When the lawyer summarized the Law of God, he was answering the question of what to do to inherit eternal life. Christ said that he answered rightly. This means that the two great commandments the lawyer recited are the way to earn eternal life. Just do those, and you will be saved.
It sounds so easy. The commandments are, “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 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we ask most people if they love God and love their neighbor, they will say, “Of course I do!” Most everybody feels like they love God and their fellowman.
But if we really did these things, we would have no sin at all. More than that, we would already possess eternal life by our own efforts. That would mean that we would not need Christ our Lord and His death and resurrection. Yet we do. As sinners, we need Christ as much as anyone else does.
This means that we do not love God with all of our being. We do not love our neighbor as ourself. We need to swallow this bitter pill of reality. Our sinful flesh does not want to swallow it. But if we are faithful to what God has revealed, then we must say that we are indeed sinners who do not love as we should.
What should our love be like? Our love for God should be completely pure. We should love Him for His own sake alone and not because we want to get something in return for our love. If we could love God this purely, then we would accept everything as good that God sends to us. If He sent happiness or misfortune, we would always love God.
But our flesh resists loving God with our whole heart. This is true, not only in unbelievers, but also in us, His redeemed people. Often we will love and obey God when it is pleasant, but when troubles come, it is different. If we lose our property or job, we may become bitter towards Him. If we lose friends or wife or children, we become much less likely to rejoice in God.
Even patient Job was only able to love God for a while, and he held out longer than most or all of us would. He lost his possessions and his ten children, all in one day, yet for some time was able to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But later on, when Job’s body was tortured on top of all the rest he had suffered, his patience gave out. He no longer blessed God, but complained bitterly at what he perceived as God’s mean-spirited injustice.
Eventually, we all lose patience. Our love has its limits. We cannot hold out forever.
But sometimes we do not even need to be pressed hard by trouble to exhaust our love. Sometimes we simply fail out of a kind of lazy selfishness. For this we should be ashamed, but too often we make excuses, or just shrug our shoulders as if to say that we are only human. May the Lord help us fight against this kind of behavior, and lead us to repentance when we fail.
We are supposed to love Him with all our heart and soul and strength and mind. This means that nothing should be higher in priority than God. If we see something that we might truly desire for ourselves, we should say, “No, God has told me, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’ Therefore I will not covet this.” When faced with a juicy bit of gossip, we should automatically recoil in horror and say, “My God, whom I love, does not want me to do this.” And so forth with any sin. Whatever we want or feel about anything else should take back seat compared to our love for God.
We could also notice this in the reasons we choose to miss worship. Some reasons are pretty good. If you are in the hospital, or have a communicable disease, it is understandable. Yet other things may take precedence when we decide they are more important than worship. Of course, we would not say that they are more important than worship. But we still choose them.
May our hearts choose to put God above all things, by the Spirit’s help.
When we love our neighbor, it should be a pure and unselfish love. Regardless of who the person is or what they have done to us or others, we should love them. Even if you were murdered by someone, you should still show love with your dying breath.
Our love should be compassionate. We should feel for the other person as if their injury were our injury; their sorrow our sorrow. Yet our love must not remain only a feeling in our heart. Our love must also be helpful. We must be willing to step up and give, not counting the cost. The Good Samaritan in the parable gave time and hard work and poured on wine and oil and used his donkey to carry the injured man. When he was done, he gave money to the innkeeper and even promised to pay more if there were more expenses. No cost was too much.
But we find excuses not to love. The Good Samaritan might have had reasons why he should not help the man in distress. “He is a Jew and I am a Samaritan. Our people are enemies.” Or he could have said, “If I help, then any Jews who sees me helping might assume that I was the one who harmed him.” Or “Surely this man did something evil to deserve such punishment.” Or “If I stop to help, the bandits might still be nearby and come get me!” Or “If I use up my wine and oil and money for him, what if I suddenly have a need for them? There will not be enough for him and me.” Or “Surely he, a Jew, will never be thankful to me, so why bother?”
