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Sermon for Sunday, Pentecost 8, 14 July

good_samaritan_posterLuke 10:25-37, “The Good Samaritan”

Heavenly Host, 2013

Click here for mp3 audio, 42 Sermon for Sunday Pentecost 8.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for the sermon today is the Gospel, the story of the Good Samaritan.

What’s so special about this Bible story?  How come this text is so famous that even non-churchgoing people seem to know about it and even enters into the ordinary speak of non-churchgoers?  I think it has something to do with the way we have so often heard the parable preached to us.  How does it normally go?  In a nutshell, were supposed to do good for other people because that’s what Jesus would have us do.  Hence, you cannot sue the guy who scratches the glass of your window with the wire coat hanger because he’s helping you when you locked your keys in the car.  Hence Good Samaritan hospitals across the county to bind up the sick and injured.  Hence when someone turns a good deed, we even refer to them as a Good Samaritan.  Now, while I will agree that it’s great to stop and help people in need on the side of the road, I am quite sure that’s not Jesus’ intention in telling this story.  In fact it’s far more complex than simple moralism.  I’m convinced that Jesus had more in mind for his listeners than merely helping people in need.  The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on the Law.

Jesus isn’t telling this parable all by itself.  Something happened before He said it.  To whom did Jesus tell this parable?  That might also be very important.  Where is Jesus when He tells this parable?  Is it significant that Jesus is talking about the leading people of the ruling class in Jerusalem?  Jesus is walking somewhere in Judea in good Jewish territory and a scribe, a Torah lawyer asks Him to test Him, “What must I do to receive eternal life?”  Notice that the story of the Good Samaritan is not an answer to that question.  It’s an answer to a different question.  But Jesus answers the first question with a question.  “What does the law say?  How do you read it?  And the Torah lawyer responds with a very good answer, Deuteronomy chapter 6, “You shall 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.”  And Jesus commends the lawyer for his reading.  But then the lawyer asks, “Well, who’s my neighbor?”  This is the context.  This is the reason Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus tells the story in response to a completely different question than, “What must one doe to inherit eternal life?”  The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on a narrow reading of the Torah.

There are two different ways of looking at the Torah, the first five Books of Moses, specifically and the OT more broadly.  Both the lawyer and Jesus agree that the way to eternal life is through the Torah but they mean entirely different things by it.  The Lord did not give the Torah to Moses and His people Israel for a mere moralizing.  Torah was meant to give life, eternal life.  Those who in the communion of God’s love walk in the way of the Lord receive life.  Torah cannot be a “how to” book of meriting grace before God.  Torah must be read as a book of God’s gracious election and the promised protection and deliverance of His people despite their sin.  If the shift falls away from the mercy and grace of the Lord in the Torah, the focus shifts away from the inheritance God gives to the deeds people do.  The lawyer was reading Deuteronomy 6 narrowly.  It was not about loving his neighbor with the love of God he had been given.  It was about limiting his love by restricting who was his neighbor.  And so Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the lawyers question, “Who is my neighbor?”  And one thing we’ve learned already this morning is that in 2000 years lawyers haven’t changed a bit.

But seriously, the lawyer gets to the heart of our problem with loving one another.  Oh, I can love my neighbor just fine, it’s the abortionist doctor, the slick car salesman, the slicker politician, the slickest lawyer, those are the people I can’t love and don’t want to.  I can love my neighbor as long as he doesn’t have a different skin color or accent, or denomination, or religion.  You see this lawyer is a good Jewish Torah scribe.  He can’t stand Samaritans.  I won’t go into the long story why but Judean Jews saw Samaritan Jews as half-Jews, which was probably worse than not being Jewish at all.  So then Jesus tells the story.

A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among thieves who stripped him, beat him and left him for dead.  The priest happening by doesn’t help him nor does the Levite.  But the Samaritan becomes the Good Samaritan.  “Which one was neighborly,” asks Jesus.  “The one who showed mercy,” says the lawyer.  “Go and do likewise,” says Jesus.  The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on a narrow reading of the Torah.

What the robbers do to this man is terrible.  But what the priest and the Levite do, or rather fail to do, Jesus puts in the same category as the robbers.  Notice then what the Samaritan does.  He makes up for what the robbers, priest and Levite did to this poor man.  The Samaritan has compassion on the man.  Compassion is one of those key words in the NT that is only used of Jesus and the waiting father in the parable of the prodigal son and this Samaritan.  Jesus is saying something important about the Samaritan.  So first the Samaritan binds up the wounds of the man, gives him first aid, something the Levite could have easily done.  Then he puts him on his mount, something the priest could have easily done.  Then he pays for his debts at the hotel and gives him back his dignity, something the robbers should have never taken away.  This story is Good News.  The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on a narrow reading of the Torah.

Like I said, we usually hear this sermon preached as pure moralism, that is, go and do likewise.  But what about the lawyer’s question motivated by self-justification?  And remember that all of this has to do with the lawyer’s attempt to test Jesus and see what his answer would be about inheriting eternal life.  Remember his first answer to Jesus’ first question?  Love God, love neighbor as yourself.  Jesus is making a bold statement here that loving one’s neighbor is equivalent to loving God.

Doctor Luther writes in a sermon on this text:

“So let us mark and learn well what it means to love God.  This Samaritan loves God, not because of what he gives to God, but because he aids that poor wounded man to the best of his ability.  That’s what God says, if you want to love and serve me, then love and serve your neighbor; he needs it.  I don’t.  For this reason the Samaritan loves God with his money, beast, oil, and wine.  Not that our Lord God needs such help; he is not doing it for God, but rather for his neighbor.  However, it is tantamount to doing it for God since God has so enjoined and commanded it.”  (Luther, House Postils 2:410)

The story of the Good Samaritan is meant to be the Good News of the Gospel, not moralism based on a narrow reading of the Torah.  I’m not saying something different than what you learned in Sunday school.  There is still nothing we can do to merit eternal life.  In fact, if anything Jesus is showing us that the bar is set so high we could never reach it and yet paradoxically, Jesus is showing us that we need not reach it because He reached it in our place.  We are not self-justified.  Christ justifies us.  So we need to run this theology backwards in a way.  We love and serve our neighbor because it is an outgrowth of loving and serving God.  We love and serve God because we have already become inheritors of eternal life.  You have become inheritors of eternal life because Jesus found you on the road, robbed, stripped and left for dead, bound up your wounds, laid you on His mount, carried you to the inn, paid the full price for your care.  This is the Gospel of the Lord.

We love, because he first loved us.  Keep doing this and you will continue to live.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.

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