Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 13

6 September 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 10:23-37

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dearly beloved of the Lord, we are privileged yet again to hear the greatest Author of all use a story to teach us the profound truths of the kingdom of God.

And the Lord tells this story, The Good Samaritan, in response to a lawyer’s attempt to forge a loophole in God’s law.

Lawyers and authors are both masters of words, both use language the way a craftsman uses a chisel to turn a block of wood or stone into a thing of beauty. The lawyer weaves words together in order to make an argument, and the author spins a tale the way a woman at a wooden wheel turns wool into yarn.

And in this epic meeting, the lawyer plays with words in search of a legal loophole. But he tries this on Jesus, who is not only the author of all words, but is the very Word in the flesh. Jesus is not merely the preacher of the law, but its keeper and fulfiller. Jesus is not just a teller of tales, but is also the Creator of all reality.

The lawyer’s motives are flawed; he is no honest inquirer. He is looking to outsmart and outmaneuver Jesus. And he does this by doing what lawyers do best: he asks a question. And when a lawyer asks a question, he isn’t really asking a question at all. It is loaded. He is manipulating the answer he seeks. Our Lord is not ignorant of this reality, as He knows the hearts of all men. The lawyer asks: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Notice the built-in assumption in the question. It presumes that one can do something to “inherit” eternal life. It is a trick question, for an inheritance is a gift. One inherits by virtue of being an heir – and there is nothing one can do to become an heir. If eternal life is inherited, than it is a gift, not something to be bought, earned, bargained for, or seized.

Our Lord answers the question with two questions of His own: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

The lawyer replies with what he knows best: a recitation of the law: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. And Jesus tells him: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer craves being right as well as being rewarded for being right. And so our Lord obliges by rewarding the lawyer’s correct answer. But in being right, the lawyer is left without hope. For no-one is capable of perfectly loving God and one’s neighbor. Our Lord has just told the lawyer, in essence: “Your answer is right. Congratulations. And for being right, you will die and go to hell.”

Our lawyer, however, misses the point, and badly so. For his reply ought to have been to confess that he cannot keep the law, that he is a “poor miserable sinner” laden with “sins and iniquities” and deserving of punishment both “temporal and eternal.” He should have said he was sorry, that he repented, and that he sought the Lord to be “gracious and merciful” to himself, a “poor, sinful being.”

But relying instead on his clever legal argument, “desiring to justify himself,” he sought a loophole in the word “neighbor.” He asks: “Who is my neighbor?” For if the word “neighbor” can be defined so narrowly as to basically include no-one, than we are free not to love anyone other than ourselves.

And since the lawyer doesn’t understand God, or His kingdom, or the meaning and importance of “mercy,” or whom the law requires us to love, or the meaning of the word love – our Lord and Teacher instructs the lawyer by way of a story, a parable, an analogy for the lawyer to wrap his head around.

In His tale, our Lord sets up a crime scene. Robbers have beaten a victim, and left him by the side of the road. He is clearly in need of help – for without some kind of intervention, he will bleed to death. The first passerby is a priest, a holy man of God. Surely the priest, the one who stands in the stead and by the command of His Lord, will help. Who should understand his obligations better than a priest? Who is in a better position to comprehend what mercy means than one called by God to freely give the forgiveness of sins according to God’s pure grace?

But the priest crosses the street and refuses to help.

Next is the Levite. Surely this man of God, this helper of the priests, one who stands in the sanctuary of the Temple, will offer aid and comfort to his fellow man in need!

But he too crosses the street.

And finally, a Samaritan, a lowly half-breed, despised by the Jews, a man who is not only neither priest not Levite, but not even of the chosen people at all – encounters the robbery victim. He not only shows compassion, but goes way above and beyond. Though not under the same legal obligations as the priest and Levite, the Samaritan bandages the victim, cleans his wounds, transports him to an inn, and lodges him at his own expense. He promises to continue housing the him until he is well.

The Lord Jesus suddenly stops the story at this point. He asks the lawyer to answer his own question: “Who is the neighbor?” The Wordsmith who is the Word has outsmarted the lawyer who uses words to manipulate and craft an argument. The lawyer is trapped by his own question, hanged by his own words, and is forced to answer in a way that will not justify himself: the neighbor is “the one who showed him mercy.”

The lawyer could not justify himself, and neither can we, dear brothers and sisters. Every day we have the opportunity to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” and every day we cross the road to avoid the trouble of demonstrating compassion, to avoid showing Christian mercy to our neighbors in need. Like the priest and the Levite, we fail in our Christian duty to our neighbor, and we turn around just like the lawyer and try to justify ourselves.

But the law offers us no loopholes. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Keep the law perfectly, “and you will live.”

If, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we stop trying to justify ourselves, but rather hear the Word of the Lord, we will find something other than condemnation and our failure to keep the law, namely “mercy.” For our Lord is the Good Samaritan, the Lowly One rejected by His own people, the One who does not walk across the street when He encounters people beaten up by sin and the world, not leaving them to bleed to death the way the unmerciful and demanding law does.

Jesus has compassion. Jesus loves His neighbor. Jesus loves God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind. Jesus finds us lying in the street and pours on the balm of oil and wine. Jesus carries us Himself and spends all that He has, even His precious lifeblood, to nurse us back to health. We are His neighbor, and He shows us mercy. And having been given this healing, this demonstration of mercy, we can, even if imperfectly, “go and do likewise.”

We do not show mercy to others because the law says we must. We’re not capable of keeping the law. We do not show mercy to others because of who we are. For acting only out of what is expected is not love, nor compassion, nor mercy. We show mercy to others because we have first been shown mercy. We know what it is like to be beaten and battered and bleeding. We know what it is like to be ignored by the priest and the Levite. We know what it is like to be in dire need of mercy. And we also know what it is like to be rescued. Being on the receiving end of mercy should fill us with compassion for others who are in need of the same mercy we were when the Good Samaritan found us, cleaned our wounds, transported us to safety, and had mercy upon us.

We know it is foolish to justify ourselves, for we can’t. But the good news is that we have been justified by the One who shows mercy. We have seen and heard this compassion, and we live it every time we come to this place of mercy to receive the Lord’s free gifts of life and salvation.

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” dear Christians. “For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.


Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

What makes this parable particularly powerful is that Jesus is this Good Samaritan!
His mother was a Galilean, formerly a part of Samaria, which led the temple leaders to ask Jesus: "Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan?" (John 8:48) When Jesus came across "sinners" who had been beaten up by the temple leaders and cast out of temple and synagogues into the ditch, he ministered to them with the oil of his covenant-gospel and restored them to wholeness. That oil never ran out.

Blessings! TBR

Cecil The Sea Sick Sea Serpent said...

What is the history of the icon?

The messenger said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Father Hollywood said...

Dear Cecil:

I found it at the website of Good Samaritan RC Church. If you contact them, maybe they could give you some history of the icon.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo: