The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
I’ve said it many times before: I never cease to be amazed at how God knows exactly what we need to hear and when we need to hear it. Today is just another example. Given all the divisiveness and violence plaguing our country right now; given the fact that this week we mark the anniversary of the evil events that transpired on September 11, 2001, perpetrated by wicked men in the name of their demon-worshiping religion… in light of all this it’s very fitting (and necessary) that our Lord would have us hear and focus on the parable of the Good Samaritan. We need to hear it. Yes, everyone needs to hear it, but we need to hear it, especially Jesus’ command, “Now you go and do likewise.”
We get it, right? We know the story. This is VBS-level stuff. The meaning is clear. Samaritans and Jews hated each other, and yet the Samaritan showed merciful love to the poor sap dying in the ditch, despite the fact the two men were bitter enemies by nature. The poor sap’s own fellow Jews didn’t even show one of their own mercy at the lowest, most basic level when he needed it most. Injured animals on the side of the road are treated better than these guys treated one of their own! They ignored him. They crossed to the other side of the road. Not the Samaritan though. He showed merciful love to the very man who called him and most assuredly treated him as a vile enemy. Now you go and do likewise.
But such compassionate and merciful behavior doesn’t come naturally to us children of Adam, does it? We may, by nature, have compassion for some people, especially for those whom we care for and share common interests with (although this parable clearly shows otherwise; the priest and Levite crossed to the other side of the road), but the same can’t be said for those whom we deem “enemy,” those whom we don’t like. Instead, what comes so naturally in the case of an enemy who is suffering or in a bad way is the old “pound of flesh/karma” mentality. We find out that our enemy is suffering, and our natural inner-response is to think, “Good! They’re getting what they deserve!” We may say, “Bless his heart.” We may even shed a tear or two, but deep down there is a sinful schadenfreude at play in all of us. [A German word defined as “feeling joy/pleasure over someone else’s misfortune/pain.”] A good example: You know that feeling you get when some idiot blows your doors off on the highway, and then two miles down the road you see the cops have them pulled over? That’s schadenfreude, and we’re all guilty of it, not just with anonymous speeding idiots, but in pretty much all matters pertaining to those whom we don’t like; those whom we consider to be our enemies. “Good! They’re getting what they deserve!” Very few will have the courage to admit this ugly truth, even though everyone is guilty of it.
Jesus teaches otherwise. Jesus teaches quite the opposite of what our heart, our culture, and the devil himself teach us. The Good Samaritan showed compassion to his enemy. He didn’t rejoice. He didn’t gloat. He didn’t use the bad situation as an opportunity to rub salt in the wounds. Rather, he abandoned all his own pride, and in all humility and love, he knelt down and showed mercy to the very one who hated him and who most assuredly didn’t deserve it. Now you go and do likewise.
Okay… so how do we do this? It’s so easy in theory, but every single person here knows how difficult, if not impossible, it is to actually show mercy to someone who despises you; someone who would love to see you suffer. Nobody wants to find themselves in such a situation. We do our best to avoid such situations. We know we would fail the test. How do you show mercy to someone you know wouldn’t show you mercy and would probably even rejoice and dump on you more if the tables were turned? And yet… this is exactly what our Lord commands us to do—no caveats or special terms and conditions. “Go and do likewise… unless, of course, the person is wearing a MAGA hat or supports BLM or has a different opinion than you regarding masks and COVID or even worships Allah and thinks you’re an infidel. That’s different. You don’t need to show them mercy. They need to suffer.” Nope. “Go and do likewise—period.”
So again I ask: How do we do this? Maybe we’re struggling with the question because it’s the wrong question. Why did the Samaritan stop and show such love? Why was he such a loving neighbor? It certainly wasn’t because the guy in the ditch deserved it. He didn’t. No one would’ve faulted the Samaritan for walking on by…or even kicking him or going through his pockets as he passed by. No one would have faulted him. But…that’s not who the Samaritan was. It had nothing to do with the guy in the ditch and whether or not he was worthy. The Samaritan showed love because that’s just who the Samaritan was. (Side-note: Do you see how the whole ‘Jesus is the guy in the ditch, and you’re the Good Samaritan’ just doesn’t work?)
