Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 13 - 2017

10 September 2017

Text: Luke 10:23-37

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of our Lord’s most quoted stories.  We usually focus on the parable itself.  And it is a magnificently constructed tale, with irony and a twist in the plot. 

A man is beaten and robbed and left to die in the street.  A priest and a Levite pretend not to see the victim.  But a Samaritan, a member of an ethnic group that is hated, comes to his rescue.  He binds up the victim’s wounds, takes him to an inn. And pays for his lodging.

And then Jesus asks which person was the “neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  “The one who showed him mercy” is the correct answer.

So ironically, it is not the priest or the Levite, but the hated Samaritan who is the hero of the story.

But why did Jesus tell this story?  It all began when Jesus told His disciples privately how blessed they were to “see what you see” and “hear what you hear.”  But then another person who has seen and heard Jesus just as have the disciples, “stood up to put him to the test.”  This man was a lawyer.  He sees Jesus, but he doesn’t really “see.”  He hears Jesus , but he doesn’t really “hear.”

The lawyer isn’t submitting humbly to our Lord’s teaching, but he is rather playing a game of “gotcha.”  He wants to trap Jesus, to embarrass Him.  And perhaps annoyed that Jesus is preaching a good news of a different kind of kingdom, our lawyer challenges the very basics of the Gospel itself: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

The lawyer does not ask Jesus about God’s grace.  The lawyer does not ask Jesus about how we receive God’s love through faith.  Instead, he asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He is not interested in grace or faith.  He wants to be rewarded for his works.  He is trying to justify himself, when he should be seeking forgiveness. 

The world forces us to justify ourselves.  We have to justify our own existence at work.  We have to earn our paychecks.  We are judged by the content of our character.  We have to earn the respect of others.  We have to pass a test in order to drive.  And lawyers – including our friend who is trying to put Jesus on trial, are judged by how well they read the law.

And so, since he wished to be judged in this way, our Lord obliges him: “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  And here is where our lawyer shines: “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.”

This is the right answer.  If you wish to earn salvation by works, this is all you have to do.  “You have answered correctly;” says our Lord, “do this, and you will live.”

That’s all.  Just “do this.”  Just keep the law perfectly.  Just love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength – all of it, not most of it, not 90% of it, and not 99% of it.  Just perfectly love God all the time.  Oh, and your neighbor too.  Love him just as much as you love your own life.  Just love God and your neighbor perfectly, and you will live.

Congratulations, lawyer, you have got the right answer.  Now just be perfect, and you can indeed be justified by the law, by your works.  “Do this,” says Jesus, “and you will live.”

But instead of honestly admitting that he can’t do it, rather he still seeks to “justify himself.”  And so he tries to pick apart what the Bible means by “neighbor.”

And here, dear friends, is where Jesus teaches him what Scripture means by “neighbor.” 

Our “neighbor” is whoever God places in our lives, people who are in need of love. And we show love when we show mercy.  And here is where the idea that we can “justify ourselves” falls apart.  We are like the man who has been beaten up on the road.  We are “half dead.”  We have been beaten by sin.  We need mercy.  We need someone to love us, being a “good neighbor” by loving God and loving us in our need.  And neither the priest nor the Levite save us.  In other words, the Law doesn’t save us.  Only one who shows mercy can bind up our wounds, pay for our care, and transport us to where we find health and restoration.  And this merciful One is the One who is good, who is despised by priest and Levite.  The Good Samaritan is in fact Jesus.

We cannot justify ourselves, but we are justified by Him.  We cannot go from being beaten and half dead to being righteous through our own works.  We are not justified by the Law or its servants.  Instead we are justified by “the one who showed him mercy,” that is Jesus Christ.

And in this Christian life, we share this mercy with others, “You go,” says Jesus, “and do likewise.”  For He works through us in our vocations, by our mercy, to share His mercy: forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Dear friends, our Lord is merciful!  We don’t need to justify ourselves, for He justifies us not by our works, but by His work upon the cross.  He binds up our wounds even as He suffers wounds for us.  He pays for us not with two denarii, but rather with “His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” 

And this is the irony and the great twist in the plot: Jesus is willing to be hated as a Samaritan, and yet He is good and merciful.  We don’t, and we can’t, justify ourselves by means of the Law, but Jesus is the “neighbor” to us poor miserable sinners “who fell among the robbers.” 

This Parable is not just a story dear friends, it is the Gospel.  It isn’t just a call to righteousness, but rather the very means for our righteousness.  It is about mercy: the mercy of Jesus, the mercy by which we are justified and made healthy, by which we inherit eternal life.

Indeed, dear disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see…. And to hear what you hear.”  Amen!

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

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