Preached September 2, 2012
St. Luke 10:23–37
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today, as we begin the second half of the Trinity season, we see the theme for this Sunday stated in latter part of the Collect for the Day, where we hear the words: Grant, we beseech thee, that we may faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises. We are praying for guidance for our lives that we may be led to our eventual heavenly home. We all want to return to heaven with God the Father who created us. This is the natural desire of all mankind, even though some men forget or suppress this desire. The question then is, how must we live in order that we will accomplish this goal?
Our Gospel lesson this morning is the very familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. While the story is well known to us all, it is worth our time to consider it in some detail, in order that we may pick up some of the finer points. We begin first not with the parable itself, but with the setting in which it is told. The important passage begins with a question from a lawyer, Luke 10:25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? There is the question that was set as our theme for the day in the Collect, here asked of Jesus by a lawyer in the crowd around Him. There is a hint of malicious intent in the question, as though he hopes to trip up Jesus in His answer. Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, telling him that the answer is already in the written law and he should know it, Luke 10:26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? The lawyer answers with a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 and a portion of Leviticus 19:18, the two together being what we usually call the Summary of the Law: Luke 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. The fact that the lawyer went straight away for the correct answer shows that he was not ignorant at all, but had considerable spiritual insight. Jesus recognizes this, and says: Luke 10:28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
It could have all ended right there, but the lawyer was not satisfied. He wanted to justify his own actions and his way of life in his own mind. He was not satisfied with this do, and thou shalt live. Luke 10:29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? With this one question, he opened up one of the most difficult issues we as human beings have to deal with: And who is my neighbour?
In order to answer this question, our Lord Jesus does not make a statement of the form, “Your neighbor is …,” but rather He proceeds to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. He begins with, Luke 10:30a And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,… We need to understand the geography here a bit in order to appreciate the full impact of the story. Jerusalem itself is high in the mountains, at an elevation of some 2490 feet above sea level. Jericho, on the other hand, is down in the Jordan river valley, well below sea level and some 3336 feet below Jerusalem. The horizontal distance between the two is not far, only some 18 miles, but the road is steep, narrow, and treacherous. It was an ideal place for robbers to hang out and a dangerous place for travelers.
The man traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho fell among thieves and was robbed and beaten, later left for dead by the roadside. A priest comes down the road and passes by on the other side, ignoring the injured man. Later a Levite comes along, looks at him, and then also passes by without helping him. It is only when a despised foreigner, a Samaritan, comes along that he stops to help the man. He ignores the danger that the robbers may still be lurking nearby, and cleans and medicates the mans wounds. Then he places the man on his own mount and takes him to an inn. The remains of an inn near the midway point are still to be found to this day. The Samaritan looks after the wounded man, watching over the man for a night, and then the next day, before he left, he instructed the innkeeper to continue to care for him. The Samaritan provided funds of the additional care, and guaranteed to cover whatever more might be spent, all before the Samaritan went on his own way.
Now let us look more carefully at the details. We see in the parable the fine hand of God weaving together the opportunity for service in the lives of the priest and the Levite as they intersect with the life of the traveler. Both of these missed their opportunities. The priest may have been in Jerusalem, serving at the temple and now returning home, but he was one who never learned, Hosea 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. The behavior of the Levite is even worse because he looked at the injured man but did nothing but walk away.
And then we have the Samaritan, this person whom all Israel looked on as an outcast, not a true Israelite. He was exposed to the same dangers that the others were in terms of a possible attack from the robbers, and he could have made the same excuse that the injured man was beyond help. But he did not make those excuses. Instead, he had compassion on the injured man, went to him, treated his wounds, and brought him to the inn. This Samaritan had all the same motivations to disregard this Israelite in the ditch as any other would have had; he had been subject to the same long standing antagonisms between the Israelites and the Samaritans. But he did not give in to those feelings. He used his own resources, his own oil and wine, probably strips of his own clothing to bind up the wounds, and then his own money to pay the innkeeper and guarantee whatever more might be needed. He took the full needs of the injured man upon himself, not thinking about how or when he would be paid back, but simply that this needed to be done and he was the one to do it.
Let us back away and reconsider the action of the parable again, this time on a different level. Think of the traveler as human nature, or Adam as representative of the human race. He has left the heavenly city of Jerusalem and is traveling toward the city under a curse, Jericho (Joshua 6:26). As he turns his desires toward the world represented by Jericho, he is attacked by evil that would both rob and murder him. He is stripped of his original righteousness, and grievously wounded. Each new sin is another gash from which his life’s blood is flowing away. But man is only half–dead; he still has a conscience. He still knows that he has lost something, and at times at least, longs for what is lost. While he is completely unable to help himself, he can be fully cured with the help of the Divine Physician. Is the Law of any use to him now? Can he be made well by the Law? No, the Law can show him just how sick he really is, but it cannot heal him. The priest and the Levite passed on by because they had nothing to offer. Abraham passed by, for he was justified in the faith of one to come. Moses passed by, for he was the giver of the Law. Aaron the priest passed by, for by sacrifices which he offered was unable to purge the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Thus patriarch, prophet, and priest all passed by. Only the true Samaritan was moved with compassion, and poured oil, that is Himself, into the heart, purifying all hearts by faith. It is Jesus, the Good Samaritan, outside the Jewish traditional religion just as the Samaritans were outside of Israel, that is the one who breaks through to show true compassion on Adam, mankind traveling down the road to Jericho. And where does Jesus take the man Adam? Jesus takes Adam to His Church, the Inn which He has established to care for Adam during His physical absence from Adam. This Inn, the Church, is given resources directly from Jesus Christ to be used in the care of the wounded of the world, those who have been robbed of their original righteousness and left to die in the world. The Church is continually renewed by Christ, her Head, in order to be able to fulfill this work of caring for the wounded in this world that they may be brought back to Him in Jerusalem.
The lawyer had asked, What identified the man that is my neighbor? Jesus now asks the lawyer, Luke 10:36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? The answer is so obvious that even the lawyer cannot dodge it, Luke 10:37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. The lawyer wanted a limiting sort of definition, but what he got was more a description of love. It is like the sun. It shines on everything in its path, and warms whatever it illuminates. It does not ask what it may warm and what not, but rather it simply warms all. Love and compassion work in the same way. Go, and do thou likewise. This is what we must do if we want to get to heaven.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.