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The Compassionate Samaritan

July 14, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel text, where Luke records, “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Everyone knows it, everyone loves it. It’s an understatement to say that the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” is well known. For goodness’ sake, it’s even known and cited in secular circles – my public high school had us read it in an English class (the King James Version, if I remember correctly). It’s well-known because it makes sense. Be nice. Do good. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Pay it forward. It’s how we are supposed to act toward one another. Thus, it’s a good reminder to us all of the call that we have to love one another, regardless of differences, and to serve one another. That’s the whole point of the parable! … Right? Not quite. A lawyer, a scribe who is very familiar with the law, has been in the presence of Jesus presumably for some time. He stands up with the purpose of putting Jesus to the test, and asks him the question around which this entire text revolves: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Did you hear it? Did you hear the whole point of this pericope? The parable of the Good Samaritan is less about doing good to others as it is about justification.

This lawyer is making the same asinine – and fatal – move that humans have been making since the Fall. He asks this question with the intent of proving to himself that he is worthy of eternal life, that he did it all by himself, with the added benefit of catching Jesus in a trap. But Jesus isn’t a fool, and He doesn’t fall for it. He asks this lawyer, supposedly well versed in the law, just what is written in the Law about this subject and how he reads it. Easy enough, right? He replies, “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.” Jesus tells him, Right-o! “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Not the answer the man wanted to hear. And what do sinful human beings do when they are confronted with a Word of God that they don’t like? They – we – make it go away, which is precisely what the lawyer attempts to do. “And who is my neighbor?” he asks Jesus, still wanting to rest assured that his actions are enough to merit eternal life. And it’s at this point that the Lord tells the infamous parable that, again, we all know and love.

But He’s not just telling the parable because it’s a nice, heart-warming story that encourages Christians to do good to others like the Good Samaritan. He’s actually answering the lawyer’s question: Who is my neighbor? Everyone. Absolutely every person you meet on the street, all the ones across the sea, your enemies, those who are trying to destroy you. Every person on this planet is your neighbor and thus demands from you the same loving action that the Good Samaritan showed to the nameless assault victim left half-dead on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Who’s our neighbor? Everyone. Say it with me: EVERYONE. And that’s the reason why we are unable to do this.

I have a hard enough time fulfilling all my vocational duties and responsibilities to my loved ones, let alone the starving African child on the streets of Mogadishu. I have a hard enough time getting my vocational obligations to sync without worrying about how I will make the time to minister to the dying Muslim man in Jakarta. I cannot reasonably get to Kim Jong-un’s palace in order to wash the dictator’s feet. But that’s what the parable implies. Everyone is my neighbor, and if the sum of the Law is to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind and love one’s neighbor as oneself, realistically, there’s no way that I’ll be able to keep this! It’s impossible! Go, and do likewise! How can Jesus expect us to do this?!

That’s the point. We can’t. Even if you could do it, you wouldn’t want to. That’s because you’re a sinner, and so am I. We are self-serving wretches who are more likely to act like the priest or Levite, thinking to ourselves, “I’ve got places to be; I can’t help this person right here, right now.” I know you’ve done it because I’ve done it. I’ve driven past someone who’s pulled over on the side of the road, clearly in distress, because I had somewhere to be. That was not being the Good Samaritan. A more famous example of this law in action is the case of Kitty Genovese, who was murdered just outside her apartment building in Queens, New York in broad daylight. Many people watched as she was stabbed to death by her assailant, but no one so much as called the police, let alone intervened to save her. How? How is it possible that this would happen? Because we are all incurvatus, in-curved, inwardly-focused, self-preserving, cowardly, lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinners. We like to think of ourselves as the Good Samaritan, but we are, in fact, the polar opposite.

The lawyer, the priest, the Levite, and all of us. We are all in the same boat. We cannot, would not, and do not serve our neighbor perfectly. At the risk of mixing metaphors, this is also why we are the unnamed man, beaten up and left half-dead, on the side of the road. Unable to move. Unable to bind up our broken bones. Unable to apply any ointment to our open wounds. We’re hemorrhaging. We’re suffocating. We’re dying. And we cannot save ourselves from what our sin has done to us.

But there is a Good Samaritan who does come along. He is rejected by the people. He’s called a blasphemer, a fool, a demoniac. But He’s the one, the only one who stops, who stoops down, who bandages the lacerations and sets the broken bones, who carries us to a place of rest and ensures that we are taken care of. We are not the Good Samaritan; Jesus is.

That is the whole point of this parable. Jesus is the Good Samaritan, the Compassionate Samaritan, the only One who perfectly served His neighbor – ALL of them – and He did so by the beatings, the ridicule, the torture, the shame, and the agony of what He did in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago. His suffering, crucifixion, and death ... all to serve you, His creation and, by His choice, His neighbor. He did all this to save you. Not from temporal death, but from eternal death, the just judgment that was spoken over Mankind, a judgment that we all rightly merited. He took that for you. Because He shed His innocent blood, you are no longer bleeding. Because His body was broken and beaten and killed upon the cross, your wounds are healed. His life-giving absolution, spoken mere moments ago, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” are words spoken not by us, but by Jesus Himself, and it is a soothing balm and ointment which oil and wine could never be.

Surprise! You’re not the Good Samaritan. Neither am I. Sure, we can and should help our neighbor – that is what we’re called to do. But we would be fools of the highest caliber to think that any of us could do what THE Good Samaritan did. We can never measure up to the standards God has established, but Jesus did. This parable is all about justification, but the answer isn’t what we must do to inherit eternal life; it’s what Jesus has done, and continues to do, to give you eternal life.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.