Trinity 13 2016

Trinity 13
St. Luke 10:23-37
August 21, 2016 A+D

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

The priest passed by on the other side.

That is how he pacified his conscience.  He made a wide detour around the man who had fallen among thieves, the man in need of his help. He passed by on the other side to avoid seeing him, for the sight of him might accuse the priest and take away from him all his good reasons for not helping and getting down the road.

This is why the rich man let poor Lazarus lie at his door but would not let him into the house.  The problem wasn’t that Lazarus was infectious or smelly, it was that the rich man did not want to think about Lazarus so he shut him out and pretended that he wasn’t there.

None us really wants to see our neighbor in need.  To do so, to look at our neighbor’s misery, is the first step in brotherly love. Love always seizes the eyes first and then the hand. If I close my eyes, my hands remain still and unemployed. If I close my eyes I might be able to lull my conscience into sleep and cling to my stuff. Thus we remove the disquieting neighbor from our sight so that he might also disappear from our thoughts and enable us to pretend that all is well.

This is how it goes at the Last judgment as well. The goats blame their eyes. The Lord says to them “It was I whom you met in the naked, the hungry, the imprisoned, and you did not help me.” Outraged at they thought, they reply “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick?” If we didn’t see you, then we can’t be held accountable. But they can be and they will be.

One day the priest who passed by on the other side will say the same thing. He will point out that his footprints prove that he took a wide detour around the wounded man and therefore he could not possibly have recognized this individual in need.

But in reality, he did not fail to see the wounded man because his path led him too far away from him. Rather he took the wide path because he saw him and did not want to keep on seeing him.[1] So it is for us. Repent.

It is easy to make the detour and see nothing and then pretend that we never saw, that the path away from the one in need, was purely accidental. We don’t even have to work that hard to convince ourselves that it is so. It is so easy to slide over the statistics of misery in the news and on Facebook, to quiet our consciences by asking “who is my neighbor” and then saying, “Well, everyone, of course, but I can’t help everyone! I don’t know how. I don’t know what is best. So I will take the wide detour and not look.”

There are certain things and certain people we do not want to see because we do not want to act. Repent.

Thank God that it is Jesus Christ who tells this parable. He is the Good Samaritan. He became our neighbor to be our Ransom and Substitute, the Holy Sacrifice and the Scapegoat. He loves the smart-alecky lawyer who sought to test him. He loves the selfish priest and Levite who pass by on the other side. He loves the robbers who attacked the man on his way to Jericho. He loves those in need. He is moved by compassion. And, of course, He loves the man left half-dead, fallen among robbers. He binds up the wounds, takes him to an inn for recovery, pays for everything, and promises to come back. Who does that? Jesus does. He is the Merciful One.

But there is more. He ranges off the path. He finds us today on our wide detours waylaid by robbers of a different sort, worse than half-dead, all the way dead, eyes blind not only to the needs of our neighbors but also to our own need to be saved. In our efforts to keep our stuff we’ve hardened our consciences and been easy prey for the devil. But the Lord comes in compassion, in mercy, with healing. He doesn’t stumble upon us on accident. He comes seeking. He comes to restore us to the community by grace, to forgive our trespasses and our deep greed and selfishness.

He also binds up our wounds. He hears our confession. We say: “Lord, I looked away. I am ashamed that I did not want to be involved, to get dirty. I was afraid of what it would cost.” And He absolves us. He remembers His covenant, our Holy Baptism. He brings us also to the inn for recovery, alongside the sinners we failed, alongside those who have been praying for us all along, and He gives us new opportunities to be part of His Kingdom, to be His hands in this world, to look at the hungry and thirsty, the naked and sick and there to see Him.

He is the Good Samaritan, our Good Samaritan, our neighbor who has mercy. He fulfills the Law. He loves us as Himself. He does not look away – from shame or disgust, in anger or frustration. He lifts His countenance upon us and gives us peace and opens our eyes as well.

“Go and do likewise” is harshest law. It always accuses us who still suffer from the pull of sin in our fallen flesh, who want to look away, but we are His people and we love what He commands. We embrace it. “Yes,” we say, “we will go and do likewise.” We will not do so well as He does. We do not go with the pure hearts and merciful eyes that He has, but we will amend our evil ways. We will repent and strive to do better. We won’t be perfect. We will fail. We can’t help everyone, but in Him will do some good. We will trust in His promises to change us and to not give up on us. He will keep on picking us up and to keep on loving us. Thus emboldened and empowered by His grace, we will keep on trying. We will keep on going. We will keep on repenting and starting over. His love does not waver. He does not look away from us. He is forever, thanks be to God, our neighbor – the one who had mercy on us  – the One who has given His inheritance, eternal life, to us as a gift.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[1] This whole application and insight was found in a sermon  by Helmut Thielicke, translated by John W. Doberstein, in The Waiting Father: Sermons on the Parables of Jesus  (Harper & Row, ©1957)  as found here  on August 20, 2016.

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