Sunday, August 29, 2010

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.

We want to skip directly to the end, don’t we? – “You go, and do likewise.” That’s the point of Jesus’ parable, isn’t it, to give us an example of faith in action, to teach us how we should live? “Be like the Good Samaritan,” that sounds like something we can do, doesn’t it? In fact, often we are Good Samaritans, helping out others in need, and that fact makes us feel pretty good about ourselves, doesn’t it?

So, we want to skip directly to the end. But, to do so is to misinterpret this Parable of the Good Samaritan so as to strip it naked of all its comfort which flows from the mercy of God while turning it into a simple morality lesson. And yet, that is not to say that there is not a simple morality lesson in the parable, after all, Jesus does end it saying “You go, and do likewise,” but that is a command of God’s Law, which condemns us, unless we first learn how it is possible for us to fulfill the Law of God and to not stand under its condemnation. And, this too, and foremost, Jesus would teach us in this Parable of the Good Samaritan, what the nature of mercy is and that we are all in need of it in abundance.

It story begins with a lawyer doing what lawyers do – looking for a loophole. The lawyer stood up, so that all eyes were upon him, and He asked Jesus a calculated question to test Him, to try Him as a prosecutor would try a suspect before a judge and jury, even to tempt Jesus. The lawyer’s question was “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Do you catch the subtle irony in his question in his use of the two verbs do and inherit? By definition, you cannot do anything to inherit something; if you have to do something then it’s not an inheritance. But, this lawyer knew what he was doing, that was exactly the point. For, he was not a lawyer of the civil law of either Rome or Israel, but He was a student and teacher of God’s Law. He knew God’s Law well and he believed that he did it pretty well. His self-righteousness had puffed up his pride so much that he thought he’d put this itinerant rabbi that’s got everyone all astir to the test of the Law. And, since the lawyer asked Him a Law question, Jesus gave Him a Law answer: You want something to do? You’re a lawyer, what’s your reading of the Law? The lawyer answered correctly, “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.” Indeed, that is the great summation of the Law of God; you can’t get more correct than that. And, Jesus acknowledged the lawyer’s correct answer and replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

“Do this – and you will live.” How does that settle with you? That statement should not make you comfortable and secure. If it does, then you have not wrestled with the Law of God in its full strength and weight and you have not been honest with yourself. Do this and you will live does not mean try your best. Do this and you will live means always love God, without ever failing, with absolutely all that you are, 100%; oh, and while you’re at it, always love your neighbor, without ever failing, as you love yourself. Do that, and you will live. Now, how does that settle with you? How did that settle with the lawyer in the parable? Not very well. It says that after hearing those words of Jesus the lawyer sought to justify himself. The lawyer stood convicted by the Law of God, even as he himself understood it, because he knew that he failed to love God perfectly and completely and that he failed to love his neighbor. He was convicted and embarrassed before the crowd of people he sought to impress; he stood there squirming in his shoes, looking for a way out, looking for a way to save face. So, to take the attention off of himself, he puts Jesus on trial once again asking, “And who is my neighbor?”

The lawyer knew that this was a matter of debate amongst the Jewish religious leaders. The Pharisees, for instance did not see known sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes or persons that had been declared ceremonially unclean to be neighbors. It was quite permissible according to the Law as they interpreted it to mark and shun such persons. Yet, it was widely known that Jesus associated and even ate and drank with such as these. The lawyer was looking to justify himself; he was looking for a way to direct the conviction of the Law away from himself and on to Jesus, and so he exposes Jesus, hoping to force him into taking a side on this controversial issue, believing that Jesus would answer that sinners, and all people, are equally neighbor, and then be able to condemn Him with the support of the scribes and Pharisees. Thus, this is the setting for Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan; Jesus’ reply to the lawyer is a story with a lesson in it, a parable.

