored when we serve Him as He comes to us, hidden in all the poor and hopeless neighbors we meet in this life. He now serves us with His holy body and blood for the remission of our sins. He bids us go and do as He has done: to give lavishly and fully to anyone who is our neighbor. For in loving our neighbor even as we love ourselves, we love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. And because He has made His love for the neighbor into our love, we are the true inheritors of eternal life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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