✠ 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 neighbors, even if you don’t like them. 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. After all, even the unbelieving world can get on board with a message that we should be kinder and nicer, right? In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why people stay away from church–because they think that church is basically just about telling you to be a better and more moral person. And who wants to take a couple hours out of their weekend to have somebody preach that to you? Besides, there’s all sorts of people out there giving you advice on how to be a better version of yourself that is more along the lines of what you want to hear anyway. So who really needs “organized religion?” However, the church, and today’s Gospel parable, is about much more than that.
We know that because of the reason why Jesus tells this parable. He tells it to a lawyer, an expert in the OT law, who was trusting in his own keeping of the law to make himself righteous before God. This is the kind of guy who actually likes church to be all about moral improvement, because he thinks he’s doing really well, and his religion can affirm that he’s a good person. The lawyer tests Jesus by asking Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Lawyers almost always ask questions they know the answer to in order to keep the line of questioning under their control. Jesus goes along with the line of questioning, but responds with a question of His own: “What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?” 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, buddy. Do that and you’ll live.” But, of course, the question left hanging out there is, “Can you actually 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. James 2 reminds us, “Whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
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. Of course, some might say that they don’t actually love themselves, that they’re filled with self-loathing. But the point still remains the same: whether we like what we see in the mirror or not, we are stuck on ourselves. We’re focused our wants and our needs. What the Law is teaching here is that we should be focused on our neighbor and stuck on his needs in the same way that we are always doing that for ourselves. And we should do that freely, naturally, from the heart, even if our neighbor is someone we don’t like at all.
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. “I did the best I could, a lot better than most people.” The lawyer tries out 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, 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 primarily a picture of you in this story. The Samaritan is first a picture of Jesus.
Our Lord Jesus is saying to the lawyer and 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. 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 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 with you. I am the beast of burden here to carry 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 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 for you by His sacrifice on the cross.
In particular, those two denarii point us to Jesus’ resurrection. 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. In that sense, you actually are the Good Samaritan in this parable. You do likewise for those who are in need. For we see Jesus in those who are weak and suffering. Since Christ became weak for you and bore all your infirmities and sorrows, you learn to see Him in your neighbor. You show love for Him by loving them.
So learn the point of this parable: You don’t have to justify yourself; you actually can’t anyway. Jesus has taken care of that for you. You are in the family of God by grace. 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 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 ✠