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Just Ask Yourself

September 06, 2020
By Rev. David French

Today’s reading contains a parable that most people, whether they know where it comes from or not, recognize, that is the “Good Samaritan.” Our culture has reinforced the idea of this parable by naming a wide variety of charitable organizations after it, from hospitals to thrift stores and everything in between. Good Samaritan charitable organizations can be found across the country. For the most part, they all share acts of mercy that provide valuable services to their communities. And that means we have a little problem. The idea of the Samaritan is so overwhelmingly understood as good, it’s difficult for us to see the shock value that Jesus intended to, I’ll say, open our eyes. 

When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, he took the elite of the population into captivity. He then forced people from other conquered lands into Jerusalem who were before long combining their religious practices with the religious practices of the Jews who had remained. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians some 50 years later, they allowed the exiled Jews to return. The returning Jews condemned the modified practices of these half-breed Samaritans, for lack of a better term, and considered them traitors for corrupting the true faith. 

So, to better understand the impact this parable first had, let’s make a simple substitution. Every time you hear the word Samaritan, think radical Islamic terrorist.  The parable of the Good Samaritan becomes the parable of the Good Radical Islamic Terrorist. Now, if that just seems wrong to you, then you have the right idea, if not the intensity, for the starting point for this parable.

Also, keep in mind the question that led Jesus to tell this parable in the first place: “A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” Now, if he doesn’t know the answer to that question, he’s not a very good lawyer, but his words do reveal to us the problem with religious thinking at the time. I’m guessing just about everyone knows there’s nothing you can do to inherit anything. You receive an inheritance when someone else writes you into their will and then dies.

Now, this lawyer is right in saying that eternal life is inherited. At the same time, however, he holds to the lie that is found in every false religion both then and now. That is, sinful humanity truly believes we can earn, if even only a small part, eternal life.

Jesus turns to the lawyer and asks, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  The lawyer gives the answer that every Jewish boy learned in Jewish confirmation class, if you will. He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” My friends, that comes straight from of the pen of Moses from both the book of Deuteronomy and today’s reading from Leviticus. Jesus says to him … “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” So, you can earn eternal life - if - you love God and your neighbor perfectly; you know, the way Jesus did. Our problem is you have to be perfect to do something perfectly, and we are sinners from conception to death which implies that there is no way for us to earn eternal life.

Our lawyer, however, doesn’t see it that way. He still believes he’s got this, and so, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” No doubt the lawyer was thinking about the people in his own neighborhood when Jesus tells the parable of the Good Radical Islamic Terrorist in order to broaden the lawyer’s and our understanding of what it means to be a neighbor. 

That’s why Jesus takes a hated polluter of the blood line and betrayer of the faith and makes him the hero of the story; this man who we so admire today. With this parable, Jesus makes the point that anyone can be your neighbor, and whoever needs help is your neighbor. You see, the parable is not about what we should do, it’s about what we continue to harbor and hide in our hearts.

The only proper response to this parable is repentance. And, I get that many of us would stop to help a stranger in obvious need of help, probably even one of “those people,” the ones we hate. And don’t deceive yourself. Hate comes from sin, and sin is in all of us and comes out from all of us in many and various ways. But, even on a good day, we do still all have our limits. I mean, I would give someone a ride, but I won’t give him my car. I know there are things I won’t do, but that’s not really a problem because I can justify myself in regard to all of them. I mean, I need my car. Well, not really, but you get my point. I need my car so I can come to church and share Jesus with all of you. Yup, it’s easy to self-justify; just ask yourself.  

Of course, there is One who is perfect and did live up to God’s standard of perfection: Jesus, the One who told this story. But, He’s more than just a story teller, He is the Christ, the One who is both true God and true man. I mean, if you think about it, Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He actually lived what the parable teaches. 

Jesus, who to this day is still hated by many, comes to us as we lie broken along the road of life, lost in the darkness, slaves to our corrupt nature, dead in our sin and condemned to the eternal fires of hell. He comes to us who, by nature, still hate Him and shows mercy as He binds our wounds and anoints us with the oil of joy.

The Samaritan in the parable brings the poor victim to an inn where he could receive care while he healed. Christ Jesus the Lord brings people to His church where we also receive care as we are healed through the forgiveness paid for by Christ in advance and freely offered by His innkeepers or pastors to all. His church is the very place where we receive all that we need for this life and the next.

Through His Word and sacraments, the forgiveness of sins is offered to each of us individually, be it one head or one mouth at a time, as His pastors both proclaim God’s Word and administer His sacraments for the forgiveness He freely offers to all who will listen. These are the medicines that bring eternal life, the medicines left by the great physician for His church to provide care for His saints. All paid for in advance with His blood.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches that there is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life. Instead, He shows an impossible standard of love that none of us can even understand, let alone achieve. It’s the kind of love the Father showed to us by sending His Son to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus kept this law of love perfectly and shows this love to us even when we, in our hearts, hated Him. Make no mistake, we are blessed and will inherit eternal life. Not because we’re such good Christians, but because Jesus offered His blood as payment for our sin. You see, before the creation of the world, God in His wisdom and mercy wrote your name in His will. The same name given to you on the day you were baptized into Christ, who is and will always be your Lord and your only Savior.

In His name, Amen.