Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Luke 10:25 - 37

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
            The parable of the good Samaritan is one of the best-known stories in the Bible.  How marvelous it would be if we older people  could read it this morning with the same freshness of mind we had when we first heard it years ago.  Some of the young folks with us this morning may be able to open their minds with wonder and appreciation for Jesus’ picture of what it means to love our neighbors.  What promises the parable inspires.  “We’ll try to be like the Samaritan and not like the so-called religious people in Jesus’ story who wouldn’t stop to help one of their own who was in difficulties.”   Decisions like that please the Lord, and I hope the younger people at Christ our King this morning will let this parable guide their thinking about relations with others.           We older people have two things going for us now even if mental freshness isn’t one of them. The years have brought us deeper understanding  for one thing, and for another we have God’s grace and compassion that washes away our sins in Jesus’ blood.  The Savior gives us a chance to make amends and start again.
            We’ll examine the text this morning by looking at three of the characters.  We’ll have each one speak for himself, starting with the expert in the law.  We meet him some years after his encounter with Jesus and we’ll suppose that he has had a change of heart.  “The Scriptures tell us,” he says, “that if you rebuke a wise man he will take your words to heart but you never have much success with a fool.  I’d heard Jesus speak and I wanted to question him, to tempt him, tom see if I could catch him in a trap, but it was he who caught me and he taught me a lesson that helped me for the rest of my life.  The question I asked about eternal life is a good one if you were steeped in teachings about the law as I was.  I lived by a misunderstanding – that if people are to be saved, we need to do the work ourselves.  God will help us, but it’s we who need to learn the law and abide by it.  Like many people, I had created a religion that focused on my own doings and my own good work.  I didn’t look any higher.  When Jesus asked me about the law, I had an answer ready.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and with all your strength and your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  This is a marvelous summary.  Can anything better be required of us human beings?  Love God and our neighbors, and you will achieve eternal life.
            “I expected Jesus to praise me for answering correctly or at least to reward me with a lengthy explanation, but he didn’t.  He surprised me; I was disappointed.  He answered very simply.  “Yes, that’s right.  Go and do it and you will live in eternity.”  I understood later that he was telling me that although I knew the words of the law, I had never once carried them out.  Not one time.  I’d hoped to be able to present God with a long list of deeds on the day of judgment and that these would open the door to heaven.  But he wanted much more than that – what I really needed was to keep all the law all the time and with my heart and soul and mind and strength.  And this I’d never done and couldn’t do.  I thought Jesus was asking too much of me.  I was one of the best people of our time and wanted to be even better, but Jesus was letting me know that I was a hypocrite.  I believed one thing and did another.  I was angry.  I would answer differently now.  I would humble myself.  I would say, “Be not a terror to me, you are my refuge.”  I would say: “Correct me, but with your grace and not in anger so that you don’t bring me to nothing.”  I would say what Daniel said: “We do not present our supplications before you because of our righteousness but for the sake of your great mercy.”  At the time, though, I didn’t understand that God’s law exists so that we poor sinners will be terrified and seek his mercy and not rely on our own good deeds or our own self-righteousness.  I saw the law only as a goad to drive us to do better.  I did not understand that I couldn’t do better, that my better was worse in God’s eyes.  Instead of asking Jesus who my neighbor is, I should have understood the great trouble I was in ad ask who God is.  I know better now.  I’m not such a fool that I can’t learn a useful lesson when it comes my way.  But I never learn enough really to please God.  I still need his grace and mercy.”
            We see from the Lord’s encounter with the expert in the law that no one can get the best of Jesus in a debate, especially when it comes to what God requires of us.  The Spirit of Christ teaches us who God is and how we should honor him and thank him and who our neighbors are.   The church teaches us that the world loves to create its own gods and never worships the true one.  The world is also blind and like the priest and the Levite in the story passes by the neighbor whom it sees and lets him suffer in his distress and want, while it acts generously and produces great works in other ways.  The situation is different with Jesus and his people, so we listen to the testimony of the man who was robbed and beaten.    
            “I met two contradictory ways of behaving, ” he says.  “The road between Jerusalem and Jericho passes through a rough stretch of uninhabited mountains.  There are often bandits and thieves there, so I knew I was taking a risk.  I wasn’t surprised when a band of robbers set upon me, but neither could I protect myself.  They beat me up pretty badly.  No love for your neighbor there – completely the opposite.  I was only partly conscious when the priest and the man who served at the temple passed me by.  It wasn’t my place to criticize them, but they did have a command from God to help me, and it was only their desire to serve their own convenience that kept them from stopping.  You might have expected better of them.  Still, I didn’t lose hope that someone would come to my rescue.  God answered the prayers I offered in my semi-conscious state, and not in a way I would have imagined.  He sent a Samaritan, a member of a nation that we Israelites looked down on.  There was always bad blood between us.  You know from the reading that this Samaritan did everything he could have for me in the circumstances and more.  I don’t know what was in his heart but he obeyed the commandment to love his neighbor fully and cheerfully.  As for me, I know what it means to receive help, and I am grateful.   
