Sunday, September 2, 2012

Homily for The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)



Luke 10:23-37; Galatians 3:15-22; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s parable of the Good Samaritan is an illustration of the nature of God’s love shown to mankind. Jesus offered the parable in response to a young lawyer’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, by all counts, that’s simply a bad question. Why? Well, it’s a bad question because “doing” concerns labor and merit, while “inheriting” concerns being given and receiving. That is to say that you do not do anything when you inherit, but someone else has given you an inheritance because of who you are – because you are a son or a daughter, a grandchild, a nephew or a niece, or at least a close family friend. You inherit because the giver has recognized that you are related to him, and what he has he gives to you, whom he considers to be his own flesh. That’s why the lawyer’s question was bad. It betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding about the passive nature of inheritance, that you cannot do anything to inherit eternal life, but you must receive it, as a gift, by being related to the giver, part of his family, flesh of his own flesh.

But, the man was a lawyer, therefore he asked a question about the law – “What must I do?” Therefore, in turn, Jesus directed him back to the Law – “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered correctly saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind, and you neighbor as yourself.” That was the correct answer. That was what Moses taught as a summary of the entire Law of God – love. Jesus told the young lawyer that he had answered correctly and He said, “Do this, and you will live.”

Now, of course, therein lies a problem. Jesus’ command is a bit too open ended for our liking. We want to ask, “What do you mean by ‘do this’? How much do I have to love? Whom shall I love? When shall I love?” We want to narrow the Law of God down a little (maybe a lot!). We want to make it more precise, more do-able. But, Jesus didn’t let the lawyer off the Law’s hook, and neither does He let you off. You want to do the Law? Then, do it. But, the lawyer isn’t comfortable with Jesus’ open-ended command. He wants to narrow it down and make it more do-able. Thus, in an attempt to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The trap is sprung. It is then that Jesus replies by telling His disciples and this young lawyer the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is not a parable about works that you should do, but it is a parable about, and it is the answer to, the question “Who is my neighbor?” It is a parable about relationships. And, it is a parable about mercy, compassion, charity, and grace, which is to say, it is a parable about love, which is the fulfilling of the Law of God.

Who is my neighbor? That question has a sour ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s the kind of question a child asks when he’s trying to get out of something. It’s the kind of question a defendant in court asks when he’s trying to justify himself and appear not guilty. It’s the kind of question, let’s face it, that we all ask all the time. Historically, the Jews of Jesus’ day considered other Jews to be their neighbor, beginning with their own family and relatives, extending to friends and neighbors – but only Jews. They did not consider their half-brothers, the Samaritans, to be their neighbor. They Jews felt justified in walking past a Samaritan in need; they felt no obligation to help. The irony in Jesus’ parable, then, is that two upstanding Jews, a priest and a Levite, both passed by a man beaten and bloodied and left for dead in the ditch, and that man was not a Samaritan, but a Jew himself, a son of Abraham and a neighbor. Further, the person who finally does stop and help the man is not a Jew, but a despised Samaritan.

Do you see how twisted and contorted things become when we do not love? We try to narrow down our Lord’s command to love, to exclude some persons, to narrow the definition of our neighbor so that the Law appears more do-able, so that we can feel good about ourselves, that we’re doing pretty good, helping, caring for, and loving those few persons within our narrow definition of neighbor. Then, we think, we can stand on our own goodness, our own good works, our own justification and righteousness, as we judge ourselves to be, if not perfect, better than most.

