2 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 10:23-37 (2 Chron 28:8-15, Gal 3:15-22)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
“Which… proved to be a neighbor?”
The technical term for this kind of a question is “a softball.” This is a question that is beyond easy. It is obvious. It’s a question that is so simple that we could almost call it a rhetorical question.
Could even this Pharisee, a lawyer whose goal is “to justify himself” by putting Jesus “to the test” have answered this question any other way than to reply: “The one who showed him mercy”? Could he have in any way made the argument that the priest who turned his back on the dying victim was the right answer? Could even a hotshot lawyer have made a case for the heartless Levite who did the same thing as the priest to be the example of mercy?
In fact, like a good lawyer Himself, Jesus argues His case with only one right answer, an obvious answer, an answer that also points to Himself. For Jesus is the Answer. And the question is “Who is merciful to me, a poor, miserable sinner?”
The question is “Who” and the answer is most certainly “The One who showed him mercy,” Jesus.
Some people believe Jesus the rabbi is giving a discourse on ethics, teaching the lawyer a lesson about right and wrong. He is doing nothing of the sort. That is the very point of our Lord’s story. We all know right from wrong. We all know mercy when we see it, when we experience it, when we do it, when it is shown to us. We know right from wrong because it is engraved on our hearts, it is engraved in the stone tablets, it is engraved on the pierced hands of Him who has never done wrong, and who is the living embodiment of righteousness.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is no stunning revelation of ethics. Everybody in the world, believers and unbelievers alike, everyone knows who the good guy in the story is. For only an evil person, a person lacking in morals, or perhaps a person who is deranged could see “mercy” in the actions of the priest and the Levite. Only a wicked or very sick person takes pleasure in the suffering of another human being or another living creature. We know it is wrong not only to bully and assault and rob people, but we also know it is wrong to turn a blind eye to suffering, to have the power and the ability to help in some way, but to do nothing.
We also know it is wrong to rely on our own station in life or perceived righteousness to justify ourselves. It is wrong for a minister or church worker to presume he has no obligation to show mercy because of his churchly vocation. It is wrong for a Christian to believe that he is absolved of sinful behavior because of his church membership, his grasp of doctrine, his attendance at services, his family’s history, or his past deeds or gifts to the church.
We cannot justify ourselves any more than medieval pilgrims could buy salvation by putting coins in a coffer or staring at relics in a glass case.
We cannot justify ourselves any more than the victim in our Lord’s parable could have willed himself well or overcome his own weakness and heal his own infirmity.
No, he needed a good priest or a good Levite – or in this case, a Good Samaritan to come and show him mercy. He needed salvation and healing.
It’s easy for us English-speakers to separate salvation from healing. We might be tempted to see salvation as purely a spiritual matter. To be “saved” might make us think of our souls going to heaven when we die. To be “healed” might make us think of getting rid of a cold or being cured of cancer – a purely physical matter. But in fact, in the Greek of the New Testament, there is only one word for both. To be saved is to be healed, and to be healed is to be saved.
The victim in our Lord’s parable was injured and in danger of death. He needed to be saved by being healed. He needed to be healed by being saved. He needed a healer and a savior. He needed to be shown mercy. And that is where the priest and the Levite failed. They could have been instruments of healing and salvation, but in their selfishness, they chose not to be inconvenienced. It was the lowly Samaritan who was the healer, the savior, the shower of mercy – the one who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell.”
Dear friends, we have all fallen. We have fallen into sin. We have fallen into the hands of the chief robber himself, Satan. We have fallen wounded and battered and bleeding to death, unable to heal ourselves, unable to save ourselves, in need of mercy.
Indeed, we know right from wrong. We know that we act more like the priest and the Levite. We know that we seek to justify ourselves. We know that we put Jesus to the test. We know that we are cold to others in need of mercy. We know that we fail to “go and do likewise.”
Jesus did not come to teach us right from wrong. We know that already.
But we do know who our Good Samaritan is. We know who is our Healer, our Savior. We know who shows us mercy!
For it is not the priest or the Levite, not the Law of the Old Testament, not the office we hold or our hereditary class that saves us, heals us, and shows us mercy. Rather it is Jesus, Jesus only, the lowly One who was treated like a Samaritan, rejected, scorned, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, the crucified One, the One who “on the night in which He was betrayed took bread.” It is our Lord who “had compassion” on us poor, miserable sinners, who “went to us” even as we sin against Him, He who “bound up” our wounds, who seals us with baptismal oil and heals us, saves us, by means of His Eucharistic wine, His very blood. It is Jesus who sets us on His own animal, conveying us to the Heavenly City, preparing lodging for us with the Father, and who even pays for our healing, for our salvation – mercifully, with His very own lifeblood.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan, dear friends. He has healed us, saved us, and shown us mercy. And like the self-justifying lawyer looking to test Jesus, we can only answer the great question posed by our Lord in one way. There is only one right answer to the great question “Who proves to be a neighbor to fallen mankind by healing them and saving them?”
The answer remains: “The One who showed him mercy.”
Jesus, dear brothers and sisters, Jesus alone shows you mercy, saves you, heals you, forgives your sins, and gives you eternal life! Amen.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.