Pentecost 5C St. John, Galveston 7/14/19
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” When we seek to justify ourselves before God, we wonder what we need to do to be saved. As such, the Scriptures appear very demanding and exacting to us, and yet, strangely enough, in their demands we find hope. We find, as it were, a prescription, or, a road map for salvation. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
When Jesus said, in His sermon on the Mount, “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect,” we’re inclined to say, “alright then! There is the path of salvation! There is the way to justify ourselves before God! All we have to do is be perfect! What does perfection even look like though? Can you even fathom what it means to be perfect?
Years ago, I stood on the front porch of our house talking with a couple of young missionaries. Oh, they weren’t Christian missionaries. No, they were part a cult that’s very popular these days in America and around the world. I said, “look, I know what you believe. You believe that you have to earn your way to heaven by being perfect.” One of them said, “well, that’s what the Scriptures say.” O really, I said. And where do they say that? The young man then quoted this very passage from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.”
In hindsight, I wish I had been more on my toes that day. I would have asked the young man, “so, are you perfect?” “Are you perfect in every sense of the word?” Being that we’re all subject to the temptation to justify ourselves, it’s a good question for all of us. Are you perfect?
Again, when we look to justify ourselves before God, the Scriptures appear to be very demanding and exacting to us. But, even in their demands, we often think they provide us with a way of salvation. On the other hand, when we come to understand and believe that we are justified before God, by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, the Scriptures are opened up to us in such a way that they take our eyes off of ourselves that we might see Jesus.
There is a rather famous quotation of Martin Luther about how he began to see the Scriptures differently when he came to know that the righteousness of God is not something he could earn, but that it’s freely given in Christ Jesus. He said, “I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” “The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before, the ‘justice of God,’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage (meaning, Romans 1:17, where Paul says, “the righteous shall live by faith”) became to me (Luther says) a gate to heaven.”
We have before us this morning Luke’s account of a young lawyer who saw the Scriptures as a means to justify himself before God. He asked Jesus, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, knowing that the man wanted to justify himself, directed him to the commandments. “What is written in the Law (He said). How do you read it?” The young man must have thought it was his lucky day. He was, after all, a teacher of the Law. Jesus had asked him a question that was right in his wheelhouse. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
“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.” No doubt those words rolled off the man’s tongue with ease. Evidently, he was certain he had fulfilled the first part, that is, to love God with his whole heart, soul, strength and mind. It was the second part that he wasn’t so sure about, and that, only because he wasn’t sure what constituted his neighbor.
Jesus told him a parable, one of the most beloved parables in the Scriptures, the parable of the Good Samaritan. On the one hand, the Good Samaritan, I should think, is the hero of everyone who would like to justify themselves before God. In one sense he becomes a model of holy and righteous living. The characters in the parable you would expect to exemplify those qualities, namely the Priest and the Levite, did nothing to help the man who had been beaten and left for dead by bandits. On the other hand, the Samaritan, the very one who was despised and rejected by the Jews did what any good neighbor would do, he bound up the man’s wounds and he treated him with compassion.
Our eyes opened wide by the Holy Spirit, and our hearts yearning for grace, there are certain phrases and images in this parable that allow us to see the Good Samaritan as something more than a model of holy and righteous living. The Samaritan, we are told, was on a journey. Just a couple of weeks we read in the Gospel of Luke about a journey that Jesus was on. He set His face toward Jerusalem. It was a journey that would end in His giving up his life for the salvation of the world.
When the Samaritan saw the man, who had been beaten and left by the side of the road, he had compassion on him. The word translated here as “compassion” is used almost exclusively in the Gospels to refer to Jesus. As it’s used here to describe the Good Samaritan, it’s also used in Luke’s Gospel to describe the inner motion of the heart of the Father in the parable of the prodigal son. “While (the prodigal) was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
The Samaritan dressed the man’s wounds with oil and wine. While we aren’t necessarily beaten and battered with physical blows, we are wounded and scarred by sin. The wounds cut to the core of our very being. Jesus, with bread and wine, binds up our wounds and He heals us. “Take and drink (He says), this cup is the New Testament in My blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Finally, the Samaritan “(took the stranger) to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Jesus has bought you with a price, not with gold and silver, but with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. He who was rich was made poor, that you, through His poverty might be made rich. Whatever debt you incur, is charged, not to your account, but to His account.
The Good Samaritan, while he is often seen as the hero of the self-righteous and works mongers, is ever so much more. In him, is the very image of Christ, who found each of you beaten and battered by the side of the road, laboring, as it were, under the awful load of sin and death. His journey took Him by your side and His compassion moved Him to rescue you. In holy baptism He transferred you from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. In holy communion and through holy absolution, He continually binds up your wounds and makes you whole.
Having been justified before God solely and freely by the merits of Christ, the Scriptures lift our eyes from ourselves that we might see Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” is joyfully supplanted with “Jesus, what have you done that I may inherit eternal life?”
“I will praise Your great compassion,
Faithful Father, God of grace,
That with all our fallen race
In our depth of degradation
You had mercy so that we
Might be saved eternally.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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