✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Everyone knows at least something of the story of the Good Samaritan. Even those outside the church have at least an idea of what the term means. A Good Samaritan is someone who goes out of his way to help someone in need, usually a stranger. He gives of himself and his time or his resources without expecting any sort of reward or recognition.
And so we assume that Jesus’ main point in telling this parable is a moral one: that we should be more like the Good Samaritan. We should help our neighbor in need, even if that person is a complete stranger, in fact even if that person is our enemy, as Samaritans were to Jews. And, of course, that is true; we should do that. We must constantly be reminded and encouraged and exhorted to remember the needs of our fellow human beings, not to overlook them, but to love them in the same way that we love ourselves.
How easy it is for us to come up with justifications not to do that. “I would help; but I just don’t have time or the money right now. I’ve got other important business to tend to.” Or, “I would, but what if it puts me in danger?” Both of those excuses were very genuine ones for the priest and the Levite. They both had important business to tend to in Jerusalem, holy business in the temple. And who’s to say that if they did stop to help the man, the same people who beat up this guy wouldn’t beat them up and rob them, too? In one way or another, we’ve felt their fears and insecurities; we’ve used their justifications. “Someone else will help; the government surely has some program to deal with this.”
So the moral aspect of the story of the Good Samaritan is clear. Jesus said that as the Samaritan showed mercy, so also we should go and do likewise. No making excuses or saying to yourself, “Well, even if I don’t, God forgives me anyway.” Don’t use God’s mercy and love to justify your failure to love. That’s just another way of passing by on the other side. Jesus did not come to justify and condone sin but to justify and save sinners.
And that’s where we begin to get to the heart of this parable and the main point Jesus is trying to make. Don’t forget the reason why Jesus told this story. He told it to a man, an expert in the law, who thought that he could justify himself, that he could inherit eternal life by what he did. And so Jesus told this parable to crush this man’s false belief, to try to wring out of him the notion that there was any hope at all of him being saved by his own supposed goodness. This expert in the law was not much of an expert. The Law demands far more than he recognized. It requires that you love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength. It doesn’t say “some” or “most” but “all,” everything that you are, no exceptions, no failures, God at the heart and center of everything. James 2 reminds us, “Whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
And there’s still more. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Law recognizes that we know how to love ourselves; that comes quite naturally. We are to love our neighbor in the same way, freely, gladly, from the heart–and to do that even if our neighbor is our adversary who has wronged us and hurt us. And you simply can’t do that–not from within yourself.
So Jesus is not simply making a moral point in this parable about loving your neighbor. Rather, he is calling us to let go of any faith that we have put in ourselves and in our own keeping of the Law to become right before God. 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.” It is faith in Christ alone that makes us right with the Father.
Jesus is saying to us all today, “In truth you are the one in the ditch. You have been robbed of the glory in which you were created. Satan and the world have beaten you down and left you laid out on the side of the road, physically alive, but spiritually dead. The Law cannot help you. It can diagnose your condition, but it offers no medicine. It passes by on the other side. Only I, 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 rejected and despised by the Jewish leaders, 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.”
You don’t have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and by your own willpower stand and come to Jesus. All that would do is inflame your injuries. No the Good Samaritan Jesus comes to you right where you lay. Be still. 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 places you on His own beast of burden, for He comes to bear all of your sins and carry all of your sorrows. He gives you lodging in the Inn, His holy church, where 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 live still with their effects in this world. The Church is the hospital where those wounds are tended to by the Great Physician, lest they become infected. Jesus provides the innkeeper with two denarii, that you might receive double mercy, overflowing compassion in His ongoing ministry of the Gospel. He promises to return, paying fully for the completion of your healing, the redemption of your body on the Last Day.
So then, who is your neighbor? Actually, 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 Jesus. It’s what He does that counts. He is the One who has loved you as Himself. He kept the Law for you, in your place. Through Him you are fully redeemed and righteous.
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. And we show love for Him by loving them. “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor” come together in Jesus.
You don’t have to be defensive, then, or try to justify yourself; Jesus has taken care of that for you. He is your Defender; in Him you are justified and righteous members of the family of God. And so the promised inheritance is yours in Jesus, 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 soon, 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 ✠