Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Most people think the account of the Good Samaritan shows that we're supposed to help people in need. When they think of the Christian faith, they think this story is the whole story: be good to other people and you'll get to heaven. “Do this and you will live.” But the Word of God isn't there to condemn you, but to save you. His Word doesn’t teach you how to earn eternal life. His Word is given to teach you how He saves you. Jesus doesn't tell the story of the Good Samaritan to teach the guy how to be nice to people. He tells him the story to save him from trying to save himself.
The Gospel says that when Jesus answered him, the young law expert, "wanting to justify himself," asked, "Who is my neighbor." There's the key. He wanted to justify himself. To justify means to show why he's right. He wanted to save himself. And it's our problem too. We want to justify ourselves. To God, "justify" means to "be right and make right." For us, though, "justify" seems to mean "make up excuses." The Law of God is simple, as the young law expert knows: You love God above all things. You love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, you can't love God without loving your neighbor, as Jesus taught him. But we, like the lawyer, want to justify ourselves. The Law says, "Love God. Love your neighbor." We say, "But I can't do it." The Law replies: "Love God. Love your neighbor." And we say, "I can't do it. But I have a good reason for not doing it." And the Law replies: "Love God! Love your neighbor!" That's what the Law says. That's all it says. You can't make excuses. You can't get around it. Either love God and your neighbor, or you are doomed.
That is why, when the man in the story gets beat up and robbed and left half dead, the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side. What Jesus is teaching this lawyer who wants to justify himself is that he, the man, is the guy who is beaten up and robbed. His righteousness is stolen by the devil; he is mauled by sin. When the Law comes, what does it do? It can't help. It can't save. It can't rescue. It just tells us what to do and what will happen if we don't do it. That is why the priest and the Levite, who represent the Law in the story, just go on their merry ways. They can't help. But a Samaritan does. He has compassion on the man. He cleans and bandages his wounds and takes him to the inn to recover. He pays the expenses. So when the Law doesn't save you, the Lord has compassion. And God's compassion doesn't mean that He sits up in heaven feeling sorry for you. He suffers Himself to be arrested and mocked and beaten and spit upon and jeered and hated and crucified. He carries our sins on Himself and dies for them on the cross. That's the Lord's compassion! The compassion of our Lord is not in His somehow taking pity when you get weepy. His compassion is to come to half-dead sinners, beaten and robbed by the devil, and to save you.
But the Samaritan's compassion doesn't stop there. He carries the man to an inn and puts him in the care of the innkeeper and provides for all his expenses. Jesus doesn't just die for you and then go away. He pours His oil and wine from His own wounds into the wounds of your sins, washing you in the waters of the holy font. He carries you by the preaching of the Gospel to the inn of His church. There he puts you under the care of his pastors, his innkeepers, that you would have rest from your sins. He covers all the expenses with His precious blood. That is why in the Christian church there is no limit to the forgiveness you receive in baptism, no limit on how many times the absolution can be spoken or Jesus' body and blood be given and received. The Law will pass you by and leave you dying. But the Savior gives His life to save yours. You will not die because Jesus has gone through death and suffering for you, in your place.
That is what it means that God truly justifies you: not your excuses, but the wounds of Jesus; not your works, but the Word and Sacraments of Jesus. You can't justify yourself. But Jesus does by what He has done for you. He has done it in your place. That's God Himself justifying you in Jesus. That's Jesus being your neighbor. 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.