Trinity 13 2009


6 September Anno + Domini 2009

"Do This, and You Will Live”

Luke 10:23-37


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


This morning, we have before us one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture - the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Everyone knows this story.  Its fame even extends into the secular realm.  A man finds a wallet filled with hundreds of dollars and returns it to its owner and the headline reads, "Good Samaritan returns wallet.”  A group of college kids give up their spring break to go to hurricane-ravaged communities to help in the rebuilding efforts and the headline reads, "College kids act as Good Samaritans.”  Everyone knows this story.  It's all about helping people in need.  It's about being a good neighbor.  It's about being compassionate to the poor and needy; about providing aid to the sick and suffering.  Everyone knows this story.  Or, do they?


Not really.  You see the true meaning of the story Jesus tells here is lost on most.  The true meaning is understood only by those who have "eyes to see and ears to hear.”  This is, after all, not an ordinary story, but a parable, which means that the true meaning of the story lies beneath the ordinary characters and events.  In a parable, there is more to the story than meets the eye.  And so it is that, while everyone knows this story, not everyone knows this story. 


You see, Jesus does not tell this parable to encourage us to be like the Good Samaritan.  This is not simply an exhortation for us to be good neighbors and to help people in need.  It may seem like that and it's certainly easy to understand why people would arrive at that interpretation.  But, to arrive at that interpretation, to hear this parable and conclude that Jesus is just teaching us how to be good neighbors, is to totally miss the point.  It's a parable.  Things are not as they seem.


So, what is the point?  What is Jesus teaching us in this famous parable?  To understand that, we must look at the context.  To whom does Jesus tell this parable and what is it that prompts Him to do so? 


Thankfully, these questions are easily answered.  Jesus tells this parable to a lawyer who is seeking to test Him.  This lawyer, this expert in the Law, wants to trap Jesus.  He wants to use his expertise in the Law to prove Jesus a fraud.  So, he asks the question, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Here, he sets the bait.  If Jesus provides an answer that contradicts the Law, the lawyer will accomplish his mission.  But, Jesus doesn't bite.  He knows the game this lawyer is playing and He will not be trapped.  So, masterfully, He puts the question back to the lawyer, "What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  In this way, Jesus turns the tables by setting His own trap for the lawyer.  The only way the lawyer can avoid falling into this trap is to say, "I asked you first, Jesus.  You tell me.”  But, he doesn't.  He's no match for Jesus.  He falls right into the trap.  He answers the question.  He is filled with pride.  He wants to answer the question.  He wants everyone to bear witness to his expertise in the Law.  So, he replies, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  He knows the Law.  He knows he's right.  He thinks he has Jesus right where he wants Him.  He thinks he's still on course with his mission to trap Jesus.  He doesn't realize that it is Jesus who has just trapped him, for Jesus replies, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 


The lawyer is not expecting this.  He's waiting to pounce on Jesus.  He wants Jesus to disagree with him and tell him he's wrong.  He's armed and ready for debate.  He'll show this young Rabbi who the real expert is!  He doesn't realize that he has already lost.  There will be no debate.  The debate is over.  Jesus will not disagree with him.  He can't disagree, for what the lawyer has said is true.  He has shown his expertise.  He has quoted the Law word for word.  What he doesn't realize is that by doing so he has condemned himself, for the Law requires that he love God and neighbor completely and perfectly.  If he does that, he will have eternal life.  If he doesn't, the opposite is true - he will have eternal death.


"Do this, and you will live” is a call to repentance.  The Law doesn't say, "You should do your best to try to love God completely and perfectly and you should really give it your best effort to love your neighbor as yourself.”  No, it says exactly what the lawyer stated.  "You shall love God and neighbor completely and perfectly!”  There are no points given for doing your best.  Either you do what the Law demands completely and perfectly or you fail.  Period.  No ifs, ands, or buts.


"Do this, and you will live” should prompt the lawyer to respond, "I can't do it, Jesus.  Is there some other way?”  But, it doesn't.  He doesn't get it.  He thinks he can do what the Law demands.  He thinks he can justify himself.  He thinks earning eternal life is within his grasp.  There's just one question.  He's got the whole love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind thing down.  No problems there, he thinks.  But, what about this whole love your neighbor as yourself thing?  He wants to make sure that he's fulfilling this part of the Law as well.  So, he asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?”    


It is in this context, my friends, that Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  He is responding to this lawyer who thinks he can justify himself; who thinks that he can fulfill the demands of the Law.  The point of the parable is not to show this unrepentant lawyer how he can fulfill the Law, but to further drive home the point that he can't fulfill the Law!  It is a further call to repentance, for the point of the parable is to show this lawyer that there are no loopholes in the Law.  The lawyer asked, "Who is my neighbor?” but what he was really asking was, "Who isn't my neighbor?”  He wants to know who he can justifiably exclude from loving, and Jesus responds in this parable by telling him that you don't get to pick and choose which neighbors you want to love.  The Law demands that you love everyone, even your enemies.  You are to show compassion and mercy upon all people at all times.  If you ever fail to do so, if you ever pass by on the other side like the priest and the Levite, if you ever fail to come to the rescue of someone in need, you have failed.  Not only that, but if you ever harm your neighbor in anyway, if you ever hurt anyone physically, if you ever tell lies, betray, slander, gossip, or hurt anyone's reputation, if you ever fail to speak well of all people, if you ever fail to defend anyone when others are harming their person or reputation, if you ever fail to explain everything about anyone in the best possible way, you have failed.  You have broken the Law and you deserve eternal life, for your failure means that eternal life is beyond your grasp. 