The Levite and the priest used excuses to avoid responsibility. We are not told what their excuses were, but we might imagine. After all, we also have creative minds that can spin up all sorts of elaborate and compelling reasons why helping our neighbor should not happen.
Often, the real reason is because we do not feel for the person as much as we should. Perhaps their skin is the wrong color. Perhaps we know them, but deep down we really do not like them. Perhaps they wear the wrong clothes or have too many tattoos. Whatever the reason, it is not a good one.
We can see how much the scribe despised Samaritans in his answer to Jesus. When asked who proved to be a neighbor to the injured man, he did not say, “The Samaritan.” He only said, “The one who had compassion on him.” If he did not even speak that one word, “Samaritan,” how much less would the scribe be a good neighbor if he saw a Samaritan in need.
He also did not speak the name of Christ Jesus. He did not confess the name of our Lord in heartfelt faith, even though He was the Lord in human flesh, the same Lord of whom the scribe just confessed that He was supposed to love. Instead, the scribe was there to test and find fault. He was there to justify himself. He was far from seeing that the greatest and truest Good Samaritan was Christ. He was far from seeing that the only way to inherit eternal life was through the work of the Man from Nazareth.
The man who questioned Christ is called a lawyer in our English translation. In others, he is called a scribe or an expert in the Law. He is a man who studied the Word of God and the traditions of the elders diligently. Yet he was unable to recognize the mystery of the ages that was described in the Holy Scriptures. That mystery was standing before him in human flesh, yet he could not see Him. Some expert in the Law he was!
Christ said to the disciples, “Your eyes are blessed because you see. Many people desire to hear and see it, but did not.” What did they see? They saw Him. They saw Christ, the Son of God, in the flesh. They witnessed the culmination of the history of the world in Him and His work for mankind.
More than simply seeing, they recognized. Sure, the disciples often had faulty understandings. They often stumbled. But by the grace of the Holy Spirit, they believed. They saw Christ and knew that this was the Son of the Most High God.
So many saints of old yearned to see the Day of salvation! The prophets foretold Him, but never laid eyes on Him. They saw Him by faith, but that is not the same as seeing Him in the flesh.
On the other hand, many Jews of Jesus’ day saw Him but did not believe. The meaning of their own history unfolded before their eyes, yet they could not recognize it.
We, on the other hand, know of His day, since it is recorded in the Holy Scriptures for us. We believe through the testimony of the apostles who saw Him. We do not see Him in His bodily presence the same way that they did.
Yet we see His bodily presence in another way. When we have Holy Communion, His Body is before our eyes, united with the bread. His Blood is visible for us, in and with the wine. This is not exactly what the disciples were privileged to see, yet this is still the most precious Body and Blood of Christ. We can say without reservation that the Body He gives in the Sacrament is the same Body that stepped forth from the Tomb on Easter Day. The same Body was crucified on Calvary for our sins. The same Body walked the earth, doing good to all by His compassionate love and service. The same Body stood dripping in the Jordan River as the Father proclaimed Him the Beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased. The same Body was conceived in the Virgin Mary to be our Savior.
The Blood that is drunk here was also shed by nails and spear and thorns. The same Blood fell to the earth when He was scourged. The same Blood was in His veins as He walked the earth, having become flesh to redeem us and give us eternal life. The whole reason He had Blood at all was because He had compassion on us weak, pitiful sinners. He did not only have compassion. The feeling did not remain in His heart and do nothing, but He also became Man in order to help us.
We glimpse the Mystery of the ages here, for in this house the Man who is the culmination of all history comes to us. He shows us Himself. He gives out His gifts again and again. For He has stooped down to us who are injured and weak and helpless. He gives us life, His own life, that does not end. He heals our wounds with His wounds. He has brought us into this house of healing. He carried us because we were too weak to come.
This He has done for us, who were His enemies. For us who hated Him, He has poured out the purest love. For us loveless sinners, He suffered.
Now He continues to sustain us, supplying all that we need to continue in this faith and life until its end, when He will return to be with us always.
In His Name alone, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one eternal God. Amen.
You may quote from my sermons freely, but please quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Send Rev. Andrew Eckert an email.