Sunday, August 25, 2013

Homily for The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 13)

good samaritan


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.

The lawyer’s question betrayed his fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Law of God. He asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” From that question alone, Jesus knew all that He needed to know about this man. For, the Law of God is not about I – it’s not about you but the Law of God is about others, your neighbors. The lawyer was interested in himself, thus he asked, “What must I do to inherit?” But, the purpose of God’s Law is not what you must do to get something you want, but the purpose of God’s Law is for you to love your neighbor.

“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Jesus asks, not only the lawyer, but you. Do you hear and read the Law as instructions and commands for what you must and must not do? That is only part of the Law of God. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not slander, do not covet – what these prohibit is clear enough. However, do you not hear and see the command within them to love your neighbor? For, the command “Do not murder” means much more than merely “do not harm your neighbor in his body,” but it includes also the command “to help and befriend him in every bodily need.” This is why Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

The same is true with the other prohibitive commandments. Each also has a prescriptive component rooted in love for your neighbor. The prohibition against adultery prescribes that “husband and wife love and honor each other.” The prohibition against stealing prescribes that you help your neighbor “to improve and protect his possessions and income.” The prohibition against slander and gossip prescribes that you defend your neighbor and speak well of him, explaining everything in the kindest way. And the prohibition against covetousness prescribes that you help and be of service to your neighbor in keeping what he has. Even the commandments that are not directly prohibitive – Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy; honor your father and your mother – these are about love, love for the Word of the Lord and love for your parents and authorities over you as you love the Lord Himself.

Love is the only commandment, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law: 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. Therefore, if, like the lawyer who put our Lord to the test, you’re doing the Law of God in order to gain something for yourself, then you are focused on the letter while you miss the Spirit of the Law entirely.

Jesus said to the man, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer got Jesus’ point. Do you? You see, the lawyer spoke the correct words, he answered correctly: the love of God and the love of neighbor is the fulfilling of the Law. Love is the Spirit of the Law which undergirds and accompanies the letter. But, even though he answered correctly, Jesus’ Words piqued something in the man’s heart. The lawyer felt the need to justify himself. What this means is that he understood that Jesus was pointing him to something other than doing the Law to gain something for himself. Jesus was, in fact, pointing him away from himself and to his neighbor. Therefore, when Jesus said to him, “Do this, and you will live,” the lawyer felt the crushing weight of the Law coming down upon him, for he was self-interested, selfish, and self-righteous, and he realized that the keeping of God’s Law is not about the self at all, but about love for God and for the neighbor. No doubt, the lawyer did a pretty good job of keeping the letter of the Law. In fact, Jesus doesn’t chide the man for his works, but instead, he tells him a story to help him to truly see what the Law of God is all about. That story is the well-known and beloved Parable of the Good Samaritan.

As the story goes, a traveler “fell among robbers who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” I’m not certain that it’s wise to make too much of it, but the use of the words “fell among” seems to indicate a certain passivity, even innocence on the part of the traveler. It’s not that the traveler was doing anything wrong, but he simply “fell among robbers” and found himself in a predicament where bad things happened to him that he was powerless to stop. Perhaps Jesus’ purpose in using this language is that we identify with the traveler. For, too often we are stripped and beaten and left half dead by life, and by the sinful men and women who live it, through no particular fault of our own.

However, another possible way to understand this language is in terms of the letter of the Law, particularly the Levitical Law and its code. After all, that is what the lawyer knew so very well and put his fear, love, and trust in performing so that he felt self-righteous and justified. But, the lawyer’s reading of the Law was of the letter and not of the spirit, therefore, it brought no comfort to the terrified sinner, no hope to those despairing of salvation, but instead left them stripped, beaten, and half dead lying in a ditch that would soon become a grave.

