As I read the account of the Good Samaritan this morning, I ask you, “Where do you see yourself in this story?” There are 6 characters. The Lawyer, the dead man, the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan and finally Jesus. It is a story that is meant to challenge us to consider the great question of our very salvation. This morning, with the background of the story of the Good Samaritan, we consider this thought:
THE QUESTION OF ETERNAL LIFE
We begin with the Lawyer. Before Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke tells us that a certain man schooled in the Law of the Jews and indeed an expert in Biblical Law, came up to ask Jesus a question. Now he did this to test Jesus, but the question he asked touches the very heart of salvation, “What should I DO to inherit everlasting life?”
The so-called “expert” was very proud of his accomplishments and wanted to see if Jesus knew the Law as well as he did. So Jesus asks the “expert” a question in return since he supposedly knew the Law so very well: “What is written in the Scriptures? What do you read there?” The “expert” went right for the heart of the Law, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Now, this was not a wrong answer because Jesus says, “You are right.” But then Jesus says, “Continue to do this and you will live.” The Law demands that one love the Lord with every ounce of His being and live a life that serves and honors God with every breath. The Law of God demands that one love his neighbor, not just when things go well, but when your neighbor insults, hurts and hates you and that includes your enemy. But this was the problem. The “expert” looked at the Law of God through the lens of human justice. Interestingly, the “expert” felt he had rendered the Lord the proper love so he glosses over the part dealing with love to God and goes for the love for man: “And who is my neighbor?”
You see, the Jew had been taught, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” So here was the test the “expert” wanted to give to Jesus. He felt that with this premise he could prove to Jesus that he had kept this table of the Law. With this, Jesus now tells the story of the Good Samaritan. We all know the story. Let’s look at the cast of characters in the parable.
THE DEAD MAN, PRIEST, THE LEVITE.
First, we consider the dead man. He had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. He was helpless and would have died if left untended. He was at the mercy of the elements and could do nothing to save himself. He was as good as dead.
Next, we consider very briefly the priest and the Levite. The priest and Levite, the “good” people of the church ignore the man in need passing by on the other side of the road so they would not have to deal with the man. There is not much to say here about these two figures except that they represent many in the church today who outwardly are good Christians but do not let the Word of God rule and move their lives to love their neighbor. Jesus meant to peel back the outer veneer of the Lawyer’s so-called goodness to see the real problem with his question: “Who is my neighbor.”
Now the real challenge to the “expert” comes with the Samaritan. The Samaritan was the enemy of the Jew. The Samaritan was hated by the Jew and considered his theological enemy. In the mind of the Jew, the Samaritan was a half-breed and heathen because they had intermarried with the Assyrians years before. In the mind of the Jew, he had the right, indeed an obligation to hate the Samaritan.
Yet, it is the Samaritan Jesus uses to define what is it to be a neighbor and more importantly who it is that is the neighbor. After Jesus tells the story, he then turns to the “expert” and asks, “Which of the three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who had fallen into the hands of the robbers?” It must have been a rather humbling experience for the “expert” to answer in the way that he did, but he really had no choice if he had any integrity at all, “The one who was kind enough to help him.” And now comes the real answer to the question of the “expert:” “What should I DO to inherit everlasting life?” It was this: “Go and do as he did.”
With this answer, Jesus undid everything this man had been taught regarding the Law of God. Suddenly, the “expert” found himself on the wrong side of God’s Law because he realized that God demanded love to ALL men, not just to those he chose with which to be friends. God chooses who our neighbor is, not us. Suddenly, the “expert” realized that he had not done what God required and was left with the condemnation of the Law, “Do this and you will live.” Inherent in that demand is the opposite, “Neglect to do this and you will die.”
The Law of God is clear and uncompromising. The Law of God is unforgiving and harsh. It demands perfect love toward God and genuine love toward all men. And yet there is something else the lawyer did not understand: the depth of his sin.
One might possibly break with alcoholism, swearing, bringing his temper under control. But pride, that which the lawyer displayed, that desire to justify oneself, to talk about oneself, or to find fault with others remains still after many months and years of penitential struggle. Paul said it best, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
The lawyer was like a carpenter who took his tape measure to measure some boards for the house he was building. He realized that the boards he was using were too short, so he cut off a part of his measuring line and declared that they were now long enough.
How often have we tampered with God’s yardstick like the lawyer, making excuses for our sin or thinking lightly of sin? How often have you sought to cut back the measure of God’s law so that it fits with your lack of kindness, your lustful eyes, your biting tongue and greed-filled heart? Have you used God’s Law like a rubber band making it fit with your sin?
So, where do you find yourself in the story so far? Do you see yourself as the despicable Lawyer? Nobody likes to compare himself to that man. Do you see yourself as the dead man unable to make any move to save himself? Some would say, “Oh no not me, I still have a free will to make my decision.” Do you perhaps see yourself as the priest or the Levite who outwardly live good lives but do not let the love of Christ permeate and motivate love for your fellow man. May I suggest that we are all four.
Like the Lawyer, we want to define the Law of God in a way that fits our lifestyle. Like the dead man, in reality we are dead in our trespasses and sins unable to save ourselves from a certain death in hell. Like the priest and Levite we want to look good on the outside but inside we are hiding our lust and greed, our unforgiving heart and a love gone cold for others. So what about the Samaritan? Most of us would like to compare ourselves to the Samaritan. Most of us would like to compare ourselves favorably with the Samaritan. OK! Let’s look at the Samaritan.
At the risk of His own life, the Samaritan stopped to help the half-dead man robbed and beaten by the robbers. He poured on oil and wine to doctor the wounds. He applied bandages to his wounds and then placed the man on his own animal and with his own money he placed him in an inn commanding the owner to take care of him regardless of expense until he would come back. Dear Christian, there is only One Good Samaritan: Jesus.
Jesus kept the Law in your place. Unlike the Lawyer, He did not try to minimize the Law and its demands but kept it perfectly. Unlike the priest and Levite, He saw us lying dead in our trespasses and sins and not only stopped to administer help, but left His heavenly home, became our flesh. In that flesh and blood, He risked His life by allowing the Robber and thief Satan to ravage Him on the cross.
Like the man half-dead, you and I have been bloodied and wounded by the constant temptation of the Evil One. We have fallen for those temptations and left for dead. Jesus poured out the oil and wine of His blood to cover our wounds. Jesus was and is the beast of burden on which you and I were carried to the inn where we are nourished back life. Jesus paid the price of His blood on the cross, not to an innkeeper, but to God the Father. That inn is the Church where you and I are cared for through the Means of Grace in Word and Sacrament. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus promises to come back and take us home. Jesus is our Good Samaritan.
In your baptism, God has marked your evil heart with the sign of the cross and has declared you righteous in Christ. In the Holy Supper you receive this morning, Jesus comes to you in a very personal way with His very own body and blood to tell you, “Don’t despair because of your sin, I have rendered to the Father all that is necessary for your eternal life.” Jesus is your Good Samaritan. Don’t try to apply for that position. It has already been filled.
So, the answer our Savior gives to the question of eternal life is far different from that of the “expert,” who asked, “What shall I do.” Jesus says, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Go in peace. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria.