And turning to the disciples, He said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.”
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered and said, “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.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS, AND YOU WILL LIVE.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied and said, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.’
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?”
And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”
And Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
Who Is My Neighbor?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
It is called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Everyone knows it, even those who are not Christians often know the substance of it. It has changed the perception of the word “Samaritan”. We now think of them as nice people – and they probably were, but that wasn’t how they were seen by those to whom Jesus told the parable. They were the first century B.C. equivalent of the modern Palestinians. They were from outside Israel, originally, although they had lived there for generations. They had their own religion. In the case of the Samaritans it was a corrupted form of Judaism that did not see the Temple in Jerusalem as the holy place. And Samaritans were hated - and hated the Jews in return - with the same sort of hatred we see distorting the middle East today.
The point of the parable was not to instruct us in good works or charity, as most people understand it. The parable was the answer to a question. The question is our theme this morning, and we shall look at our Gospel lesson and try to find the answer to the question, “Who Is My Neighbor?”
The whole thing began when the disciples of Jesus – the Seventy, not the Twelve – returned from their preaching mission. Jesus had sent them out to heal the sick and proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. It was kind of like a vicarage, except they had the authority our modern vicars do not. They could heal the sick, and drive out demons, and do other miracles. When they returned, they were all a-twitter with excitement at the things that they had seen and heard, and that they were actually able to do the miraculous things they did. And Jesus told them, as our text opens, that they were blessed - for they had seen and heard things that the greatest men of old had desired to see and hear, but had not been granted the blessing of seeing them or hearing them.
Then this lawyer – that meant a Bible scholar in the days of Jesus – stood up to try to catch Jesus in an error. Apparently things were going too well for Jesus, and they had to do something to slow Him down, or embarrass Him. He asked Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He clearly understood that what Jesus was preaching was eternal life, and if He had the authority to share healing power with His disciples, it seemed clear that if He wasn’t stopped soon, He would soon be unstoppable. Obviously, he did not understand that Jesus was born unstoppable.
Jesus answered the challenge with the perfect answer. He let the Bible scholar answer it to the best of his knowledge. The answer from the lawyer, of course, was the Law, summed up in the two summary statements of the Law; “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.” And Jesus agreed with Him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
The answer, of course, was, “Keep the whole Law perfectly.” “Love God with all of your emotions, with your will, with everything you do, and with everything you think or take the time to know.” That is what the summary of the First Table of the Law means. And which one of us can even imagine that we have done a good job of keeping that command? Then we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. It appears that the lawyer thought that there might be a chance for him here, if he could get a favorable ruling on the definition of neighbor, so, suffering from a guilty conscience and an apparent sense that this test of Jesus was turning on him and not turning out well, our text says, “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘and who is my neighbor?’”.
Jesus was quite clever in His answer, if you think about it. He didn’t tell the man, He simply told the parable and let the lawyer deduce the answer to the question. Jesus let the man answer the question himself, and then gave His seal of approval to the answer. So, you see, the parable was given to answer the question of who my neighbor is, particularly as it relates to the commandments, not simply to instruct us in how to be Good Samaritans.
Who is my neighbor? Most answer the question by saying that our neighbor is anyone we meet. But the robbers were clearly not acting as neighbors. Another answer I have heard was ‘anyone who has need of us.’ It sounds good, and very pious, but the definition didn’t work in the case of the priest or the Levite. The man who was beaten nearly to death needed their help, but they did not give it, and they were not neighbors to him. Even the lawyer could see that.
My neighbor, however, is the one who shows mercy toward me, or toward whom I show mercy. In other words, we make people our neighbor by our compassionate dealings with them. And the parable makes it clear that being a neighbor – showing compassion – is not something we can necessarily expect from those we might think would do it. The ties of blood relations did not work for the Jew who had been beaten and robbed. The ties of religion were not sufficient to make either priest or Levite act as a neighbor, although one would think they should have. Neither blood relation nor religious obligation can work compassion in those who choose to be without compassion.
The man who felt compassion and showed mercy was the hated enemy. He was guided by compassion to overlook the fact that the man before him would surely hate him, and was such a man as he would normally have hated him in return. It was compassion, seeing the need and caring about the other that made the difference. And then Jesus spoke to the man who would have cleansed his conscience by rationalizing his failure to be a neighbor away by carefully parsing his words. There is no escape there. He was found guilty of failing to have compassion, failing to show mercy, and therefore failing to love his neighbor. Jesus simply said, “Go and do the same.”
I think we can look at the parable through the lenses of a couple of questions: Is the parable of the Good Samaritan Law or Gospel? Are you and I supposed to be the Good Samaritan, or are we the injured man, lying on the side of the road? And, what is the medicine, the oil and wine for us?
First, is the parable Law or Gospel?
The best answer, I think, is “Yes”.
The parable is both Law and Gospel. As Law, it commands us and condemns us.
Who is my neighbor? You are, and I am your neighbor – unless you convict yourself of failing to show compassion. The people across the aisle are your neighbors, or should be, unless you withhold yourself from being their neighbor.
Second, are we the Good Samaritan in the story, or the beaten, helpless, injured man?
In one sense, you and I are the Good Samaritan. The question is a question of compassion. It is a question of caring, of loving the neighbor, and of putting yourself in their shoes, and feeling with them and feeling the desire to help them through their pains and sorrows. It is such a powerful thing, this compassion, that it does not let the most ancient and powerful and firmly rooted animosities stand in the way. In that sense, it is Law, showing us how we are to be, and accusing us of our failures to be like the Good Samaritan.
The parable is also Gospel. Jesus is, for us, the true Good Samaritan, and we are the wounded and helpless victim or the roadside assault. Our sins are an absolute offense to Him, and an attack on Him. They are hatred for God and all that is holy in action, in word, and in thought. That sets up the natural animosity of the original story - our hatred for God, by nature, and His wrath against our sins.
Then, we are victims of sin. We have been beaten bloody, so to speak, and are unable to help ourselves. We wait on the side of the road, beaten and in desperate need of rescue. Our sins are the cause of our misery. And yet Jesus’ great compassion for us as our Good Samaritan led Him to do the most amazing things!
He took on flesh and blood for us and became one with His creatures who had rebelled against Him. He endured their hatred and scorn, and returned only truth and love. He took upon Himself our guilt and shame and sin, and stood before His heavenly Father in our place to take the wrath of God which we have deserved and earned. He bore our sins to the cross and nailed them there in His flesh, and died in our place, so that we might live in His place, and be clothed with His righteousness just as He was clothed with our sin.
Just as the Good Samaritan poured out oil and wine to soften and cleanse and disinfect the wounds of the man who had been beaten, Jesus cleanses us with Baptism and “disinfects” us from sin with the healing balm of forgiveness. He pronounces your sins forgiven in the Absolution, and here in the sermon as I speak these words – your sins are forgiven!! He then places you in the inn and supplies all that you need to recover and grow strong. The inn is the Church. Here is the place of forgiveness and love. Here is the heavenly banquet where He not only declares us forgiven, but gives us forgiveness to eat and drink as we receive both His true body and blood in the Heavenly Table set before us. In fact, the true medicine in this story is the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood – the Medicine of Immortality given for us Christians to eat and to drink for forgiveness, strengthening and healing from the dread violence of our sins.
As the Church, the body of Christ, we are to be “God with skin on” in the world. We are to be holy. God doesn’t wait for us to work it up in ourselves, but He declares us to be holy, and what He declares is so. We are to be like Christ, and since we do not have the healing powers of the body, we must exercise the healing powers of the soul which He has given us. We have His Word to preach and proclaim. And we have His compassion to feel, and share with one another, and with the world outside of the Church, a world that likes to pretend that such a thing is foolish and not workable in the world of reality, in the twenty-first century. God doesn’t wait for us to work that up in ourselves either, but He creates that compassion by the same Word through which He does all of His work within us. “Go and do the same,” is not a suggestion, or impossible goal, it is the life of those who are called to be members of the body of the great Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ.
Doing this, feeling and showing compassion toward one another, and then those who do not know Christ, is a fundamental part of what the Holy Spirit works in us. He works it through the Word which you hear preached today and every week. He works faith, that “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” You have now become those disciples about whom Jesus has said, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.” You may not be able to work the miracles of healing or the casting out of demons that those original Seventy did in our Gospel, perhaps, but you can work the miracle of life by sharing the Gospel, and miracle of healing by loving one another and showing compassion toward those around you. And it is good to remember that not all injuries are on the outside, where you can see them.
Your are God’s people, forgiven and healed by His great compassion. Unlike the lawyer in our Gospel, you have no need to justify yourselves. Christ has done that for us. Your sins are forgiven. And now we know the answer to the question, “who is our neighbor?” - and we have the word Christ commanding – and encouraging us – to go and do the same.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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