21 August 2016
Text: Luke 10:23-37 (2 Chron 28:8-15; Gal 3:15-22)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
The word “Samaritan” is one of those biblical words that has come into our language and is even used by people who have never read the Bible it all. The fact that we have this word, and it is usually preceded by the word “good,” – the “good Samaritan” – is a testimony to the influence of Jesus even among unbelievers.
Most people know that a “good Samaritan” is someone who helps someone else, a volunteer, sometimes a person who just happens to be on the scene and gives aid to another person. Maybe there’s someone choking in a restaurant, and a stranger gives him a squeeze and dislodges the food from the victim’s windpipe. Or a good Samaritan might be the guy who is seen changing the tire for someone on the side of the road.
There are good Samaritan vans that help motorists, good Samaritan centers that feed the hungry, and even good Samaritan laws that protect people from being sued for doing a good deed in an emergency.
In the modern, secular world, most people think about the word Samaritan in that way: as a good guy.
But to those listening to the story, the Samaritan is not a good guy, not a beloved person. And this is an important part of our Lord’s story. For at that time, a Samaritan was a hated person. He was an outcast. If you associated with him, you were afraid that some of his unpopularity might rub off on you. You avoided and hated Samaritans. You made fun of them and told jokes about them. They were certainly not the heroes of any stories.
This is part of what makes our Lord’s parable so utterly remarkable. Jesus is like no storyteller in history. For He is the author of history itself.
This story came about because of a lawyer’s question, a man who would have grown up hating Samaritans. He wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life. Lawyers know that inheritors don’t do anything. You inherit stuff by virtue of the kindness of the deceased person. So he asks a flawed question. Maybe he is trying to trick Jesus. There was a lot of that going on in those days. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Our Lord answers the lawyer by asking him to recite the law and to interpret it. And the lawyer knows the law. You can have eternal life by keeping the law: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. So Jesus matter-of-factly tells the man to do that. Jesus tells him to just be perfect and it’s all good: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But the lawyer misses the point. He should have said: “But I can’t be perfect! I fail to keep the law!” And he would not have been far from the kingdom. But instead, “desiring to justify himself,” our proud lawyer, “said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
For if you can narrow the definition of “neighbor,” you can make it easier to keep the law. If you are only required to love your family and friends, that’s a lot easier than loving strangers, or even enemies. So the lawyer seeks a loophole.
Jesus does not deal in loopholes. Instead, the lawyer gets a story that has changed the world. And this is that story:
A guy gets robbed and beat up. A priest sees the victim bleeding in the street, and ignores him. A Levite, that is, a priest’s helper, also sees him and ignores him. And then comes the Samaritan, the dirty foreign half-breed that we have been taught to hate, mock, and avoid for as long as anyone can remember. And this filthy Samaritan “had compassion.” “He went to him and bound up his wounds” and administered medicine. He transported him to an inn. He paid for his lodging. He promises more money if it is needed. He promises to come again.
And Jesus asks the loophole-seeking lawyer is own question: “who is the neighbor: the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan?” Our lawyer cannot get out of it. He has been backed into the corner. He answers: “The one who showed him mercy” – because he can’t even bear to say: “the Samaritan.”
“You go and do likewise,” says Jesus. He calls the selfish and proud lawyer to repent and to love his neighbor.
But Jesus is telling another story between the lines. In the kingdom of God, the Samaritan, the one who is hated, the one who is accused of being illegitimate, the one who is the enemy of the priests and the Levites and the lawyers, is the One who is good: the One who shows mercy.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Though hated by the priests, he shows mercy. Though reviled by the Levites, he blesses but does not curse. Though He is beaten to death through a corrupt legal system, He applies the medicine of immortality: His very body and blood and healing Word – to a world that hates Him. Though He is nailed to a tree and offered vinegar to drink, He is the one bearing oil and wine, who binds up our wounds of sin and suffering and death, offering Himself as a ransom. He transports us from the broken road of sin and suffering to the inn of eternal life. He pays for our lodging with His very own lifeblood, shed upon the cross, and shared within the chalice. He promises even more, as His treasury of mercy is limitless. And indeed, He promises to come again.
He, who was rejected by this world, by His nation, by the priests and the Levites and the scribes and the lawyers, He shows mercy, even where the Law is merciless toward us, where the Temple sacrifices in and of themselves do not save us. This Samaritan, this Savior, is the only one who is “good,” for “His mercy endureth forever.”
Indeed, dear friends, our Lord is the only truly Good Samaritan, who saves us in our greatest need, who rescues us in our moment of our most fearsome peril. He takes the wrath of God that we deserve, and exchanges it for the eternal reward that we don’t deserve. He does this out of love and mercy for each one of us. This is a cause of rejoicing, dear friends. We do not need a loophole, because we have a Savior. We do not need to justify ourselves by manipulating the Law, because He has justified us by manumitting us by grace.
Yes, indeed, dear friends, let us rejoice in our Good Samaritan, our good and merciful Savior. “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.