Grace and peace are yours through Christ, the True Good Samaritan, Amen.
Our text for consideration comes from our Gospel lesson just read in Luke 10.
It’s important to note in our text for today that we do not see our lawyer friend in the same light as we would William Mattar or Celino and Barnes. Our lawyer was an expert in the civil law, but the lawyers of Jesus day also lived within a society where the laws of the land were predominantly derived from the law of God. He was an expert in the law, revered by the people of his day as and so when He addresses God today, it is important to understand that he was not seeking to find an answer to His question; “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” For according to the law, he knew the answer already. Instead, this lawyer sought to test the Son of God through shrewd questioning and intellectual strong arming.
Let’s put this into perspective; the lawyer, well versed in the law, stood before the One God the Father had sent to fulfill the law for his salvation. Before the lawyer stood the answer to His question and yet he stood obstinately seeking to flaunt his knowledge of the law and his adherence to it. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The Greek word the lawyer used is in a tense that hints at a one-time, completable action which he could do to get his salvation done and out of the way. The lawyer wanted a to-do list of works that he could complete one by one in order to earn him eternal life. Playing into the lawyer’s desire to show off, Jesus replies with a catechetical rebuke; seemingly giving the lawyer the answer he seeks but in the end He teaches the man the true sense of the law. Jesus asks; “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And then, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
There is something sublime in Jesus’ response, something which the English translations miss; when Jesus says, “Do this,” He does not use the same tense as the lawyer had used. The lawyer wanted a to-do list, but the Lord God uses a different tense, saying, “Do this continually, habitually, always, every day, every moment, every second of your life and you will live.” Jesus rebukes the lawyer, showing him his arrogance for presuming he could please God with a few trite deeds.
And as that lawyer stood before Almighty God he tried “to justify himself, He continued to look for the loophole some impetus, some solid personal ground to stand upon, but the Lawyer, like us, knew that perfect adherence to the law of God is impossible and so He asks Jesus,“Who is my neighbor.”
Jesus wastes no time going into one of the clearest parables in all of holy Scripture. Our neighbor is anyone with a beating heart and a bodily or spiritual need, simple enough. Today, Jesus teaches the lawyer and us that God’s law is not conditional, not a buffet where we pick a lot of what we like and a little of what we don’t. God’s law is served pre-packaged. Everyone must fulfill every bit of it just the same; Jewish Lawyers, members of Pinnacle Lutheran and Her pastor do not get free passes; as St. James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Someone who tells you they are going to heaven because they have kept most of God’s law is foolish, this is what Jesus teaches us today.
Jesus knew this lawyer inside and out, He knew the lawyer thought he was getting this heaven thing done on his own; and because He had seen the Lawyers attempts to justify himself by his own actions Jesus had compassion on the lawyer and taught him the true spirit of the law: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. And if finding out that works of the law cannot justify was not enough, things get worse; Jesus tells the lawyer a parable where the hero and true neighbor is a Samaritan, a race of people despised by most Jews because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry. Jesus uses the law that the lawyer figured that he knew so well against him, and this is just the way that it always goes with the law of God, just when you think you’ve got it licked, handled and completed you often find that you haven’t dug deep enough and in the end find yourself buried. The lawyer knew the law, but he had not considered what Jesus reveals to him. For those who passed the dying man comprised what the lawyer would have considered the dream team of Judaism: a priest and a Levite. The cream of the religious crop in the Jewish mind, who had failed to keep the law perfectly.
As Christians, many of us often become self-righteous and condescending toward the outside world and even toward each other, much like the lawyer in our Gospel. Often reveling in our fellow Christians’ sins instead of rejoicing in and seeking their forgiveness. We forget the very words that we just sang in our Hymn of the Day: Let strife among us be unknown, let all contention cease, Be God’s the Glory that we seek, be ours God’s holy peace. Rather than looking upon the unbeliever’s or our own brother’s and sister’s spiritual need with compassion, we are tempted to look upon their depravity with disgust. With time, we start to forget what really separates us from the world outside these walls is not the holiness of our lives but rather Christ who has covered us with His Righteousness in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Brother’s and sister’s if our lives were reality shows, broadcast 24/7 the world, in many cases would see little difference between us and the unbelieving world. Sure, we don’t commit some of the “big sins”—most of us are not even tempted by them, but we are still prone to all sorts of sin in thought, word and deed. We sometimes, like that lawyer, need to be reminded that “What shall I do to inherit eternal life” is the wrong question, because on our own, apart from Christ, all we can do is sin, and sin earns us an entirely different inheritance.
