The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Series C – Luke 10:25-37
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
The parable of the Samaritan is not told to the Lawyer, and it is not told to you and I so that we would try harder to love our neighbor.
That is not the point.
The reason that that becomes the point so often, the reason that that interpretation is made so frequently, is because you and I by nature, would rather hear and listen to the Law than the Gospel.
For we are by nature, a self-righteous and self-justifying kind of people.
We would rather hear a list of things to do, than the news of what God has already done.
We would rather fix our own problems, than hear of the God who has fixed them through his Son.
We would rather chant the mantra of the Law, “Love your neighbor as yourself” than hear the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Hosea that says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”
Which means that the Lord desires to be merciful to you, and that he does require, nor does he need your works of righteousness, and your works of the Law.
By nature, we more freely and more easily pay attention to Words of the Law, for it is how we are wired as fallen creatures, desiring to justify ourselves before anything else.
And so it makes sense, that when it comes to the parable of the Samaritan, that our initial reaction and interpretation would be that we should work harder at loving our neighbor and showing mercy like the Samaritan does.
But again, that is not actually the point.
The answer is not piling on more Law to the problem and hopeless of the Law, the answer is something different entirely.
The Lawyer who comes to Jesus comes with Evil intent. Like so many people throughout the Gospels and so many in our world today, he is not interested in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
No, he is merely interested in Jesus the teacher, Jesus the rabbi, someone with whom he can have interesting conversation, a lively debate, an opportunity where he can show Jesus just how clever he really is.
And so the Lawyer asks Jesus what was actually a common question of the time, one that usually promised debate and discussion. The question which was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
But Jesus doesn’t indulge the Lawyer’s desire for debate, instead He turns the question completely around on him and asks, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
And as we hear in Luke chapter 10, the Lawyer responds by quoting first Deuteronomy 6, that you are to 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, quoting Leviticus 19, our Old Testament today, you are to love your neighbor as yourself.
This answer is not something that Lawyer makes up, neither does Jesus make it up when He’s asked the same question by the Pharisees.
But rather, what it is, is the standard orthodox rabbinic answer to the content and summary of the Law. That we are to love both God and neighbor faithfully, perfectly and without fail.
And so Jesus responds and says, “You have answered correctly, do this, and you will live.”
It is the Law answer to the Law question.
And because of that, Christ could have just as well said to the man, “There is no hope for you, you are damned already.”
For he has not fulfilled the Law, he has not loved God and loved his neighbor perfectly, faithfully and without fail.
And this the man himself knows.
This is why he asks Jesus the follow up question, “And who is my neighbor?”
We should not hear this as a trick question. The time for debate is long gone, the playful intellectual conversation is long ended.
The Lawyer knows that he is condemned, his conscience has been pricked, and despair has begun to settle in, he asks this question not out of pride, but fear.
It may very well be an ignorant question, but it’s not a proud one, it’s not an arrogant one.
It’s a question asked because of what the true Law does, and what the Law does perfectly, and without fail.
For the Law is truly given for the express and sole purpose of accusing and exposing sin.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Pastors can chant these words in their pulpits as long and as much as they can bear, but the Law can only accuse you, it cannot give you that love.
It will not make you better, it will not help you love your wife or obey your parents, or trust in God and His Word more than your paychecks and your hobbies.
It accuses, exposes and kills.
And it is on this note, this despair, and fear, that the parable of the Samaritan is told to the Lawyer and to you and I.
Which as you should see by now, cannot have as its point, as its application to work harder at loving neighbor and being merciful.
If that was the point, then we would be left in exactly the same place that we’ve started.
It cannot be done, and the Law will not make better, it will only continue to accuse, expose and kill.
This entire point is found finally in the question that Jesus never actually answers, the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
For that answer should be known by almost everyone here…everyone, everyone is the answer to that question, you are commanded in the Law to love everyone faithfully, perfectly, and without fail.
But ‘Everyone’ is not the answer, nor is it even the question that Jesus asks at the end of the parable.
Instead, Jesus takes a man who does not know what questions to ask, and who does not expect the answers that Jesus would give.
He does the same for you, in your fear and condemnation, Christ does not answer your Law questions with more Law answers, but asks the question for you, and so leads you to the answer that actually matters.
What Jesus actually asks is this, “Who was the neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers”
The answer is not everyone, the answer is a single one, the merciful one, the neighbor to you.
The parable is not about you loving your neighbor more, it’s about the Gospel. It’s about the merciful one, who answers a question you didn’t know that you had, and has already answered a problem that you usually like to forget.
And it is most pointedly about what the Law can and cannot do, and what the Gospel has in fact done already.
A man was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. In other words, he was going the wrong way, for he was leaving the place where God would reveal his mercy on a cross outside of the city.
This man was fleeing from mercy, and going the opposite direction.
And on the way he fell among the robbers, who robbed him, beat him, stripped him naked, and left him for dead.
This is what the Law does.
It robs you of your pride, it beats any righteousness you would claim straight out of you, it strips you of everything that you claim as your own, and it leaves you for dead, condemned and damned already.
This is what the Law does, and this is what it does perfectly, and what follows, as we find the priest and Levite passing by, is the explanation of now what the Law cannot do.
The priest and the Levite are not the characters representing hypocritical Christians or self-righteous religious types, they themselves and the man left for dead are both Jews, they are not bigots and they don’t hate each other.
No, these two show us the Law and what it is not permitted to do…and that is to come and help you.
The Law must pass by on the other side, for that is what the Law requires.
It is Holy and spotless, and it cannot come into the pit, it cannot sink down into the dirt, and even if it calls out to you, it cannot lift you out from the depths.
The Law cannot go to where you are, just as you cannot rise where it stands.
And so enters the Samaritan, the one who is hated and scorned, the one that nobody wants to hear, and yet the very one who is able, who is willing, who is merciful to come into the pit for you.
This is what the Gospel has done and so continues to do.
It comes all the way down, into the dirt, into your sin, into your unrighteousness and helplessness.
And the Gospel not only pulls you out, not only does it carry you to safety and keep you forever at the Inn of the Church, but the Gospel in Christ crucified has taken your place.
For this merciful one has for you, already been robbed, beaten, stripped naked and left to die on the cross of his passion.
He has gone all the way down, doing what you cannot do, venturing where the Law cannot go, raising you not with shouts of commandments or threats, but with the fulfilled and promised Word of the Gospel.
The Law accuses, exposes and kills. And it is good.
But the Law, as much as it can be shouted from the rooftops, as much as it can suggest, inspire and demand that you love God and neighbor, it can never give you that love, and it can never make you do it.
But the Gospel is different.
The Gospel in Christ Jesus has come down all the way to you, in the absolution the Gospel doesn’t just come into ears, it invades your hearts, it steps down into the ugliness and the hiddenness of your sin, it cuts through your shame and despair, and there in the pit of your sin, it takes your place, it pulls you out.
It does not suggest forgiveness, it does not accuse or expose, it actually does exactly what it says.
When you take and eat the body of Christ given for you, you are not handed a suggestion or a word of inspiration, you are fed the promise and completion of forgiveness itself. It is done already.
In Christ, in this Gospel, in this work that is already done and already for you, you have true peace, to go and do likewise, not to earn forgiveness, but to freely show mercy to your neighbor, especially here, in this the true inn of the Church, the place where Christ has taken you out of the pit and placed you here until he comes again.
Here, fed, fulfilled and given His gifts, you follow his Gospel, in mercy, in forgiveness, and in peace.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.