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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
I imagine that when you heard the reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan, many of you thought to yourselves, “I know this one well enough. Don’t have to listen too carefully; the meaning of this one is easy: you’re supposed to help out strangers and be nice to your neighbor, even if you don’t like him. It’s basically the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We should all try harder and not make excuses and be more like the Samaritan.” And that is true as far as it goes. We should be kind to one another and help those in need. However, that’s actually not the main point of today’s parable. Jesus is doing much more than just telling us to give it more effort in doing good works. Even the unbelieving world can get on board with a message that we should be kinder and nicer, right? No, today’s Gospel is about much more than that.
We know that because of the reason why Jesus tells this parable. He tells it to an expert in the law who was trusting in his own keeping of the law to make himself righteous before God. The lawyer tests Jesus by asking Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And since the man wants to know what he must do, Jesus asks him what the Law says. And the man correctly summarizes it: Love the Lord your God with everything that you are, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus tells him, “If you want to gain eternal life for yourself by your own doing, hey, go for it. Do that and you’ll live.” But, of course, the question left hanging out there is, “Can you do that?”
Just think about what the Law demands of you. 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.
And then, there’s 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 that we look out for ourselves. And we must do that freely, gladly, from the heart, even if our neighbor is someone we don't really like. James 2 reminds us, “Whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
This summary of the Law is what Jesus presents the lawyer with. And you can tell that it made the lawyer uncomfortable and a little defensive, because he then tries to justify himself. Isn’t that what we do when the Law backs us into a corner? We come up with excuses and exceptions and defenses and justifications like “I did the best I could, a lot better than most people.” The lawyer asks a self-justifying question, “Well, who is my neighbor?” Maybe if that category can be narrowed down a bit, perhaps to just family and friends, he can claim that he kept that commandment.
It’s only then that we hear the story of the Good Samaritan. So it’s important to understand: Jesus tells this parable not to help the lawyer with his own moral improvement, but rather to cut him down to size and nail him as a sinner, to nuke all of his self-justifying thinking and to get him to see that he’s in bad shape and needs to be rescued and saved. So don’t get the idea that the Samaritan is you in this story. You are not the Samaritan, Jesus is.
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 help you. 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, 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 do not fear; 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. There 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 the innkeeper with two denarii, so that the Lord’s overflowing compassion might continue to be given to you in the 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 atoning for your transgressions 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, then, would mean that the man would be up and about 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 (if you're doing it to save yourself, it's not really a good work anyway, is it?) No, you are freed to go and do likewise in showing mercy 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.
You’re not the Samaritan; but Jesus is. You don’t have to justify yourself; Jesus has taken care of that for you. You are in 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 to take you to be with Himself in the place that He has prepared for you in His everlasting kingdom.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