The Law is good, but I am not. Thank God for the Good Samaritan!

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Sermon for Trinity 13

Luke 10:23-37  +  2 Chronicles 28:8-15  +  Galatians 3:15-22

If you’re at all familiar with the Bible, and certainly if you’re familiar with the Lutheran Church, then you know that there are two main teachings that run throughout the Scriptures:  The Law and the Gospel.  You hear them both throughout the divine service and throughout the sermon.  The Law reveals God’s will for mankind’s behavior; the Gospel reveals God’s plan for mankind’s salvation.  The Law preaches works; the Gospel preaches faith in Christ. The Law says, “Do this!”  The Gospel says, “Believe that Christ has done it for you!”  The Law accuses all people of sin; the Gospel promises forgiveness of sins for all who believe in Christ.  The Law says, “The sinner must die;” the Gospel says, “Believe in Christ who died in the sinner’s place!”  As we heard last week in the Epistle, the Law – the letter – kills, but the Gospel – the Spirit gives life.

Maybe at one time you learned this mnemonic device:  The Law was and is still necessary to “S.O.S.” – “Show Our Sin.”  The Gospel was and will always be necessary to “S.O.S.” – “Show Our Savior.”  Today in our Gospel, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, Law and Gospel are woven together so intricately by Jesus, the Master Teacher, that one and the same parable preaches both the sternest Law and, to those whom the Son of God chooses to enlighten by his Holy Spirit, it preaches also the sweetest Gospel.  Learn this lesson today: The Law is good, but I am not.  Thank God for the Good Samaritan! As Law, the Good Samaritan shows us our sin.  As Gospel, the Good Samaritan shows us our Savior.

An expert in the Law approached Jesus to test him. He knew the Law backwards and forwards.  He loved the Law.  And he thought he had eternal life through the Law.  “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Here he sees Jesus, this Rabbi who is gaining in popularity, who has attracted big crowds around him.  But what’s so special about Jesus’ message?  What new teaching could he be adding to the Law of Moses?  Is he saying the Law of Moses is defective?  Is it not good?

Oh, no.  Jesus agrees that the Law is good.  He turns that expert in the Law back to the Law and questions him on it: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  Ah! The Law says, 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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

You have answered correctly, Jesus told the expert in the Law.  Do this, and you will live.

Simple, right?  Or, if not simple, at least achievable, right?  At least within the realm of possibility if you work hard enough, right?  Not if you take the words of the Law seriously, no.

Jesus’ simple statement, “Do this and you will live,” caught the expert in the Law off guard.  Not, “You’ve done enough!” Not, “You’re doing this! Keep it up!” Not, “Try your hardest to do this.”  Just, “Do this and you will live.” If perfect love for God and my neighbor is required of me, thought the lawyer, then I am doomed.  But maybe I can find a loophole in the Law!  Who is my neighbor, Jesus?

And so Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate to the one who relied on the Law what it looks like to keep the law of love toward one’s neighbor.  It looks like a man who has been robbed and beaten half to death and is lying on the road helpless and dying.  And two very religious men, two men from among the leaders of the people of Israel, who consider themselves law-keepers, see the wounded man – their own countryman lying there, and they pass by on the other side.  That’s not what it looks like to love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s not what it looks like to keep the law.

But then a Samaritan comes by – one of those half-Jews who were hated and mistreated by the Jews.  And when he sees the wounded Jew lying on the road, he takes pity on the man.  See, no guilt or sense of obligation motivates him.  Just mercy and compassion.  He goes to the wounded man, pours oil and wine on his wounds – the best medicine available under the circumstances. He bandages up his wounds, places the man on his own donkey, sacrificing his own ride and being content to walk, until they arrive at the nearest inn where the Samaritan further tends to the man’s wounds and pays the innkeeper to keep looking after him until the Samaritan returns from his journey, at which time the Samaritan would be sure to check in on the wounded man and pay any additional expenses to the innkeeper – all out of the goodness of his heart.

That’s love.  That’s mercy.  The expert in the law agrees with Jesus.  It was the Samaritan who kept the law of love.  And so Jesus reveals that loving your neighbor means not looking for a single thing from anyone else, not worrying in the least how someone else treats you.  Loving your neighbor means seeing a person, even a total stranger, in need of your help, and then out of pure love, giving him all the help that you can give, without giving even a moment’s thought to how much you might lose in the process.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus told the expert in the law.  That’s what God’s Law requires of you.  Do this and you will live.