At first glance our Gospel lesson seems to be prescriptive; a do this and you shall live sort of text, but let me ask you this; Would the Lord God leave anything to chance when it comes to your salvation and mine? There is nothing more that He desires than you, and to this end the Lord God hasn’t left anything to chance when it comes to the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And this is a good thing! God sent Christ, the perfect law abider, the perfect sin-bearer, the perfect sacrifice takes to take the yoke of sin, death and the Devil upon Himself to the cross. Brother’s and sister’s the gospel is right in front of our faces today. He was right in front of the lawyer’s face. What must we do to inherit eternal life? Is wrong question. Jesus is the Answer to the question. He is the true good neighbor, the true Good Samaritan, who kept not only the letter of the law in your place and mine, but also kept the spirit of the law perfectly.
The law has only one purpose; and it is not to motivate. Upon hearing the our response ought not be, this I have kept but rather hearing the law shows us that we are just as helpless in sin as the wounded man in the parable, unable to help himself, beaten and bloodied and nearly dead. This is the point of the parable; we like to think that we are to be the good Samaritan but yet forget that before this was made possible by the grace and mercy of God that we are the wounded man, all of us. And the one rejected by the priests, Levites and lawyers, even Christ your Lord, is the true Good Samaritan who has found you in your very need, raised you up on His mighty shoulders, and carried you over from the death of sin to life in Him. Do not forget that Christ, The true Good Samaritan, has paid the admission price for your entrance into heaven out of His own account, giving His life for yours, taking your sin and death upon Himself. All the while leaving instructions for your care and mine, reminding us in every Divine Service of His love and mercy toward us in His Word, constantly calling us back from death… to life, from sin… to grace.
Each of us this day shall be sent out, having been fed by the Gospel, having been forgiven of our sins, having been bandaged and cleansed to be neighbors to every beating heart in this world. Sent to see to the most desperate needs of those around us and to address them with our Lord’s word, our Lord’s mercy and our Lord’s forgiveness. The most desperate need will always be the same; that we and all, be given Jesus. There will always be plenty of needs that will, at times, seem more pressing. Budget crunches, lake vacations, family issues, building programs, board meetings, and many other things under the sun will cry out demanding our immediate attention. But symptoms must never be mistaken for the disease. I am sure that traveler lying half-dead on the side of the road may have needed a haircut or a new saddle for his donkey. But, most importantly, he needed his wounds bound, to be taken to safety, to find shelter where he could rest. And the same is true for you who have been beaten and bloodied by this sinful world in which you sojourn.
To this end, You have called a pastor to bind your spiritual wounds, which means, at times, I will have to tell you that you’re sick, whether or not you want to hear it. Only when sin is identified as sin will the sinner realize their need for grace. You have called me to bring you to safety: to the font, to the altar, to the Word. You have called me to give you rest found only in the grace and mercy of THE True Neighbor, Jesus Christ. I will not be perfect. At times, I will fail to speak when I should. I will speak when I should not, for these sins I pray your forgiveness. But dear brother’s and sister’s it is not me who is important. Jesus Christ, the Holy Gospel, and Christ given to you in Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar are what’s important. Know that when baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, absolution of sin, and the preaching of our Lord’s word happens that it is not me baptizing, communing, absolving, or preaching, it is Jesus Christ, who called me through you, by the Holy Spirit. He baptizes, communes, absolves, and preaches through me. It is because of Jesus Christ, not Pastor DeGroot, that you gather every Sunday.
Jesus Christ is the only right Answer. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” We shall do nothing, because we can do nothing. Jesus Christ has done it all! Yea, Lord, ‘twas Thy rich bounty gave my body, soul and all I have in this poor life of labor. Lord grant that I in every place may glorify Thy lavish grace and serve and help my neighbor. Let no false doctrine me beguile, let satan not my soul defile. Give strength and patience unto me to bear my cross and follow Thee. Lord Jesus Christ, My God and Lord, my God and Lord, in death Thy comfort still afford. Go in His Peace. Amen.
Pastor Adam DeGroot
Pinnacle Lutheran Church
Rochester, NY 14623