Sermon Title: Christ, the Perfect Samaritan.
Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us hear the word of God as we find it written in St. Luke’s Gospel, the 10th chapter:
Let us pray: and now let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
In the lesson for today the lawyer asks our Lord a question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Certainly this man knew enough of Scripture to pose such a question. He was, after all a lawyer; trained in Mosaic Law. The Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible were his bread and butter so to speak. He made his living by understanding and interpreting these laws as they came to light in the lives of the everyday Jew. Much like the lawyers of today, his income, his livelihood depended on his proficiency of the Law. To present such a question and his interpretation of the meaning of the law show such proficiency. This is a man we can be sure, new the law backwards and forwards.
Yet something was missing in his summarization of the law. It was not in the actual reciting of the meaning of the law, for his answer comes directly from the Pentateuch. In Deuteronomy we find the first part of his answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). Every Jew would be familiar with this confession of the Law; for it is part of the Shema, the most important prayer in Judaism which is recited twice a day, and written over the doorposts of a Jew’s house. The second part of the lawyer’s answer is from Leviticus, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). No, what was missing from his brief and succinct explanation of the law was not in content. Jesus even agrees with the lawyer and his summarization, by answering the lawyer, “You have answered correctly.” What is missing is the fact that the lawyer could not keep these commandments, and therefore could not “earn” eternal life. The lawyer could never do anything himself to inherit eternal life. In his question we see that while this man had a mastery of the words of the law, he did not correctly comprehend the purpose of the law.
As it is written in the Psalms, “God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:2-3). This is the law’s purpose: to show us our sin. It accuses and condemns us; pointing out with exacting accuracy that we cannot keep God’s commandments. That is what the law does. The lawyer did not recognize this, for he did not understand that he could not keep the commandments he so masterfully recited. This is why our Lord adds, “Do this, and you will live.”
Certainly this is not what the lawyer was expecting to hear. We can imagine that the lawyer was anticipating a pat on the back; a “congratulations you’ve got it, you will inherit eternal life,” or something to that effect. But no, that is not what our Lord says to this lawyer. Instead of a “you’ve done it,” the lawyer gets a “Do this.”
With this simple phrase, “Do this,” Jesus is telling the lawyer, “You have yet to fulfill the law.” The presumption of the lawyer that he, with all of his knowledge of the law, had kept the law is shattered. In an attempt to save face, to justify himself, the lawyer asks yet another question, “And who is my neighbor?”
Our Lord proceeds to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’”
Oh how this parable must have stuck in the throat of the lawyer in our lesson for today. For in this parable the Jews are not the ones who do the right thing. Both the priest and the Levite, the religious leaders of Israel, pass by the man, while a foreigner, a Samaritan, has compassion and takes care of the man.
Jews considered Samaritans to be half-breeds. After King Solomon died, the nation of Israel was split into two camps; the Northern Kingdom which consisted of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom, under the leadership of Jeroboam, did not follow in the ways of the Lord, and because of this, the Northern Kingdom was exiled to the land of Assyria. Those of the Northern Kingdom who had escaped exile intermarried with Gentiles that had been brought into the land by the Assyrians. So the lineage of a Samaritan had its roots in the nation of Israel, and the Jews despised that. They treated Samaritans as second class people, foreigners, and worse.
So for a Samaritan to be the merciful one in the parable Jesus told, the lawyer would have considered that to be a downright insult. It was not the priest or the Levite, the religious leaders of Israel who were merciful, and therefore doing what God commanded. It was rather, the foreigner, the sub-Jew who did as God commanded, by showing compassion for his neighbor. The lawyer could not even bring himself to say that it was a Samaritan that showed the man mercy. When Jesus asks of him, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers,” it is all the lawyer can do to say, “The one who showed him mercy.”
The lesson had been taught. Jesus, by means of the parable brought not only the lawyer but also those around who had heard the parable, to the realization that one could not put their trust into their false pretenses of believing they had kept the law. For the priest and the Levite, the most honored and revered of Jews, the religious leaders, who should have known better than to just pass by, fail miserably at being a neighbor to the man who had been attacked on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
So it is with you and I. Christ speaks to us in this lesson to rebuke us that when we believe it is by our own ability to fulfill what God commands, we are in error and full of sin. We are no better than the lawyer, the priest or the Levite without the help of God. Therefore repent and turn away from such thinking.
Dear Christian friends, we do have God’s help, and can therefore act as the Good Samaritan, helping our neighbor in need. As it is written in the Psalms; “Our help is in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 124:8). Yes dear Christian friends, it is God who helps us, and sustains us. It is in Christ that you and I can become Good Samaritans. This is because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ became the perfect Samaritan for us.
Christ the perfect Samaritan fulfilled the law that the lawyer so succinctly recited. He showed his love toward God and His neighbor. Christ was obedient to His Father and came down from heaven and became man – fulfilling the will of His father. Christ demonstrated his love toward his neighbor by, immediately after his baptism, preaching, doing wonders, and healing the sick. He did no work that centered on himself, but rather his acts centered on his neighbor. You and I are His neighbor.
Christ the perfect Samaritan came into the world to rescue us from the robbers, named sin and the devil, who had left us for dead along the side of the road. Christ came to bandage our wounds and nurse us to health. He did this because He had compassion on us, just as the Good Samaritan had compassion for his neighbor.
In His compassion, He rescued us from the robbers by being nailed to the cross. He stood in our place and took the beating of the robbers that should have been ours. Our wounds He bandaged and healed us with His innocent sufferings and death. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed; “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
But dear friends His compassion did not cease when He paid the wages of sin with His death. No, He has sent us the helper, the Holy Spirit. For as it is written in the second letter to the Corinthians; “the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6); and also in the letter to the Romans, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). We have been saved from the fate of the man on the road, because Christ our Lord took compassion on us. We have been set free from the law of sin and death, not because we have merited it, but by the sheer grace of God.
His compassion is limitless, for He also bestows on us His marks, claiming us forever as His own. Dear Christian friends, the marks we bear of Christ Jesus, our perfect Samaritan can be found in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He has marked us in Baptism; washing us clean of sin. We partake of his body and blood in Holy Communion and are therefore a part of Him as He lives in us.
Christ’s life, suffering, death, damnation, and resurrection not only give us eternal life, but they also empower our deeds of compassion; they are the reason that we can “go, and do likewise.” We have compassion on our neighbor because in our faith is the power of deeds. In loving God with everything we are brings about the love for our neighbor. We can be a neighbor to others only because Christ was first a neighbor to us.
We need not fear accomplishing this task on our own. For as I said before, we have been sent the helper, the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that keeps us true to what Christ would have us do for our neighbor. So let us therefore go and do as our Lord has commanded, and be Good Samaritans to our neighbor, having compassion on them, helping and sustaining them as He has done for us. Amen.
And now the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.