Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Luke 10:23-37)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity + August 26, 2018

Text: Luke 10:23-37

God reveals Himself not to the proud, stately, and religious, but to little children.  The humble, the troubled, the weak, and the needy.  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”[1]  All the proud find is a hidden God who appears to be a holy, but unfair lawgiver.  Often times those who scoff at God live carefree lives while the God-fearing, honest person loses their child to terminal brain cancer.

When we look into God’s Word without Jesus in it, we will always miss the main point by a long shot.  That was the trouble with thinking God was done after He had spoken to Moses and the Prophets.  The whole Old Testament is incomplete without the Son of God, and the New Testament is just fluff unless He is the fulfillment of all things God has spoken.

Case in point, Jesus encounters a man who is well-acquainted with the Scriptures, a lawyer (albeit one who is a skeptic with scoffing intent).  He asks, (this is important so we don’t write him off as merely seeking works-righteousness), “What is done so that I may inherit eternal life?”  The emphasis is on his concern to inherit eternal life.  He wants to be counted among the people of God and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  No one should condemn him for this, and neither does Jesus.

Rather, Jesus asks, “What has been written in the Law? How do you read it (aloud)?”  After all, the man is a lawyer and reading the Law aloud is part of what he does. It’s as natural as asking a mechanic how he changes brake pads.  The Law is his bread and butter.

He quotes one of the key texts of God’s people from Deuteronomy 6 (also 11 and Number 15).  Called the Shema (for the first word, “Hear”) as in: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”[2] The second part, “And your neighbor as yourself” was a rather recent addition by a Rabbi named Hillel, who saw the command to love one’s neighbor (from Leviticus 19) as the natural conclusion from the fact that God made all people out of one man, Adam.

Yet with the Law alone, neither this man nor anyone else can be saved.  That’s because when it comes to doing that Law to God’s holy standard, it is always an elusive goal.  “Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” until now.

The Law does a perfect job of exposing what is lacking in us, corrupt and selfish about our desires.  And that’s illustrated well in the story of the Samaritan.  The Levite and the Priest walk by the man out of an utter respect and fear that doing so would make them unclean and disqualify them for service to God.  For them the way to God was through human purity—and rightly so because that is the plainest meaning of the code of holiness conduct that was prescribed in the Law.  But what was founded in a pious desire to serve God ended up entirely missing God’s ultimate intent.

It’s like when we make pragmatic excuses why we can’t pull over for the person broken down on the side of the road, or we call it good stewardship to not help a person in need because they might just waste it, or we say we’re just too busy to stop by and check in on someone we know is hurting.  If we try to justify ourselves by our prudence and purity, it will only come back show how we like to hide our selfish natures behind a religious veneer.  Let’s be honest, the money we don’t give to the less fortunate, we get to keep for ourselves.  Repent, for the Lord knows our hearts thoroughly.

Our Lord often chooses Samaritans to make a point.  They were descendants of apostate Israel.  They had intermarried and mixed with the other nations.  By all standards of purity prescribed in the Law, they were unclean and banned from God’s presence.

But what’s this?  A Samaritan comes upon this man who has been beaten and he actually fulfills the true meaning of the 5th Commandment.  We Lutherans might say he “feared and loved God so that he did not hurt or harm his neighbor in his body, but helped and supported him in every physical need.” (Small Catechism)

God gave the Commandment not to murder because He not only knows the evil which is behind outright acts of homicide, but also the coldness and alienation we demonstrate toward other people’s needs. The Samaritan did what the man in the ditch needed.  He did the right thing, even regardless if he had the right religious credentials.  It’s like when we read about a good person in the obituaries, but don’t see that they were part of a Christian church.  Instead of judging them, perhaps we should be ashamed that they did all that without a faith in Christ.

So what shall we do?  Learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”[3]  Jesus’ question to the lawyer at the end of the story is, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor?’…[The lawyer] answered, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’”  And may it not begin with us, or it will be as flawed as the priest and the Levite who saved their mercy for a rainy day!  Mercy begins with God: the mercy He showed to us in our helpless state.  To show us how far sin had darkened every intent of our hearts, He gave His holy Law, but in mercy He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh.  He is the embodiment of God’s holiness and God’s abundant mercy.

Jesus, in truth, did the commandment: “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.”  Yet in mercy, He also came to us, beaten and half-dead from our guilt, and He bound up our wounds and treated us with His all-sufficient sacrifice on the cross.  He brought us into the inn of the Church and there He daily and richly forgives us all our sins and strengthens us with His Word and the blessed Sacraments!  He will come again and our healing of soul and body will be complete in the resurrection of the dead.

But until that day, He has gathered us all together in His Church to live as recipients of God’s mercy.  God’s true intent for our lives is not that we be so holy we can’t brush elbows or even talk with the unclean people of the world.  God’s intent is that we be like Him—showing mercy and making His dwelling among sinners.  That is the very thing which God did in Jesus Christ.

Jesus sent out the lawyer with these words, “You go, and do likewise.”  It’s a command that can’t be kept in the Old Testament alone.  It is one that comes when God gives us His Holy Spirit, so that we see Jesus as the center of God’s Word and our own lives.  It is the Holy Spirit which enables in Christians that desire to do what the Samaritan did, and to give glory to the God who called out of our sins into His Kingdom.  It is also the Spirit who daily puts to death our stone-cold hearts and gives us hearts of flesh to love God and demonstrate true love for our neighbor. So is Jesus’ command daily fulfilled in your life as you live in Him.  Amen

[1] James 4:6, citing Proverbs 3:34 in Greek

[2] Deuteronomy 6:4-5

[3] Matt. 9:13, citing Hosea 6:6 in Greek