The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
I don’t think there’s a single Christian out there who doesn’t profess or want Christ at the center of all they say, think, and do. This is a good thing! This is what it means to be a faithful Christian. Christ Jesus gets top-billing. As faithful Christians, we want to fear, love, and trust in God above all things all the time, not just on Sundays, not just when we need some help or guidance, and not just when things turn out better than expected…ALL THINGS ALL THE TIME! Now I know that there is not a single one among us today that knows that this is our own personal reality. “The good that I want to do…,” you know the rest. We really want Jesus to get the top-billing all the time. We really want to fear, love, and trust in God above all things and all the time. But…that’s not how it works out, is it? Instead of top-billing, Jesus winds up having to tag along, getting penciled in where and when it’s convenient or most beneficial for us. Instead of being the star, director, and producer of the show that is our life, Jesus winds up playing more of a co-star role (at best); a supporting role. Unfortunately, though, we sometimes cast Jesus as mere extra. All the world is a stage, and we’re the star of the show! If the credits were to run on this production, Jesus would wind up being listed as “moral guide #3” or “therapist #2.”
I know this probably sounds rather harsh and over-the-top to some of you. After all, you LOVE Jesus! You ALWAYS put Christ first! Jesus is not some extra or in some ancillary supporting role in your production. He’s the star of your show. He gets the top-billing all the time, every time. And yet…if we just take an honest look at our own personal hermeneutic; that is, how we interpret and understand Scripture, we discover that we’re not so squeaky-clean and humble and supporting in our roles. Case in point: Consider Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. All theology is Christology, right? And yet that’s one of the biggest problems with the popular teaching of this parable—Jesus Christ is often reduced to the role of “anonymous guy in the ditch.” We become the star; the knight in shining armor; the Samaritan who saves the day…at least that’s what we’re encouraged to be. This parable, more often than not, is turned into nothing more than a sanctified moralism; a colorful example of what we are supposed to do in our lives in order to make God happy and gain eternal life. “Well, pastor, you have to admit that Christ’s own commanding words, ‘You go and do likewise,’ are pretty clear. It’s hard to get around the fact that this parable is about us doing God’s Word by loving our neighbor as ourselves.”
You know what? You’re absolutely right! However, how is it that we Christians love? How is eternal life ours at all? Is it because of something we do to earn it? How is that Christians bear faithful, sanctified, God-pleasing fruits in our lives? The answer is right here in God’s Word, plain and clear: We love because He first loved us. We are only able to bear fruit in sanctification because of the unconditional love first showed to us in our justification; our being made alive and declared completely innocent because of Christ Jesus alone. Eternal life is ours only because of Christ Jesus and what He did for us on His cross.
People: Look to this lesson and see Christ—first and foremost. He is the star. He is the lead. This parable is, first and foremost, all about Him and how He rescues us and justifies us. We always like to cast ourselves in this story, but it’s always in the lead role as the Good Samaritan. Well…you’re part of the story, alright, but you are the one dead and dying in the ditch of life. Sometimes (sadly) we’re the villains too, too busy with our own desires and good intentions, too busy serving ourselves and making ourselves the stars of our own personal reality shows, but I digress. By virtue of our kinship to Adam, we are the ones dead and dying in the ditch of life. We can’t save ourselves. We can’t justify ourselves. We look down on the cocky young lad who tried to justify himself to Jesus, but we’re no different. This parable is for our ears too! It’s a beautiful reality check and wake-up call.
We’re the victim in this story, which is more historical narrative than it is parable, when you think about it. We’re the ones who have been set upon by the thieves and murders known as sin, death, and the devil. Jesus Christ, the truly Good Samaritan, the hated and despised Son of Man, willingly gave up everything to save us as we lay dead in our sin. That’s right! You’re Lord is the gracious and compassionate Samaritan. Even though we’re natural-born enemies of God because of sin, He deigned to stop and show His unconditional compassion and love to us, rescuing us from death, healing our sinful wounds, and paying for our complete care, not with silver or gold, but with His own precious body and blood. “Father, take care of them. Whatever charges they incur, charge them to my account. I will pay in full.”
I ask you: Did the priest or Levite have anything to offer in terms of life and deliverance? No! In fact, they passed by on the other side. The Law, which is what these two men represented, couldn’t save this anonymous, dying man. The Law can’t save you either. As far as the priest and Levite were concerned, the man was already dead, and therefore ritually unclean and a lost cause; a waste of time. They couldn’t help him. In their proud eyes he was beyond help. That’s why they passed by on the other side. Besides, they didn’t want to ruin their self-perceived purity and cleanliness. To get dirty and sully their ritual purity would be the worst thing they could to themselves. It would mean that they would be ineligible to enter into the Temple and perform their acts of worship and service. To forfeit their chance to enter into the Temple and put on their performance and do all they had planned to do for God because of some “lost cause” dying in a ditch was utterly foolish.
