In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What does the Law say? How do you read it? The Law exposes sin but never creates good works.
This surprises us. We think the Law should create good works that we should be able to teach people how to behave. Once people understand what is good, they ought to act on it. But in fact the Law finds us half-dead, absorbed with ourselves, and leaves us that way. It accuses and exposes. Telling someone he has to love others never makes him love them. Never.
There is a call to good works here. Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” He means, “Go and be like Me. Help people. Be merciful. Break out of the crowd mentality. Be a dissident. Step out. Refuse to ignore evil. Don’t pass by on the other side. Pay attention. Be compassionate.”
Edmund Burke predicted the Holocaust in the 19th century: ” All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
The Holocaust may be the most terrible example, but it was hardly the last. Every bully that continues does so because he is allowed to, because good men do nothing. Doing nothing is playing the part of the priest and Levite, walking by on the other side, pretending not to see, minding your own business. We need to stop minding our own business. We need to strive to be like Jesus, the Merciful Samaritan.
Sins of omission are just as damning as sins of commission and minding our own business while someone else is maligned at the water cooler or keeping quiet at the family table when we suspect our brother-in-law is beating our sister is evil. Yet who can’t look back and remember times when he should have said something to the bully, should have stood up for the pastor, should have told his neighbor that his gate was unlatched, and didn’t? If “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” then often all that is necessary to stop evil is for one, single good person to do something.
We need to cultivate this virtue. We aren’t perfect. We have moral failings. We won’t gain God’s favor for it. But we are called to it and we can help our neighbors. Repent.
But the question was never really “What is written in the Law?” or “How can I fulfill it?” The question was always, “How do I inherit eternal life.”
Having been squashed by the Law, the lawyer, knowing that he is not good, looks for a loophole, an exemption. He is often condemned for this, as though what he should have done was go out and try to love people. But he should be commended. Whatever evil motives he began with have been forgotten. Suddenly he is on the hook and he wants off. He is looking for escape. He is desperate, half-dead, unable to save himself.
Fortunately for him and for us there is an exemption: mercy.
Our Lord doesn’t call the Samaritan good. We do that. Our Bibles insert the title: Good Samaritan, but it is not in the text. Jesus doesn’t use any adjectives at all. He only asks at the end, “Who became the man’s neighbor?” The lawyer calls him the merciful one.
Jesus, of course, is the Merciful Samaritan. He doesn’t pass by. He has compassion. He is a despised outsider without any reason to help who helps when no one else will or can. He takes care of and pays for everything and promises to come back.
The question is “How do I inherit eternal life?” The lawyer already gave the Law answer: love God and neighbor perfectly. Then he asked a stupid question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus doesn’t answer the question. It is obvious that it is everyone. The lawyer needs to love everyone in the world as himself, perfectly, without fail. That is the problem with the Law: it can’t save. The Scripture confines all under sin.
So Jesus switches the question. The answer to the first question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is in this question: “Who was neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” It is not everyone. It is only the one who, moved by compassion, had mercy.
The answer for eternal life is to stop looking to yourself and what you should do. It isn’t in loving neighbors. You do love them purely or consistently enough. That standard damns. Eternal life is in being loved by the Neighbor, being loved by Jesus. The Samaritan is Jesus. He finds us helpless in the ditch, half-dead, and switches places with us.
Being loved by Jesus frees us from the Law’s accusations. It removes our guilt and guarantees our futures. Thus we are free to move out in compassion, however imperfectly, knowing that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will provide and bring us home.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.