13th Sunday after Trinity + Luke 10:23-37 + August 21, 2016
Introit(Antiphon) Have respect, O Lord, unto Thy covenant: oh, let not the oppressed return ashamed.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) The point of Jesus’ parable is pretty simple. After the young lawyer correctly identifies the Samaritan as the one who acted neighborly to the man who fell among thieves, Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.” Jesus is teaching us love. He wants His Christians to love their neighbor as they love themselves. The lawyer wanted to wiggle out of that divine command and so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The lawyer felt the sting of the command from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He did not want to love his neighbor, or at least certain neighbors. He most certainly did not want to care for his neighbors with the same level of care that he felt towards himself and his own needs. So he tries to narrow the playing field to make the commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” easier to fulfill. By asking, “And who is my neighbor?” the man reveals that he doesn’t love his neighbor at all. Even in his loving actions and attitudes towards his neighbors, he is still thinking only of himself, because there are some people he wants to exclude from the commandment. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan as a corrective to his misshapen view of what it means to love your neighbor.
2) A certain man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among thieves, “who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” If ever there was a man who needed a neighbor, it was this man. “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” The priest does not love his neighbor as he loves himself. Surely the priest, if he had been in that man’s situation, would have wanted someone to help him. “Likewise, a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.” As it went with the priest, so it goes with the Levite. The priest deals with the holy things of God, yet those holy things have not sunk into his heart so as to move him with compassion for his neighbor. The Levite, the teacher of the divine Word, neglects the command which He surely knew and surely would have taught. The man who fell among thieves was surely their neighbor. But they did not act neighborly toward him. What this man needed was someone who would “help and befriend him in every bodily need.” What he needed was someone to clean his wounds with oil and wine. What he needed was someone to bandage his wounds to protect them from further infection. What he needed was someone to put him on their own animal since he could not carry his own weight. What he needed was someone who would care for him in an inn until He was whole again.
3) In this Jesus teaches us what kind of good works are truly good works. When our neighbor has a need, the truly good work is to meet that need. Too many think that if they just give money to someone they have helped them. But imagine in the Priest had given the half-dead man money! He couldn’t do anything with it because he was half dead. That also would have made him prey to more thieves. There is nothing wrong with giving money to someone if money is truly what they need. But often that is not the case at all. Oftentimes, throwing money at someone’s need doesn’t help because that is not their true need. The same could be said for prayer. Perhaps they said a prayer for him in their heart and thought that was enough. We are commanded to pray for our neighbors in need and that would be a good and God-pleasing thing to do. But it was not what the man needed at the moment. We are commanded to pray but we are also commanded to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And besides, God works through means in this world. He regularly works through people. It would have been contradictory for the Priest and Levite to have prayed that the Lord would help the man, yet deny the Lord’s command to love their neighbor, the very means that God had ordained to help the man. The Samaritan was the only one who understood this. This is why the Samaritan gave the man exactly what He needed. He cleaned the man’s wounds. He bandaged them. He put the man on his own animal and took him to Jericho to an inn and cared for him there. When business took him elsewhere, he did not leave the man to his own devices but covered any expenses that he might incur. The Samaritan sees his neighbor in need and reacts according to that specific need. In doing so he shows himself to be a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves. This is what we are do emulate. This is how we are to “Go and do likewise.” We are to meet the specific needs of our neighbors by being a neighbor to them.
4) This then is how this parable intersects with our Lord Jesus Christ to teach us faith. He teaches us love in the parable, but He also teaches us faith. For Jesus IS the Good Samaritan. He sees a need, a specific need and reacts to it specifically, graciously, and compassionately. The great need which Christ saw was our sinful condition. We are the man walking the path going from Jerusalem to Jericho. We are the man who falls among the thieves of sin, death, and the power of the devil. The Devil’s fiery darts wound our hearts by leading us into sin and death. He robbed our first parents of their original righteousness in the Garden of Eden through temptation to sin. He leaves us half dead on the side of the road of life, unable to help ourselves, unable to pick ourselves up, and unable to replace that which has been taken from us. Christ sees the great need of humanity and is moved with compassion. He gives us exactly what we need, too. He doesn’t just say, “Well, humanity is fallen, now I will pray for them.” He doesn’t say, “Humanity has fallen into sin and corruption, I will pass by on the other side of the road.” He doesn’t say, “Humanity has become tainted with sin and has lost the righteousness with which I originally created her. I will provide physical comfort in this life since they are headed for torment in the life to come.” Like the Good Samaritan, Christ Jesus arrives on the path and gives us exactly what we need.
5) He cleans the wounds of sin with the oil and wine of repentance. For as alcohol stings an infected wound, so repentance stings our wounded hearts. But the sting of repentance is necessary so that we see our sin and desire to be rid of it. He bandages our wounds, covering them with the forgiveness of sins that He freely gives to those who repent and believe the gospel. Jesus sets us on His own animal in that He carries us through this life, for spiritually we are still wounded and unable to carry ourselves. He assumed human flesh for this purpose, to live our life perfectly and spotlessly, fulfilling the entire law on our behalf since we had no power to fulfill the law in and of ourselves, being wounded by sin and tainted with transgression. He carries us to an inn where there He cares for us Himself and provides others who care for us. The inn to which He takes sinners is His holy Church, which is nothing more than hospital for souls. This is the inn to which He brings us, for here in this place He cares for us, weekly treating the wounds of our sins. He applies the salve of the gospel to our sins so that they are forgiven. He feeds us with His real body and real blood, the same body and blood sacrificed on the cross. He uses that holy food to forgive our sins and strengthen the faith that He works in our hearts. He also sets innkeepers over us so continue to care for us, pastors whom He gives as gifts to the church to care for the souls Christ retrieves.
6) In this Jesus shows Himself as our neighbor, our Good Samaritan. He gives us exactly what we need and that which we truly need. Many approach church and worship with the attitude that they need all sorts of other things from God other than the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. So many approach church, thinking that in her walls Christ should give them other gifts that seem more pertinent to their earthly life. They are wounded by sin, spiritually harangued and half dead, yet they don’t want what our Good Samaritan offers. They want Him to teach them how to live a more industrious life, a happier life, a life that is less lonely and more successful. They are the man lying on the side of the road, bleeding out, wanting someone to throw money and temporary goods at them, or motivational speeches, or perhaps a pillow so they are more comfortable with their condition. Many are not content with the work of the Good Samaritan because He does not come to meet their felt and perceived needs. This is why so many churches have functionally abandoned the gospel for other topics. This is why churches come up with all sorts of programs and gimmicks for people, because so many do not want what Jesus promises in the gospel, and many who have received the gospel quickly learn to despise it, thinking little of all the Good Samaritan has done, and continues to do for them in His Word and Sacraments. For this attitude, defend us, good Lord.
7) The truth is that we cannot “Go and do likewise” unless we first receive that which Jesus has gone and done for us in His incarnation, His perfect life, His innocent and bitter sufferings and death, and His glorious resurrection and ascension. Good works of love for our neighbor aren’t truly good works if they are not done in faith, “for whatever is not from faith is sin,” Paul says in Romans 14:23 and he also says in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” That is why we must always come back to this place, to the place where the Word is purely preached and the sacraments of Jesus are administered according to His institution of them, so that through these means He can continually heal the wounds of sin that afflict us each week. Then, and only then, having received the gracious gifts of the Good Samaritan, are we able to go out into our lives and be a neighbor to our neighbors who fall among thieves. Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.