            “Now, I’m only a character in a parable, but this episode in my life has a lot of meaning.  I’m like all the human race – every man and woman.  We struggle and something knocks us down – the world, the devil, our sin.  We need someone to help us.
            As the Samaritan came to my aid uninvited, so comes Jesus, the good Samaritan for everyone.  He came down from heaven.  He loved us all and still does.  He shed his blood and gave us hope.  He kept the commandments the way no one else ha s been able to.  As someone put it, the command to love our neighbors is only partially fulfilled among Christians in this life, but in the life to come we will constantly and forever have love for our neighbors in our minds and our hearts.  We scarcely know now – maybe a little – what those words mean – to love God with our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves, but Jesus does know and we taker hold of him by faith.  We receive the comfort and power of God’s love in times of need, when we are tempted, when we say our prayers.  We receive a taste of God’s love now in a world  that is surrounded by sin and death.  Things will be much better in heaven, when God’s love – and the love of our neighbors and our love for them – will surround us like the rays of the sun and fill our hearts.  A good Samaritan came to my rescue one day.  Jesus is my Samaritan every day.”
            The wounded man tells us a lot more, but we leave him now and turn to the Samaritan himself.  We have to  coax him because he is shy and slow to speak.   “I usually like to keep my thoughts to myself, and that’s why people say I’m bashful, but this is a famous parable, and I understand why some folks would like to hear from me.”  He pauses for a moment and then speaks again.  “I am an unprofitable servant.  I haven’t kept God’s law perfectly – not one day or one hour of my life.  You should know, though, that this understanding of myself is not a heavy burden.  It doesn’t weigh on my soul and weaken me, but it happens to be true.  I did nothing more than my civic duty and my pleasure as a believer in God.  The world can be a miserable place, and I like to relieve suffering if I can.  You probably noticed that my small deed of charity  didn’t take up a lot of time or cost very much money.  I like to think that someone will help me if I’m ever in need.  And it’s true – many folks have helped me during my life.  I’m grateful that God has sent them to me.  I have plenty of good neighbors, and I try to be one myself.
            “The question the law-expert asked about who his neighbor was is an important one.  In a sense, everyone in the world is our neighbor, and we can help them by making our prayers big enough.  But we don’t know everyone.  We know only a few people, so Jesus put the question differently in a helpful way – to whom do we act as neighbors?
            “God’s love for us inspires us to imitate Jesus wherever we are.  We want what God wants for the people who come our way.  We help them carry their burdens.  We are patient, gentle, and forgiving.  Each of us answers the question – to whom am I a neighbor?  How will I represent Jesus to this person?
            At the same time, we don’t dwell on ourselves and our imperfections.  We give our attention to Jesus.   Want to share with you some ideas from a believer who lived after my time, who found a parable inside the parable.  When I see by the law that I am condemned and half-dead and that the devil has stolen my soul along with all my faith and my righteousness and he has left me noting but bodily life that will soon be wiped out, Jesus comes, he helps, he offers his mercy, and he says: “You are indebted to God and have not paid your debt.  Now believe in me. I will give you my sufferings.  This will help you.
            “Here Jesus lifts me onto his donkey, his beast of burden which is himself and brings me to the inn, which is the Christian church.  He pours his grace into me, which gives me a quiet joyful conscience.  Even then, I am not perfectly well.  Health has been poured into me, and there is a turn for the better, but I am still not perfect.  Jesus serves and justifies me by the grace he pours into me.  Day by day, I become purer and chaster, gentler, milder, and more believing until I  die, when I shall be entirely perfect.
            “So when we come before God the Father and he asks us whether we have believed and loved God and have wholly fulfilled the law, Christ, our Samaritan, who carries us lying on his breast will come forward and say, “It’s a pity, Father.  Although they haven’t wholly fulfilled your law, I have done so, and my merit is to their benefit because they believe in me.”   All of us saints, even the most pious and holy need to lean on Jesus’ shoulders, which are plenty broad enough to carry us.  So if we want to know who our neighbor is, we remember Jesus, who is right next to us.  And what a neighbor he is.”  Amen.  The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus.  AMEN.          .   

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