Therefore, when first a priest and then a Levite pass by, they do not help the man. They cannot help the man, for they are bound by the same robbers that left him naked, bleeding, and dying in a ditch – but they don’t know it (or, do they?). You see, again, what is Jesus’ purpose in telling this parable? He is trying to get the lawyer to see that he is misinterpreting the Law that he believes he knows so very well. He is trying to get the man to understand the spirit of the Law, love, which he is able to state in a perfunctory manner from rote memory, but which he does not know personally, and therefore cannot show to his neighbor. Jesus tells this parable to the lawyer in order to pique his heart of mercy and compassion, that he may see, and know, and believe that this is the true meaning, purpose, and fulfillment of the Law of God.

When the despised Samaritan comes along, he alone does the priestly work that the Law requires, which the priest and Levite of the letter of the Law neither would nor could do. The Samaritan was moved by compassion, by love, to step down into the ditch with the bleeding, wounded, and dying traveler and to pour out his selfless gifts of oil and wine, to bind him up and bear him upon his own beast of burden, pay what was necessary to keep him and provide for him, and leave him with the promise that he would return. “Which of these three,” Jesus asks, “do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Both the lawyer, and you, and I must answer, “The one who showed him mercy.” And that is the purpose and the fulfilling of the Law: Love.

Love is the spirit of the Law. The lawyer, who was an expert in the Law, couldn’t see that. Jesus helped him to recognize it in the works of the Good Samaritan. For, works of the Law, even performed to the very letter of the Law, without love, are, as St. Paul has written, noisy gongs and clanging cymbals, or as Isaiah has written, filthy rags. Yet, moreover, on our own, we can no more fulfill the spirit of the Law than can we the letter. We cannot love God or our neighbor as the spirit of the Law requires, therefore, once again, we must identify with the half dead man in the ditch. We are Adam, who, upon sinning, his eyes were opened and he saw that he was naked and he was ashamed and afraid. This is what the Law does to sinners, it exposes you and leaves you vulnerable and unable to help yourself. God asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?” Like Jesus, God the Father gets to the root of the matter – sin. Adam was always naked, and his nakedness was good. It was sin that caused him to see the good things of God as bad. Likewise St. Paul confesses that he didn’t know what sin was until the Law came. The Law cannot save us, but it has “imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Indeed, as we heard last Sunday, Jesus “has done all things well!” He has fulfilled both the letter and the spirit of the Law. He has been the Good Samaritan, binding up the wounds you have suffered under the Law, pouring on His selfless gifts and paying the price for your life. And, He has been the man in the ditch, taking your place upon the cross, suffering mocking, beatings, scourging, and piercings at the hands of robbers, dying, and being buried in the earth that He might rise again to life and redeem you out of death and the grave. And, He is the innkeeper who cares for you and provides for you in this inn of His Church. And, He is the true Priest and Levite whose office is to serve you in love, mercy, and compassion, which He Himself receives in superabundance from His gracious and merciful Father in heaven.

Indeed, He has done all things well! He has fulfilled the Law of His Father in letter and spirit. He has done this for you, in your stead, so that you are healed, forgiven, made righteous and holy in the sight of His Father once again. Now He commands you, He exhorts you, He sends you as holy priests and Levites to “Go, and do likewise.” Go, and love like Jesus, with Jesus’ love. Go, and have compassion like Jesus, with Jesus’ compassion. Go, and show mercy like Jesus, with Jesus’ mercy. He has done all things well! He has fulfilled the Law in letter and spirit so that you are free to do it, without compulsion or coercion, without fear of failure and punishment, but you are free to do it, you are free to be it, in Jesus’ love. But first, you must be served by Him, here in this inn, His Church, where He cleanses you with water and anoints you with the Holy Chrism of His Spirit in Holy Baptism, where He forgives you with the healing balm of His Holy Absolution, where He feeds you with His faith creating, sustaining, and life-giving Word, and where He communes with you in life, through death, unto life that never ends in the Holy Supper of His Body and His Blood. Through these Holy Means He showers His mercy upon you, that you may go and do likewise to the glory of His Father.

In Jesus’ + Name. Amen.

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