September 15, 2019 A+D
St. Luke 10: 23-37
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I. The Law Comes from Transgressions
God saved Abraham by promise, by grace, not by works of the law. The inheritance that the lawyer sought can’t be earned and it never could be. Why then did God give the Law if it was not a path to salvation? Because of transgressions.
We have a rule at my house that everyone has to take his dishes to the sink after dinner. If my children were more saintly I wouldn’t have needed the rule. They would have just done it. But because some of they are sinners, they sometimes tried to pretend like they didn’t know what they should do or what decency required or they were so caught up in themselves that they forgot all others. So we had to make a rule. The duty was there without the rule but the rule destroys excuses and helps to curb our baser desires with threat of punishment and shame. The rules come from transgressions.
II. The Lawyer’s Failure to Test Jesus and His Conviction
The rules given by God to Abraham and Moses not only show us what is right but also remove our excuses and pretending that we are righteous. Consider again the lawyer. Seeking to test Jesus, he asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him to recite the rules. He does. Love God and neighbor perfectly. And in the recitation comes conviction. The lawyer panics. He is desperate. And in lawyer ways, he searches for a loophole. Why? Because he wants to justify himself.
Now we are prone to judge him for this but we shouldn’t. We are prone to think that this is what is wrong with the lawyer. He is self-righteous. But we have got it exactly wrong. He was self-righteous when he sought to test Jesus. Now he has felt the killing power of the Law. In quoting Scripture, he realizes that the Scripture has imprisoned him under sin.
I do not mean that when he seeks to justify himself he is doing something saintly. I merely mean that the Law has had its way with him and he is not far from the kingdom of God and he is no longer seeking to test Jesus. He is not legitimately seeking and he is seeking the right thing, justification, but he goes about it in the wrong way and he asks the wrong question.
He asks, “Who is my neighbor?” He wants to know who is supposed to love so perfectly that his love will earn him salvation. The answer, of course, is everybody. The law expects perfect and total obedience. There is no loophole. And if Jesus then told a parable to emphasize that fact with a parable that simply illustrated the fullness of what the Law demands and there are no loopholes, then Jesus doesn’t want the lawyer to be justified. He wants to punish him for trying to test him and for asking stupid questions.
Sadly, that is how the parable of the Good Samaritan is often mis-read. Some people think the parable is meant to answer the lawyer’s second question “who is my neighbor” but it isn’t. It is meant to answer the first question “How do I gain eternal life?” And we know this because Jesus changes the lawyers question at the end of the parable. He doesn’t ask “Who is the Samaritan supposed to love and help?” That is the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” Everyone. Who are we supposed to love and help? Everyone. Jesus doesn’t ask that. He asks instead, “Who proved neighbor to the man who fell in the ditch?” Not everyone. Not the priest or the Levite. Not the inn keeper or the donkey. The One who mercy.
III. The Right Reading of the Good Samaritan
How does one gain eternal life? But the mercy which endures forever in the Son who took up flesh and was despised by men, but who came and found us half dead and had compassion on us since the Law could help us as it passed by on other side. His compassion put on the oil of Holy Baptism and the Wine of Holy Communion at His own expense. He put us on His beast of burden while He walked as our servant. He took us to an inn for recovery. He paid for everything and promises to come back.
The best thing the lawyer ever says in all his life is in response to Jesus question. The One who had mercy. Here is what saved Abraham. He received this promise 430 years before the Law. It bestowed on him an inheritance of promise, which he received by faith. Jesus has compassion on the lawyer who finds himself struck down by the law and in danger of Hellfire. He doesn’t simply preach more law to him, “Go out and try harder, O Lawyer. Find people to help and serve. It won’t save you. But you don’t deserve to be saved. You aren’t worth it. Have some more Law.”
He actually loves the lawyer and is on His way to the cross for the lawyer even though the lawyer is oblivious. So when the does its work and strikes him to the heart and makes him desperate and wanting salvation, Jesus holds out the promise given to Abraham. You don’t so much need to be a neighbor as you need a neighbor. You don’t so much need to be merciful as you need mercy. What is it to live on this side of glory without faith but to be half-dead?
IV. Go and Do Likewise
To be sure, the love of Christ is to be imitated and reflected in His children. Having heard the Gospel, the lawyer is to realize that everyone is his neighbor and that he ought to love them because God loves them. He ought to act like Christ in the world. There is an expectation in Christ that having heard of the frees mercy of God in the Messiah that comes for those half-dead and in need of forgiveness and bestows eternal life on them, that the lawyer will be changed. He will therefore go and do likewise, taking the Gospel with him, witnessing to the mercy of God and the compassion of God, with both his words and deeds.
“Go and do likewise,” is a Law statement. It is the 3rd use of the Law. It isn’t an accusation. Jesus isn’t saying to the Lawyer, “I know you are now full of faith and grace and therefore I need to cut you down by showing you your sins.” He is saying, “I found you half-dead and saved you. I paid for everything because I love you. I also love the rest of this world. Filled with my love, you also love them. Now go and be my child, my ambassador, do like I do. Be like me.”
And the lawyer doesn’t hear that and become self-righteous, as though the words of Jesus were poison to faith. Rather he embraces it and loves it. Because he does want to be like Jesus, like His heavenly Father whom he admires and respects and wants to please.
So he goes. And he tries. And his attempts are imperfect because he is still infected with sin and the good work begun in him is not yet complete. The command to go and do likewise does accuse him. He sees that he has not lived up to it. But he does not despair. He remembers that His Father loves Him, that Jesus died for him, that He is bought and paid for and can’t be snatched away and he repents and rejoices and filled with the Holy Spirit he goes on and tries and again.
That is what it is to be a Christian.
1. We go in the love of Christ and seek to imitate Him. Recognizing that He didn’t serve us so that we could maximize our pleasure but to be a part of His Kingdom. We want to be like Him. We love those that He loves – which means everybody.
2. We learn to read all of Scripture through this dynamic. Christ, Our Lord, desires mercy and not sacrifice, that is, He desires to be merciful to us. He wants to be our neighbor, to serve us. He has compassion on us. He has given us the Law because He loves us. It is not the path to salvation but it is the path of salvation, that is, it is the path that we walk in Him, by His mercy. He gives us a place in His Kingdom and includes us in His mercy as a loving father.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.