No doubt the priest and the Levite had lots of reasons for not helping their brother in distress. Some of those reasons, they had convinced themselves, were actually faithfulness to the Law. For instance, the Law said that they could not touch a dead body or they would be ceremonially unclean. After all, that man in the ditch could very well have been dead. However, Jesus states that they were coming down the hill from Jerusalem to Jericho. They had already been to the Holy City for worship and now they were on their way home. They had nothing to fear about becoming ceremonially unclean. Further, they showed their hypocrisy upon leaving worship, where in Word and prayer they heard about God’s mercy and compassion, by not showing the same mercy and compassion to the man lying in the ditch. Likewise, so do you trump up reasons and justifications for not helping your neighbor: “He’ll just use my money on drugs or booze.” “Somebody else will come along to help.” “I’ve helped others, it’s someone else’s turn.” “He might jump me and take my money or worse.” Come on, I know that you’ve felt it. I have too. At least be honest about. Confess it. Bring it into the light. Then the Lord can forgive you and take away the guilt. But, don’t try to justify your thoughts and deeds. Don’t try to bend, stretch, or compromise the Law to make yourself feel better. Don’t try to narrow the definition of who is your neighbor. For, your neighbor is anyone and everyone who is near you, who you can help. Your neighbor is your husband or wife, your son or daughter, your next door neighbor, your friends, and even your enemies, and your neighbor is the stranger you do not know.

“Love the Lord you 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.” You know, I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the teaching “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” mainly because I do not always love myself. Often, I find myself quite unlikeable and unlovable. But, that too is a sinful falling short of what God has called us to be. Truly, we are called to a higher love of both the self and our neighbor, a love that truly sees no man as enemy, but each man as a brother or a sister, flesh and blood, as my own body, having common parents, washed in the same blood of Jesus Christ, having the same God and Father. The unknown person on the street is but another brother for whom Christ died. That brother is of the same flesh and blood as I, having the same Redeemer and Father as I. And, as St. Paul has taught, “No man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.”

When we attempt to narrow the definition of neighbor, we commit a two-fold error. First, we deny that all men are our neighbor, brother, and common flesh and blood. Second, we falsely believe that we can keep God’s Law if we narrow it down and make it more do-able. When you encounter a neighbor in need, you should see yourself in that man or woman, even as you should see Christ in him. Jesus teaches that by serving your neighbor in need you are truly serving Him. The point of His teaching in Matthew 25, however, is much less what you should do than how it is that you should view other men – as brothers, as flesh and blood relatives, as family, let alone neighbors. In fact, Christ is in each and every person on this planet, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, or religion. Jesus Christ died for the justification of each and every one of them as much as for you. Do not consider unclean those brothers and sisters Jesus has made clean.

This is the Law of Love – to be merciful as He, Jesus Christ, is merciful; to be charitable as He is charitable, to show compassion as He has shown compassion, and to love as He has and is love. This is not a Law that you can do, but it is the Gospel that you must be in Him. You cannot justify yourself by doing this Law, but you must show your justification by being it. God is love, and to live in the right relation to God through faith in Christ means to have His love shed abroad in our hearts. He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. Everyone who loves the parent loves the child. No one can force us to love. The only way is for us to receive the love of God when He showers it upon us in and through His means of grace. Then we can love as He first loved us.

Though the Samaritan had every human reason to reject and pass by the Jewish man in the ditch, nevertheless he recognized his brother in need, and he recognized his own pitiable self in that stranger, and he stepped into that ditch with the man, bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and took him to an inn and paid for his care. Because he could empathize with the man, he had compassion and showed him mercy, knowing that there, but for the grace of God, laid he. That was before the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Now, when you encounter your brother in need, you see in him, not only your own lowliness and need, but the poverty, humility, and suffering of your Lord Jesus Christ. It is an opportunity for you to serve your Lord, showing to Him a portion of His own mercy, compassion, charity, and love that He has richly and abundantly showered upon you, by serving your neighbor and brother in need.

Indeed, Jesus does command you to “Go, and do likewise.” But that command comes only after He has stepped into the ditch of sin and death with you, bound up your wounds and poured on the oil of His Holy Spirit and the wine of His Precious Blood to heal you and restore you, paying to the last penny all that was required to set you free from your debt of sin and guilt. Thus, Jesus’ “Go, and do likewise” is much more akin to Him saying “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” And He invites you to eat of His flesh and to drink of His blood that He may dwell in you and you in Him, that His love, mercy, charity, and compassion may dwell in you and flow through you, filling you to the brim and to overflowing into the lives of your brothers, your neighbor, your flesh and blood to the glory of God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in His most Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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