✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” It was probably first in the Watergate years that this became a popular saying. It was bad enough that the initial crime was committed, but the cover-up just made everything bigger and created more guilt than the initial act. But whether it’s with political leaders in government or in the church, whether it's sports figures or celebrities, the natural tendency is to try to conceal and paper over and even justify unethical behavior or sins or crimes. People fear that too much will be lost if they are simply honest about things. Their enemies will gain too much of an advantage.
Of course, we know exactly how this all works because we do it ourselves. It’s bad enough that we have an outburst of anger and yelling. But then we make it worse by trying to cover for it or make excuses for it. “Oh, I was just really tired. Things have been really hard for me lately. If you hadn’t been so difficult, I wouldn’t have lost my temper.” It’s bad enough that we commit sexual sin or are tempted to unfaithfulness. But then we try to deflect the blame or make it seem OK. “It’s just natural desires that I’m following. What’s wrong with me trying to find happiness, anyway? If my spouse were more sensitive or affectionate, then this wouldn’t even be an issue.” It’s bad enough that we have our vices; but then we make it worse by trying to make them sound like virtues. Instead of calling it love and idolatry of money and pleasure, it’s “preparing for my family’s future” and “just having a little fun.” Instead of laziness and neglect in our duties toward our neighbor, it’s “I’m just taking a little break, doing a little self-care, having a little me time.”
Trying to cover up sin is usually worse than the sin itself. For then it’s not just that we’re sinning, but we’re embracing and holding on to our sin, holding it outside of and away from God’s mercy, rejecting God’s Word in unrepentance and unbelief. Then we’re engaged in the futile attempt to justify ourselves when only God can justify us. We’re afraid to be honest about things because we think we’re going to lose in the process or give our adversary the advantage. But the only thing we truly have to lose is our guilt. And the only way our adversary, the devil, truly gains the advantage over us is if we deceive ourselves with excuses and rationalizations.
The lawyer in today’s Gospel was trying to justify himself. He had convinced himself that he had lived a good and holy life in God’s sight, that whatever wrongs he had done were justifiable and were so minor that they didn’t really even count. And so Jesus tells this story of the Good Samaritan to set him straight. We must never forget that’s the reason why Jesus speaks this parable. It’s not merely that the Samaritan is a good example for us to follow–although he is that. Jesus’ main point is that if you think you’ve kept God’s Law well enough to inherit eternal life, you’re sort of an idiot. You’re fooling yourself if you’re still trying rationalize your behavior before God. Romans 3 puts it about as clearly as possible, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight.”
Our Lord Jesus is saying to the lawyer and to all of us today, “Repent. You are the man laying on the side of the road. You are the one who has been robbed of the glory in which you were created. Sin and Satan and world have beaten you and left you in the ditch, physically alive, but spiritually dead. The Law cannot save you. True, it can diagnose your condition, but it offers you no medicine. Like the priest and the Levite, it passes by on the other side. Only I, Jesus, your Good Samaritan can rescue you. I have come to you as a foreigner from the outside, the Son of God from heaven. Though I am despised and rejected by the Jewish leaders as if I were a Samaritan, I have come to show you mercy and compassion.
“As one who shares in your flesh and blood, I am here to take your place. For I myself will be robbed and stripped of My clothing; I myself will be beaten mercilessly and left dead on a cross, buried in a grave. But this is the way I will defeat your enemies. This is the way I will take away their power over you. I will take the whole curse into my body, your sickness and sin and hurt and death. And by My divine blood I will break the curse. Through My resurrection, I will give you new and immortal life. You cannot win this fight by your own strength. But I am fighting for you. When death and the devil grab hold of My weak flesh, they will learn all too soon that they have grabbed hold of the almighty God; and I will tear them limb from limb and utterly destroy them. I am here with you. Lean on Me. You are safe; you are forgiven; there is nothing now that can separate you from My love.”
The Good Samaritan Jesus comes to you and He cleans up the wounds of your sin in the waters of baptism. He pours on the oil of His Holy Spirit to comfort you and the wine of His blood to cleanse and purify you in Holy Communion. He gives you lodging in the Inn which is His holy church. Here you are continually cared for through the preaching of His words of life. For although your sins are fully forgiven, yet the wounds of sin are not fully healed. We still live with their effects in this world, don’t we. The Church is the hospital where those wounds are tended to by the Great Physician, lest they become infected. The innkeeper is the pastor; Jesus provides me with two denarii, so that the Lord’s overflowing compassion might continue to be given to you in His ongoing ministry of the Gospel. Jesus promises to pay whatever it takes to restore you. For in fact He has already paid the full price, fully justifying you by His sacrifice on the cross.
In particular, those two denarii also point us to the resurrection of Jesus. A denarius would pay for one day’s room and board. A two denarii stay would mean that the man would be up and out on the third day. This is what Jesus has done for you. He paid not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, and He rose on the third day so that you may share in His bodily resurrection and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. It is as we heard in the OT reading: “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.”
The lawyer had asked the question “Who is my neighbor?” And the answer to that is “everyone.” But notice how Jesus changed the question. He changed it from the Law to the Gospel. He said, “Who was neighbor to the man?” Who is neighbor to you? The answer to that question is just one; it’s Jesus. He is the One who had mercy, who loved you as Himself. He is the One who kept the Law for you, in your place, so that in Him you may inherit eternal life, as the Epistle said, “The Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
Repenting and believing in Jesus, He now lives in you and through you to love and be the neighbor to others. He frees you to “go and do likewise”–not because you have to in order to be saved, but simply because your neighbor needs you. Since Christ became weak for us and bore all our infirmities and sorrows, we learn to see Him in those who are weak and suffering. We show love for Him by loving them. And even if our neighbor is not deserving, we remember the Scripture which says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” That is precisely what the Lord has done for us.
So remember, you don’t have to keep trying to justify yourself; Jesus has taken care of that for you. There is joy in abandoning that cover-up. Psalm 32 prays, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Being honest before the Lord like that, He takes care of the covering up, as it also says in Psalm 32, “Blessed is he who transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
You are indeed blessed in Christ by His covering of your sins with His forgiveness. Through Him the promised inheritance is yours, a free gift, won by His death, delivered by water and the Word, sealed by His body and blood. As you rest and recover here in the Inn, be strengthened in the certainty that very soon your Good Samaritan will return to you as He has promised. The risen Jesus will come again, your compassionate Lord, and you will be with Him in the perfect rest and contentment of the new creation in the life of the world to come.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