The Good Samaritan teaches justification by faith

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Sermon for Trinity 13

Leviticus 18:1-5  +  Galatians 3:15-22  +  Luke 10:23-37

The parable before us today, the Good Samaritan, is one of the most misunderstood parables in all of Scripture.  Most people, when they hear about a “good Samaritan,” think of someone who helps a stranger in need, as the Samaritan did for the wounded man in Jesus’ parable.  People think of an extraordinary act of kindness by which a person is supposed to earn extra brownie points with God—maybe even enough brownie points to inherit the kingdom of God.

But here’s how you should understand the Good Samaritan: as the minimum, every-day requirement of God’s Law, for everyone, in every situation, and as the impossible standard of perfection by which all men are judged in the courtroom of God’s justice.

As usual, you have to pay attention to the context in order to understand Jesus’ parable.  The context is that Jesus was rejoicing. He had sent out 70 chosen disciples to go out ahead of him into the cities and villages of Israel, healing the sick and preaching to people that they should be good people and do good works of extraordinary kindness in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Wait.  No, that wasn’t the message Jesus gave them to preach.  He told them to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was near.  Christ was coming to them!  As St. Matthew tells us, the message of Christ was, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  And many people believed their message.  So the Seventy returned and reported to Jesus, and He rejoiced and gave thanks to His Father for bringing these people to faith—for revealing Himself to little children and for hiding Himself from the wise and the learned.  As He says privately to His disciples, Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.

But then came along one of those wise and learned people, a lawyer, who did not “labor” and was not “heavy laden” and didn’t come to Jesus for rest.  He came to Jesus to test Him.  Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?  He didn’t want to receive eternal life from Jesus as a gift, as Jesus had been offering it.  No, he wanted to “do something.”

Well, then. It all hinges on God’s Law.  Jesus examines the man based on God’s Law.  How do you read it?

Ah, that’s easy, he thinks.  I can summarize the Law perfectly.  (He was a lawyer, after all.)  “Love the Lord your God…and your neighbor…”

Exactly.  You have answered rightly, Jesus says.  Do this and you will live.  Literally, He says, “Continually do this.  Do this, not just once, but as a continual, uninterrupted way of life.”

The lawyer thought he had already done everything necessary to inherit eternal life.  Or, he was hoping for some “thing” to do and be done with it.  But Jesus tells him, no, this command to love God and love your neighbor is a constant, every-day command that must be fulfilled perfectly until the day you die, if you wish to fulfill God’s Law and be justified by it.

The lawyer tries to “justify himself” (always a bad idea) and asks.  “Well, then, who is my neighbor?”

So Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Very briefly, a man is beaten up and robbed along the road, and left for dead.  A priest and a Levite each walk by and do nothing to help him.  But a Samaritan—one of the despised half-blood Jews—sees the wounded man, takes pity on him, bandages his wounds, pours oil and wine on them, puts him up on his own animal, takes him to an inn, cares for him there, and then pays the innkeeper to care for him some more until the Samaritan returns. Now that’s compassion!  That’s commitment and devotion and self-sacrifice and love!

That’s what it means to have a neighbor, to be a neighbor, and to love your neighbor.  And it doesn’t have to be stranger on the side of the road.  It’s also the neighbor who lives with you in your house, who works beside you at your job, who sits beside you in your church, who lives close to you in your community.  To love each one of them continually, tirelessly and self-sacrificially, from the heart—that is what the good Law of God requires.  Anything less is sin, and no sinner can be justified in the courtroom of God’s divine justice.

If you labor at that long enough, if you’re honest, then what you will see in the mirror is a sinner who does not love either God or neighbor from a good heart.  The Samaritan is good.  But you, according to the flesh, are not.  And yet, God’s requirement does not change just because your flesh is weak.  He does not lower His requirements just because you can’t fulfill them.  They are what they are.  So the Law crushes and the Law convicts, and the one who relies on the Law to inherit the kingdom of heaven can only be heavy laden, all the time.

Those who labor and are heavy laden under the weight of God’s Law are ready to hear of another way to inherit the kingdom of heaven, an alternate courtroom that God has opened up, a totally different and separate way to be justified, and that is by faith in Christ.

Christ is the Good Samaritan, who loves continually, tirelessly, self-sacrificially and from the heart.  He has fulfilled what God’s Law requires.  He saw us beaten and robbed by the devil.  He saw the priest and the Levite—the preachers of the Law—unwilling and unable to help.  So He helped.  He came to us.  He became man.  And He ministered to us while He lived here on this earth, even giving His own life on the cross out of compassion for sinners, to pay for our sins, and has now entrusted us to the care of the innkeeper, the office of the Holy Ministry, to keep caring for us until He returns.

Christ has been good for us.  Christ has earned righteousness for us, and now calls us away from the courtroom of God’s divine justice, calls us away from relying on our goodness and our works, and calls us to flee to Him in faith.  He is the Throne of Grace who came to us heal us of our sinful status before God and to continually heal us also of the sin that lives with us and in us until He returns to heal us completely in His heavenly kingdom.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus told the lawyer.  Not, “Go and do some extraordinary act of kindness to earn yourself a place in heaven.”  But, “Go and learn what it means to keep God’s Law with perfect love and compassion.  Go and learn that the Law of God is not your defense attorney in God’s courtroom, but rather, it is the evidence against you.  And when you have learned that, then come to Me, you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Christ is the end of the Law for all who believe.  That doesn’t mean the Law no longer requires you to be kind and compassionate to your neighbor.  What it means is that the Law no longer requires it for your salvation.  Instead, the Law of God requires love and compassion for your neighbor because you are born again of water and the Spirit, born and made new in the image of Christ.  And just as He is the Good Samaritan who has come and rescued you from sin, death and the devil, so you are now free to love your neighbor in your life, in your vocation, because you who trust in Jesus are those who have been helped by Christ.  Amen.

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