But parables are not what they appear to be on the surface, it takes the eyes of faith to see their truth and it takes the ears of faith to hear their message. And, spiritual eyes and ears are not earned or purchased any more than are their physical cousins, but they are gifts of grace. Jesus addressed His disciples concerning the great blessing of spiritual ears and eyes just before the lawyer stood up to put Him to the test. It almost seemed like Jesus knew this was going to happen ;->. Again, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not in reply to the lawyer’s question “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” but in reply to the lawyer’s question “Who is my neighbor?” However, in the parable, the Master answers both questions for those having eyes to see and ears to hear.

You know the story well. A man fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, and left him half dead. Both a priest and a Levite pass by on the other side of the road, but a Samaritan had compassion upon the man, went to him, bound up his wounds, poured on oil and wine, placed him on his own beast of burden, took him to an inn and paid for his stay there promising to come back and repay the innkeeper whatever else it cost to care for the man. It’s a simple story, but only on the surface, about a man who finds himself in a terrible predicament and is utterly incapable of helping himself out of it. What the man needs is someone to help him, someone to have mercy and compassion upon him, someone to be a neighbor to him. Though three men pass by, it is not the highly regarded priest or Levite that shows mercy to the man, but it is the despised Samaritan, a man the priest and Levite would likely not consider their neighbor.

Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” And, the lawyer again answered correctly, if reluctantly, “The one who showed him mercy.” It was not a coincidence that the two men in the parable who passed by and left the bloodied and beaten man in the ditch were themselves students and teachers of the Law like unto the lawyer himself. The lawyer wanted to justify himself in the light of the Law by defining his neighbor in a very narrow way and then to claim that he has done the Law well serving as neighbor to a select group of people. But, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is not about the Law of God and what we must do to inherit eternal life, but it is about the mercy of God in the Good Samaritan Jesus Christ who comes to those who cannot come to Him and helps those who cannot help themselves at His own expense, even at the expense of His own life in His crucifixion, suffering, and death upon the cross.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not meant to inspire us to go out and do good and then feel good about ourselves because we have been good neighbors. This parable is about entering the way of Christ. So, when Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” it is tantamount to His call, “Take up your cross and follow me.” If we reduce this parable to a lesson in morality then we stand convicted by the same Law of God that convicted the lawyer – “Do this, and you shall live.” We don’t do it. We can’t do it, not as the Law of God requires. Every time we pass by a homeless person or a beggar on the street it is a reminder, a lesson in the grace and mercy of our Good Samaritan Jesus; of course we should help, and not just give them a dollar or a few coins, but really help, get to know the person, take them to get food, clothing, and shelter, show real compassion, real mercy to them. But we don’t, and more often than not we pass by on the other side. If by “Go and do likewise” Jesus means be like Him in every circumstance and you will live, then we are all condemned to death and hell.

But that is not the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus would have you relate to the man stripped naked, beaten and bloodied, and left for dead by the side of the road, not the Good Samaritan. We are the man, Adam, who had everything, all that we needed to live comfortably and at peace, who was overcome by the robber Satan who stripped us of all that we had and left us wounded, crippled by sin, and half dead, unable to help ourselves. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who found us in this condition and had compassion upon us. He cared for us, healed our wounds, and made all arrangements for our care at His own expense, taking our stripes, our sin, our death upon Himself so that He became like the man left for dead by the roadside. Yes, it’s all about Jesus; it’s always all about Jesus!

We need to see ourselves as a helpless person who receives mercy from an unexpected and completely undeserved quarter, for, the primary definition of a Christian is not a person who does good deeds, but a Christian is one who knows that he is in need of mercy and that he has received mercy from the Son of God. In Holy Baptism your Good Samaritan Jesus applied to you the healing oil of His Holy Spirit and bound up your wounds. He brought you into the inn of His Church at the expense of His own body, His own life laid down for yours. There He continues to care for you with the bread of His body and the wine of His blood, and with His Word of mercy and forgiveness that you may be strengthened, preserved, and kept for His return.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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