In Nomine Jesu+
Preachers preach the Word, but we don’t know how the Holy Spirit will cause hearers to hear it. Some people hear the story of the prodigal Son and relate well to the wayward boy. They see something of themselves in his recklessness, they feel something of the same compulsion which drives the younger brother to always depart from the father’s house to pursue the lusts which define his life. They find something of themselves in him. Those who see that they are like the younger brother, that they indeed are prodigals themselves, take great comfort that the father is still there for them, still ready to give everything to have them home again. For others, the father’s very generosity evokes the most gnawing jealousy and bitter hatred. Because some are like the older brother, having spent their whole lives in calm restraint of their passions, having given their whole lives to the service of the Church and toward the achieving of what is virtuous, of what is good. They see that they too like the older brother are wrapped up in his own envy. The older watches the younger dive into the spoils that should rightly be his. Some might look at the older brother and see their own hypocrisy and hate and envy and be struck by the Law. Others might look at the younger brother and see their own lust and gluttony and greed but are comforted by the Gospel of this precious text.
So it is with the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross shows us our sin and it shows us our Savior. That is, the cross convicts, and the cross comforts. We hold the crucifix before deathbeds for the comfort of the dying. The dying weep for joy at the sight. But at another place Peter means for the cross to be a rebuke to the Jews: “You killed the Author of life” he says. One Scriptural event can be received as both Law and Gospel at the same time. In college I majored in Psychology. One of the most fascinating books I ever read was called “The Interpretation of Dreams” by Carl Jung. Jung’s theory was that, in some way, you are every character in your dream. In the same way, you can be many or all of the characters in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We know not how the Holy Spirit will guide us with the Word of God. How will He cause us to hear this sacred text?
Some will read the text of the Good Samaritan and will relate to the Priest and the Levite. What is their crime? Lack of compassion for their neighbor. Now remember this parable happens all within a dialogue about the Law. Jesus had just questioned the lawyer as to what was the fulfillment of the Law. The lawyer gave a summary of the two tablets of the Law. But having recited the second tablet, which is summarized, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the lawyer was hit by his own Words, he was seized and cut to the heart by the very Law which came out of his own mouth. His immediate desire was to justify himself; “Who is my neighbor, then?” he asks, as if to beg Jesus to allow for exceptions and qualifications, to set the bar a bit lower, wincing at the thought that ‘neighbor’ might include those people he was not comfortable with. When it comes to the Law, hypocrites are always looking to say, “Lord, all of these I have kept from my youth”. Personally I’m starting to believe you can understand human nature just by watching the show “Cops.” No sooner is the criminal caught after his high-speed chase does he begin to justify himself with the most elaborate explanations, and tries and get out of it. But the funny thing is that, no matter how skilled the alleged-perp may be, he is invariably cuffed and taken downtown. So it is with our Lord and the lawyer: Jesus does not give in. He speaks of the man in the ditch who, by the very fact of being wounded and close to death, as the one who is the lawyer’s neighbor. This is the last person the lawyer wanted for a neighbor, but it is to this one that Jesus sends the lawyer. In other words, all the men lame and blind, all the women adulteresses and those with unclean diseases, these are the people, O Lawyer, you should be helping. But you don’t. Only Jesus Christ had compassion enough to bind up the world’s broken. His first words in the Gospel of Luke are these:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Who of us exists solely that other might have life? Who is like Jesus Christ? “So the answer Jesus gives the lawyer to the question “who is my neighbor” is – everyone, everyone who stands in need of your mercy, everyone whom God has placed before you in your life for you to help, these, these are your neighbors, and you are to love them as yourself.
And primarily, them. This Good Samaritan is in line with the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells us we are to love precisely the people we would choose not to love. For what good is it if you love those who love you? It is precisely the unlovable, it is precisely the unmerciful, whom you are to love. So not only the man in the ditch. Also the thieves, who stand in need of your prayers and admonition; also priests and levites who lord it over you in prideful arrogance. But remember this about your enemies, when they slight you. It is not only we who have hearts that are always uncertain, always terrified by the Law and looking to self-justify, always pressed down under the weight of temptations each and every day, but our enemies also. And you have the Words of eternal life. Christ wishes to use the Words of your mouth that even your enemies may be comforted. To keep silent is to leave them with their sins. Jesus does not permit this, we must love even our enemies.
So in summary, the lawyer wanted to toy with the Law. He thought he could handle it. Ever the perfect Pastor, Jesus unloads the full weight of the Law’s demands on the lawyer. He crushes him by putting him in the shoes of the Levite. “Do this and you will live” seals his fate. The Law robs the lawyer of self-righteousness. He is exposed for the sinner he really is.
But see, this is where the lawyer needed to be. He needed to look into the mirror of his own hypocrisy. He needed to see that in all reality, he is less a righteous-priest and more a dead-guy in a ditch. His house was built on sand and now it has blown away. Now he is in a place proper for receiving. Because before, as a self-righteous person, he could never receive. But a broken man is ready to be helped.
And the helping comes from a most unlikely source: a half-Jew half-pagan Samaritan, despised and rejected by Jews, Greeks and Romans alike. Our help is only Jesus Christ. And a Samaritan He is, in that He was despised and rejected by men, a Man full of sorrows, whose bread was grief, and whose cup was suffering. He had no form or comeliness by which we might esteem Him. It is this Jesus Christ who willingly shoulders the burden of the dying man. And He does so by refusing to justify Himself. He refuses to speak, even in the face of Pilate, who was baffled by our Lord’s silence. Christ is the Lamb who before the shearers is silent. He does not justify Himself but allows Himself to be condemned, that the world may be justified. His manner of saving the man in the ditch is to take his place. Yes, Jesus Christ is set on a cross in the midst of robbers to bleed and die with no good Samaritan to save Him, but that by His death He might comfort even the robbers who die with Him. He dies, but that men might not taste death. He bleeds that men might be made whole and cleansed from all that ails them, including the sickness which infect their bodies and the lusts which infect their hearts.
So the Law crushes us with the self righteousness of the Levite, and we are moved to the shoes of the despairing dead man. So we confess. We confess this is our reality. Even if all the people caught on the show “Cops” confessed to smuggling drugs or driving drunk right when they were caught, they would be closer to their recovery than those who remain dithering in their excuses. So for us too. Give up all your self-justifications. Confess that you have been a hypocrite-Levite, that you a really no more than a dying man. Christ comes to seek and save the lost, and to doctor the sick. The healthy have already rejected him. He comes to bind up the broken. Confess that you may finally speak a true word in between all the lying of our nature. Our pastor has often said that the only time a liar tells the truth is when he says, “I am a liar,” the only time a hypocrite stops being a hypocrite is when he says, “I am a hypocrite.” This is the plowing of our hearts which clears a furrow for a new tree to be planted, a tree which is grafted into the true vine who is Christ, that a new man may be daily raised up in Christ to live before God in righteousness and purity.
On this earth, our Lord Jesus Christ pours oil and wine on the dead, that is, He Baptizes, He sets the sick in the inn of recovery, which is the Church. He leaves the ailing in the stewardship of the innkeeper, His undershepherds, and He leaves us with a solemn promise to come back. And come back He will, to rescue us once and for all, to transport us to the New Heaven and the New Earth where all the former things have passed away.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.