And this brings up an interesting little tidbit in the parable that’s so often overlooked. If you look in verse 34, you find that the Samaritan poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds. Big deal, right? That’s what they used for medication back then, right? Well, believe it or not: this is a big deal, and there is a very specific reason that Jesus mentions the oil and wine being poured out upon the dying man. This is something that the lawyer, a religious official and expert in God’s Law, would immediately pick up on in terms of stewardship. You see, oil and wine were integral parts of the sacrificial system in the Temple. Oil offerings and drink offerings were continually being made in the Temple because that’s what God’s Law commanded and provided as propitiating substitutes for man’s sin. These sacrificial, propitiating, substitutionary offerings would be made by the priests and the Levites.
Unfortunately, these guys (and that includes the lawyer) didn’t get what true worship consisted of, and that’s what Jesus was making clear by means of this parable. They thought that their offerings and their service earned God’s grace and favor. Not surprisingly, this meant that their faith devolved into being grounded in their actions, their deeds, their words, and their behaviors. Basically, they became the stars of the justification show. God and His justifying promise and merciful grace was all reduced to supporting roles. As long as the rules were followed, the deeds were done, the deadlines met, and the lines were said, things were good. Their “worship” is what mattered most. Their “worship” was really nothing more than sterile, mindless ritual; a going through the motions. Their faith was in all the wrong things. Their faith was in their performance and their “gifts to God.” Their faith was really no faith at all.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, used the very same “everyday” elements of sacrificial worship—oil and wine—to show love and compassion out in the “real world.” His wasn’t a performance or an act. He took out his oil and his wine and poured it on the dying man’s wounds so as to bring healing and restoration. He used the gifts entrusted to him to serve God by serving his neighbor. The Samaritan’s love was not a sterile, academic, one-hour-a-week, Sunday morning love. He was not playing a part or putting on a good show. The Samaritan’s love was an everyday, in-the-trenches, loving-because-he-was-first-loved, kind of compassion and love. The Samaritan’s love was true, agape love; that is, true, unconditional, all-forgiving and all-giving love; the same kind of love that God showed us in Christ when He sent His only begotten Son to die for us. As I said before, the Samaritan was loving and serving God by loving and serving his neighbor. This reminds me of what Luther used to say: “God doesn’t need your works/goods, but your neighbor does!”
Now…this is where we do rightly enter into the story as good little Samaritans—good little faithful, redeemed and resurrected unto new life Samaritans. This is where the “you go and do likewise” does rightly come into play. As baptized and redeemed children of God who have been made alive in the life-blood of Christ which He freely and unconditionally poured out for us; a pouring out which we witnessed here at the font with little Mallory; a lavish pouring out that will take place quite literally in just a few minutes in Holy Communion, we are to take this precious gift of Christ out into the world and pour it out; love as we have so richly been loved. The love of Christ is not just a Sunday morning thing for a few select people. It’s for everyone, everywhere.
That’s what true and proper sanctification is: Christ’s love that freely flows forth from His justification; His divine declaration that we are innocent and completely redeemed because of Him. Understand: Sanctification is not simply “doing good.” Anyone can “do good.” In fact, there are plenty of people out there who do a lot more “good” than any of us, but good in whose eyes? Good by whose standards? Apart from Christ; apart from the Christocentric reality of justification, all those pseudo-sanctified good works amount to nothing more than a dirty diaper and soiled rags before your Lord and God.
Justification—Christ crucified for you: That, my friends, is how we truly love our neighbor as ourselves. We speak and show forth the Truth of the cross. The wage of sin is death, and that wage is so great that it took the death of God’s own Son to pay for it. Here is how God feels about sin! Here is how much God loves you! This is how we show our love and worship and service to God—by loving our neighbor as Christ loves us. We love simply and only because He first loved us. That’s justification and sanctification in action. That’s what it means to be a truly faithful and good Samaritan and loving neighbor.
May your Lord and Savior, through the working of His Holy Spirit in His humble, yet almighty means of grace—His Word and His Sacraments—keep you grounded in this simple, saving faith as you now prepare to go and do likewise in your daily lives and vocations as baptized and redeemed children of God, freely and unconditionally pouring out Christ’s love to everyone your Lord brings you into contact with. Remember: Friend or foe, they’re all your neighbors. Friend or foe, Christ died and rose for each and every one of them. He poured it all out—blood and water from His riven side—for each and every one of them. He poured it all out for you too. That’s Good News. That’s worth top-billing! That’s news worth sharing.
To Him alone be all the glory, praise, and honor…
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