Trinity 13 - the Sunday of the Good Samaritan
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
August 30, 2015
Central Passage
Luke 10:23-37

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

The parable of the Good Samaritan is perhaps the most ironic parable told by our Lord. Ironic because it is most often understood as teaching the very thing that it is actually condemning. We teach our children that God wants them to be good then we are not preaching Christ. We so confused the Law and the Gospel that we think the Law is the means by which we are good and the Gospel is nothing more than God turning a blind eye to our sins. But that’s terrible theology; theology you find flooding the self-help sections of Christian book stores. God does not teach you how to be good. Period. Neither does God turn a blind eye to your sin.

Rather, God is good. And He looks squarely at our sin and takes it head on on the cross. God does not accept you the way you are. He accepts Jesus. He accepts you for Jesus’ sake. And He changes you. Not to be good – that’s the biggest lie of so-called Christian preaching; that God changes us to be good, to keep the Law, to do good. He changes us to be Christ-like, which is to trust in and look to our heavenly Father for all good, for all protection, for life and all things to come. Don’t trade the blessed truth that Jesus died on the cross to take away your sin for the lie that He died on the cross to give you an example of how to be good.

The parable of the Good Samaritan isn’t exhorting us to good works. It’s not exhorting us to have mercy, even. It’s exhorting us to stop measuring ourselves against the Law, which is what the lawyer was doing. But we are truly masters of the craft of measuring ourselves against the Law. We are quite skilled in justifying ourselves even as the lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” We have all sorts of little questions we ask to limit the law’s accusations against us. We pretend we’re good enough, enough of the time. And it’s not even a matter of always feeling down about ourselves, that we’re not good enough, that’s not why we should let the Law kill us. It’s because when we think we’re good enough, that we can’t be accused of anything really serious, that’s when we are furthest from God and most vulnerable to destruction. That’s when we are closest to rejecting Christ.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is giving a play-by-play of what is happening to the lawyer who stands before him asking the questions. The lawyer is a man of God to all who see him. He’s a good man. He knows Ten Commandments, which is why he is called a “lawyer” – what the KJV calls a scribe. He is good by all accounts. That’s why he’s trying to trap Jesus. He’s telling Jesus: find some fault with me, I dare you. Of course, that’s not hard to do. What’s wrong with the man, what’s wrong with you, is that he thought that he was godly because he kept the Law. So do you.

That’s why you bargain with God. That’s why you ask God, “What did I do that was so terrible that this or that is happening to me?” That’s why you say, “I try to be good, to do what is right,” thinking that such efforts should count for something. That’s no different than the lawyer, seeking to justify himself, saying to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

But Jesus doesn’t answer his question. And He doesn’t tell him how to keep the Law. Although certainly the lawyer thought that’s why Jesus told the parable. That’s why a lot of Christians think Jesus told the parable: to tell the lawyer how to better keep the law and love his neighbor. That’s what a lot of Christians think, that Jesus tells us how to keep the Law. So a lot of pastors and congregations preach a Jesus that exhorts us to good works because they’re good and God is good and we should be good, too. That’s what Rome teaches and it’s what Wesley preaches. The most Roman thing about us is not bowing or genuflecting. It’s that we think our goodness – our innocence of any serious transgression – is a measure of our faith. It’s what is most Protestant about us too. But we’re not Rome and we’re not Methodist or Baptist, which all really preach the same thing in the end: that we’re measured by how good we are. We’re Lutherans; we should know what that means.

If we hear the Good Samaritan parable as Jesus telling us to show mercy, then we are hearing with ears trying to justify ourselves because we will immediately ask ourselves, “How can I show mercy; who needs my mercy; who is beat up that I can help?” And we will be as lost as the lawyer, seeking to justify ourselves. Such questions are all about us and cause us to take our eyes off of Jesus. Repent. Repent and meditate on Jesus, the Man of Mercy.

Jesus tells the parable to magnify the lawyer’s sin of self-reliance and self-love. It is not lost on the Lord that Jerusalem, the point of the man’s departure, was the city of the Great Temple where the Law was preached as the means of pleasing God. Neither was it lost on Him that Jericho, the man’s destination, was a known despot of sin and lawlessness. The man in the parable – the lawyer, all mankind, you – knew the Law and was traveling toward the city of men thinking to keep the Law, thinking that he would be good.

But that’s the trouble with preaching a law that can be kept, a law that really amounts to more than a few moral platitudes and goals: it’s not really the Law. The Law doesn’t help us be good, it kills us. It accuses us. You’re not good because you can keep some part of the law, but because you are hidden in Christ who alone is good. We like to think of the man in the parable as an innocent guy just going from here to there who is unjustly attacked by thieves. We like to think that because we know he’s us. But he’s not innocent. He’s heard the Law – coming out of Jerusalem – and instead of praying for mercy at the Temple, he heads off on his own thinking he can keep the Law that was preached. But that sort of thinking is a one-way road that leads to Jericho, which is the way of destruction and death.

We like to think of the thieves as the bad guys who attack an innocent man. But that’s just justifying ourselves. The thieves are just doing what thieves do: they beat him up, rob him, and leave him for dead. It’s the man on the road who is not doing what he was supposed to be doing. He was the one that left the city of God for the city of men. The thieves didn’t make him do that and when he came upon them. They did what thieves do. (Stop trying to moralize the parable in your head.)

The Law does what the Law is supposed to do. It shows us our sin. It delivers no mercy. It shows no quarter. It justifies no one. And if we preach a watered down law that doesn’t leave the sinner dead then we’re not preaching the real law but a law fashioned in the image of our own self-love, just as the lawyer did when he asked, “And who is my neighbor?” A law we can keep and so be considered good and righteous is not the Law of God but just moral platitudes.

The point of the parable is to have the lawyer – to have us – look at Jesus, the Man of Mercy, and give thanks to our Father in heaven for sending us His Son whose stripes heal us and whose blood reconciles us to the Father and whose death and resurrection brings us life and immortality. Jesus turns the lawyer’s question around. The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus asked, “Who was neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?”

The Man of Mercy. He is our neighbor. He bears us on Himself and heals our wounds inflicted by the Law, wounds of conscience and guilt. He promises that our diseases and bad backs, our heart attacks and strokes – all effects of sin – won’t kill us in the end. In Him we will live. He brings us to His own inn where we rest at His expense and recover by His provisions. He doesn’t take us back to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where Moses is read with a veil that leads men to try and conquer Jericho on their own. No, He brings us here, to His Father’s House where His blood is our medicine and His word is the bandages and gauze. All this to say: Jesus doesn’t condemn you in your sin as the thieves do.

He takes you off the road of the Law, a road you can’t live on, and puts you in His safe house to keep you safe and nurse you back to life; not life under the law but under grace.

+ In Nomine Iesu +