Now, you have to agree, as the expert in the Law agreed:  the Law is good.  What God requires of man is perfect.  What the Good Samaritan did in the parable, that’s exactly what it means to love your neighbor. That’s exactly what we should all do for each other all the time.   The Law is good!

But I am not.  You will not find that kind of selfless devotion in your heart.  The Good Samaritan stands on a pedestal that you and I will simply never reach in this life.  How easily are you angered at your neighbor?  How easily offended?  How quick are you to forgive them when they come to you in sorrow for how they’ve mistreated you?  How much time or energy have you been willing to devote even to saying “good morning” with a smile to a fellow believer much less running over to offer your care and even your wealth to help someone in need, to help someone perhaps who has mistreated you?

The Good Samaritan shows us our sin.  The Good Samaritan convinces us that the Law is good.  What God requires of us is good and right.  But I am not good, because even in my best moments, I am not the picture of love that the Good Samaritan is.  I do not love anyone like that, much less do I love everyone like that, not my friends, much less my enemies.  And then the words of the Apostle John really hit home, anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. Do this and you will live? Then I cannot live.

So thank God for the Good Samaritan.  He serves to snap you out of your dream world in which you thought you were a pretty decent person.  Jesus’ words, “Go and do likewise” are like a policeman’s order to a drunk driver to “Walk a straight line.” To those who rely on the Law, the love of the Good Samaritan will always be an unattainable goal.

But to those who have been killed and crushed by this Law, to those who despair of themselves and their works, the Good Samaritan is something more – much more!  Thank God for the Good Samaritan.  He shows you your Savior.

Rewind the story of the Good Samaritan in your mind.  Who is the one who is assaulted, robbed of his possessions, bleeding and dying, helpless on the side of the road?  Isn’t it you?  Isn’t it you who haven’t kept the law, who have no spiritual possessions left, no strength, no help, assaulted by the devil and rightly accused by him?  And your countrymen are no help.  They have seen you in your distress and have passed you by on the other side of the road, unable and unwilling to save you.

Then along comes a man, riding on a donkey, a Samaritan – a foreigner, the Son of God who came from heaven, yet now related to you by human blood.  The Samaritan is Jesus.  He is the loving neighbor to the injured.  He sees you sick and dying and hopeless and takes pity on you. In pure love and tender mercy, he goes to you and tends to your wounds – your sins – like a great physician, allowing himself to be wounded on the cross for your healing.  “By his wounds we are healed.”  Then he takes you to an inn – we call them “churches,” to be cared for by an innkeeper, by a caretaker of souls.  We call them pastors.  He gives the innkeeper plenty of money to take care of you until he returns.  That’s the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.  A church is nothing but a hospital where the wounded are cared for, where the medicine of the Gospel is administered to the sick until Jesus, the Good Samaritan returns.

And he will return, as he has promised.  The parable of the Good Samaritan ends there, but the Gospel fills in the rest of the story. When the Samaritan returns to the inn, he finds the man who once was injured and takes him home with him to eternal life in heaven.

This is the revelation of the Gospel that was hidden until Christ came.  The Law was never meant to save anyone.  The Law reveals how far short mankind falls of true goodness.  The Gospel reveals that salvation is by faith alone in Christ.  This is exactly what you heard in the Epistle today: But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

The Law is still good.  It still shows you what goodness looks like.  If you’re wondering how to treat your neighbor today and tomorrow and the day after that, then remember the love shown by the Good Samaritan.  Go and do likewise! Yes! But don’t imagine that you earn eternal life in that way, because if your eternal life depends on your love, you are doomed.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?  The Law answers, “You must do this: love the Lord your God will all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.”  And you should!  But you don’t!  .  The Gospel says, “All who rely on the Law are under a curse.  Repent and believe in Jesus, the Samaritan who loved you as himself and gives you forgiveness of sins and eternal life as a gift.”  Thank God for the Law that shows you what is good.  But more than that, thank God for the Gospel, through which all of God’s goodness comes to the aid of those who are not good!  Thank God for the love of the Good Samaritan, your Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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