Pentecost 7, Proper 9c, 2013 (July 14)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter ten, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
There is a saying that you can tell the level of civilization of any culture based on how they treat the helpless in their midst. Those in need, the homeless, the suffering, the unborn, the unemployed and underemployed, really anyone who is not in a position of power is in need of mercy. And mercy, beloved, is where the character of a person or society really comes into play.
Already in Leviticus, at the time of Moses, we see how important mercy is to the character of God and therefore to God’s people. The children of Israel were to care for their neighbor. That meant their friends and relatives, but that also meant their servants, the deaf and blind, the poor, and the foreigner living in their midst. How they treated these people was a direct result of how God treated them. If they refused mercy to those around them, what they were saying was that they did not want God’s mercy shown to themselves, either.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear that kind of talk, it convicts me and holds my own sinfulness up before me for all to see, at least in my mind. I don’t show love as I ought, and neither do you. I want love to be on my terms, with whom i want and in the way I want. Frankly, my own nature’s view of love doesn’t sound like the biblical picture of love at all.
That is the way of love, isn’t it? Love does not mean “do what you want, to whom you want, whenever you want.” No, love means doing what the other needs where and where and how they need it. IT may not be convenient. It may mean sacrifice and even pain, but love means thinking of the other before yourself. One of our hymns expresses this character of God as “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.”
This is what our friend, the lawyer, is so upset about. He thought of the Law as a means to an end for him. He might as well have said, “Lord, I’ve don’t pretty well here. What is the least I can do at this point and still get to heaven?”
It’s kind of alike a child at the dinner table. “How many bites do I have to eat? Is five enough to get mom and dad off my back? Could I get away with three? And does it have to be the lima beans or can it be the potato chips?”
Yes, I think we can all see ourselves inthis lawyer. We all have a tendency to want the path of least resistance. But the problem is that like the lawyer in our text, we utterly mistake the law and the point of it all.
To show the lawyer this, Jesus tells a parable. This is a familiar parable for us. It’s usually called the Good Samaritan. A man is on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves. They stripped him, beat him and left him for dead. So there he is, stuck alongside the road, utterly helpless. Three men walk past him. The first is a priest and the second is a Levite, that is, another person in the religious system of the day. These first two men saw the half-dead one along the road, and rather than get themselves dirty, they pass by on the other side.
Now they may have had very good reasons for passing by on the other side of the road. They would become ritually unclean. They wouldn’t be able to do their religious duty. Perhaps they were afraid that it was a setup, and that they would be robbed as well. Imagine stopping to help someone along the road, and it isn’t exactly in the nicest neighborhood. You might fear for your own life more than you have sympathy for them.
The priest and the Levite may have had the best reasons in the world for passing by on the other side. They may have ever thought they were keeping the Law of God by passing by on the other side. But the simple reality is that the man needed help. It wasn’t about the purity of the priest or the Levite. It wasn’t about anything or anyone else at all. It was about the fact that this man was dying, and no one else was there to help him.
Before we get to the Samaritan, one more note is in order. When we talk about motivations for good works, the question is never “what’s in it for me”. Good works aren’t for you. They aren’t even for God! Martin Luther once put it this way: “God does not need your good works; your neighbor does.” When we talk about good works we are always talking about what is going to actually help those in need around me. It is never about you or me. That is what the priest and the Levite did not understand. While there may have been reasons for not helping the man, the fact is that the man needed helpful more than anything else, and that is what God had placed them there to do.
Back to our Samaritan. When this Samaritan, this foreigner came by, he saw the man and had compassion. Compassion meant that the half-dead guy on the road and his needs were more important than anything else. I’m sure the Samaritan had things to do. I’m sure it was a tremendous inconvenience to him to help this man. But he did it. He didn’t do it for himself. He did it for the man. That is compassion. That is mercy. That is love. What’s more, when they came to the inn, the Samaritan even went one step farther and said, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
How much is this stranger worth to the Good Samaritan? Whatever the price, I will pay it. The work than the Samaritan has done is not going to get him in good with God. It’s going to cost him a lot of money. Who knows what the consequences of his mercy will be in the future. As the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished.” But the Samaritan does it. It’s irrational. It’s a gut feeling that moves him to show mercy to this man on the road. But it doesn’t matter. The man is saved, even if it doesn’t make any sense.
Now this is the point in most Good Samaritan sermons where you get the “go and do likewise” line about how we are to go out and show mercy to our fellow man. Obviously, that is true. But that isn’t the point of the parable. The point of the parable, beloved, is that doing good is never about yourself. It’s always about the one who needs help. And do you know who needs help more than anyone else in the world? You do. Do you know who lies along the road of life, half dead and in desperate need? You are. Do you know whose wounds lead to death without a radical intervention? Yours do.
And here’s the real key. God doesn’t just love you. He is love. God doesn’t just show compassion on you, dead in your trespasses and sins. He is compassion in the flesh. God sent His Son to die so that you might live. He pours on the oil of His mercy, feeds you with His own body and blood. He brings you to the inn which is His Church. And He gives you all things in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. You are what is on God’s mind. Your life and salvation are for Him and in Him.
Each day we face choices of care and love and service to our neighbor, the one on the road in front of us. Sometimes we reach down and help them. We may not even know we are doing it. Sometimes we pass by the other side. Each day our successes and failures pile up, and usually it is the failures that seem to stick with us.
But our heavenly Father always reaches down. He always shows you you His love. He always washes, always cleanses, always forgives, always feeds. He is the one who will repair your body and soul so that you are fit for eternal life. That is why Jesus is the Good Samaritan. That is why He is your God.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.