That's the point of the parable.  It is a call to repentance.  When Jesus finishes the parable, he asks the lawyer, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”  There is only one answer and the lawyer knows it.  He hates to admit it, but it's the Samaritan.  He hates to admit it because the Samaritans were the arch-enemies of the Jews.  They hated each other.  In Jewish eyes, the Samaritans were the scum of the earth.  But, the lawyer has no choice but to admit that it is the Samaritan, not the priest or Levite (the "righteous" ones), who proved to be a neighbor.  Notice that he doesn't answer, "The Samaritan,” but, "The one who showed him mercy.”  He can't even bring himself to say the word, "Samaritan.”  Nevertheless, he answers correctly and Jesus pounds the last nail in his coffin by saying, "You go, and do likewise,” which is simply a repeat of what Jesus said earlier, "Do this, and you will live.”  In both cases, Jesus is telling this lawyer that to inherit eternal life, he must do exactly what he knows the Law says.  He must love God and neighbor - all people - completely and perfectly.  There are no loopholes.  There is no minimum requirement; If he fails to fulfill what the Law demands in any way at any time, he has failed and eternal life is beyond his grasp. 


The same is true for you.  Repent!  The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not a nice, moral story.  It's a stern accusation against you.  You have not loved all people at all times.  You have not always provided for your neighbor's needs.  You have often even failed to love your own family and friends as yourself.  And your enemies?  Love them?  Never!  Repent!  The Law of God demands that you love everyone as much as you love yourself, that you show compassion and mercy upon all people.  You haven't and you know it.  Repent!  Look into the mirror of God's Holy Law and see your sins.  This is not a game.  You have failed to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.  And for that, you deserve to die, to suffer an eternity in Hell.  This should bring you to your knees before the Lord to plead for mercy. 


And if it does bring you to your knees, then, and only then, will your eyes and ears be opened to see and to hear the true meaning of this parable, that you are not the Good Samaritan, but the man who fell into the hands of robbers.  Your robbers are the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.  They have stripped and beaten you and left you half dead, unable to help yourself.  The priest and the Levite cannot help.  All they have is the Law and the Law will only finish you off.  But, there is One who can help.  He's the only One who can help - Jesus Christ.


He is the Good Samaritan in the parable, for He alone fulfilled the Law of God completely and perfectly.  He alone loved God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind, and He alone loved His neighbor - all people - as Himself.  He lived the perfect, sinless life required of you and then loved you and all people unto death on a cross.  There, on Calvary, He sheds His Holy and Innocent Blood not for friends, but for enemies - for sinners like you and me.  There, dear friends, hanging upon the cross and suffering the torturous death you deserve is your rescue from the accusations of the Law.  There is your only hope for salvation, for there, in the death of the Lamb of God, is your only source of the mercy and compassion you so desperately need. 


Jesus is your only hope.  Trust in Him, for He picks you up out of the ditch of this sinful world and binds up your wounds by pouring oil and wine on them.  He anoints you with the oil of the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, where He cleanses your sin-inflicted wounds.  Then, He pours out the wine of His Blood in the Holy Supper to keep your wounds healed.  He sets you on His own animal, which symbolizes the donkey upon which He rode into Jerusalem with all of your sins upon Him to accomplish your salvation.  Then, He brings you into the inn, His Holy Church, and takes care of you.  He provides for your lodging in His Church.  He pays the price in full, for He gives the innkeeper, the man whom He calls and ordains to serve as your pastor in His Church, two denarii, that he might continue to care for you by binding up your sin-inflicted wounds with the oil and wine of His Holy Word and Sacraments until the Good Samaritan comes back on the Last Day. 


Everyone knows the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but not everyone knows it.  May your eyes and ears be opened to see and to hear the true meaning of the parable, that it is not a lesson in moral behavior or an exhortation to love your neighbor so that you can earn eternal life, but a call to repentance and an invitation to trust in the only Good Samaritan who ever lived, Jesus the Christ, your compassionate and merciful Lord and Savior.  He never fails to come to your aid.  He is here now, present in His Holy Word, speaking to you through the voice of His innkeeper, to tell you that your failure to love God and neighbor completely will not be held against you, for He has fulfilled the Law in your place.  He is here now, present in His very Body and Blood upon the altar to bind up your sin-inflicted wounds once again.  Come, then, and receive that which He desires to give - Himself - for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening and preservation of your faith.  Do this - receive Jesus in repentance and faith - and you will live!  In the Holy and Precious Name of the Good Samaritan, Jesus the Christ.  Amen!


Now the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting.  Amen.