You’re the guy in the ditch! Jesus, the truly Good Samaritan, came down from heaven…for you. As children of Adam, we are by nature, at enmity with God. We are by nature, sinful and unclean enemies of God. But Jesus gave up all of heaven’s majesty and glory to make Himself utterly hated and humiliated and despised by the children of Adam…for you. That’s just who He is. Jesus came to freely and fully pour out His gifts of sacrifice and life on you; on the corpse that is your sin, all out of an incomprehensible and unconditional love for you; all so that you could have life, and have it abundantly in Him. “Charge all their sin, all their death, all their wages to Me. I will pay it all, in full.” And He did. It is finished, once and for all! What have you done to deserve this [the crucifix; Holy Communion]? What have you done to deserve or earn forgiveness for even one single sin, let alone an eternity’s worth of them? What have you done to inherit eternal life? Recognized within the context of Christ’s all-redeeming sacrifice, that young lawyer’s question seems downright stupid, doesn’t it? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Answer: Be born! “Inheritance” is the language of heir and family. Properly understood, you don’t merit or earn inheritance. You inherit something simply because you are the heir. You are family. How many people here can take credit for their conception and birth? You had NOTHING to do with that! I don’t care how important you think you are. You didn’t choose your parents. You didn’t choose the time and place you were born. You didn’t choose any of the circumstances. You contributed NOTHING. You are simply the blessed result.
And so it is with eternal life. What have you ever done to inherit eternal life? NOTHING! Jesus did it all! By virtue of God’s grace; by virtue of the working of God’s Holy Spirit in His means of grace—His Word and His sacrament of Holy Baptism—you were called and chosen, adopted and “re-born” as a child of God; an heir of the heavenly King and His kingdom. As Jesus words it in John 3 (in the Greek), you were born, not “again,” but “from above.” God gave birth to you, through water and the Word. It is by Him and through Him that you are an heir of salvation.
Now, this free and unmerited gift salvation reality should mean something to you. This is where the whole “you go and do likewise” rightly enters into the conversation, although, as I’ve already said, it will only be properly understood when it’s understood within the context of the cross of Jesus Christ. Are there people who are difficult to love? Are there people who deserve to suffer? Absolutely! There’s a lot of wickedness in our world right now, and I confess that it would be nice to see the wicked get a taste of their own medicine. But then I remember (and confess): I deserve the same present and eternal punishment that all those folks do. Jesus Christ died and rose for them…no different than He did for me. This is what John gets at in his first epistle. “We love because He first loved us.” This [the crucifix] is WHY we love! This is HOW we love. In fact, we’re only able to show Christ-like love and selfless mercy to others because Christ showed it all to us first…in spite of us. This [the cross] is why Christians show compassion and forgiveness and mercy to each and every person. They’re ALL our neighbors… even the ones we can’t stand. They’re ALL people God the Father sent His only-begotten Son to die for. They’re ALL people that Christ died and rose again for. They’re ALL just like you, in need of the grace, compassion, mercy, love, forgiveness, and peace that can come ONLY from and through Christ Jesus.
This is why I’m going to end, not by commanding what you now need to do, but by reminding you of who you are and whose you are: You are a baptized and redeemed heir of everlasting salvation. This is present-tense truth. This is eternal truth. It’s true all because of your truly Good Samaritan; all because of Jesus Christ and who He is and what He has done for you and for all people; all your neighbors… even the ones you don’t care for. “God so loved the world….” Raised from death to life by Christ and in Christ, the redeemed heir of Christ can’t help but respond to such undeserved mercy and grace in like manner. To show mercy and grace to others isn’t a prescription for the Christian. Rather, it’s a description of the Christian who truly understands and is thankful for the mercy and grace so freely and unconditionally shown to him/her by Christ Himself, the truly Good Samaritan. Compassion, mercy, grace: These are the good and God-pleasing fruits of repentance, borne not out of a desire to be saved, but out of the joy that they are saved. This was the Good Samaritan’s reality. Now, you go and do likewise.
In the name of Jesus… AMEN.
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