Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
The two tables of the Law go together. Love God. Love the neighbor. You cannot have one without the other, for God created every person in His own image. Therefore to love God is to love the neighbor, to love the neighbor is to love God and reflect God’s love on His behalf to the world.
[Jesus said,] “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And [the Lawyer] answered, “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.”
For the rabbinic tradition of Jesus’ day, the repetition of this command from the Old Testament formed part of one’s daily prayers, it was the primary rule and norm of life. That sense of the Law being important has not changed – we too should daily pray our Catechism, and the two tables of the Law begin the Catechism, do they not? Who doesn’t need to know the Ten Commandments?
The rabbinic tradition of Jesus’ day, of which this Lawyer who tested Jesus was a part of, expounded upon loving God to quite an extent. One rabbinic preacher back then said that loving god “with all your strength” meant that one was to love God with all of one’s money. They were anxious to please God and earn eternal life by their own righteous deeds.
But the rabbis come up short on loving the neighbor. The Jews of Jesus’ day were prone to limit the neighbor to their own people and their own kin. “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Their teachings are full of exceptions to the rule. So the lawyer’s question comes naturally: “Who is my neighbor?” Who do I have to truly love? Who am I allowed to ignore or despise?
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, (Luke 6) Jesus spoke very sharply about this in Luke’s recording of the “Sermon on the Mount”:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Lk. 6.27–36; ESV)
Perhaps our rabbinic lawyer had heard this out of our Lord’s mouth. The test for the lawyer is, Jesus leaves no room for who the neighbor may or may not be. Jesus has diagnosed our human condition pretty well, don’t you think? We sinners show friendliness and do good deeds to those whom we know will reciprocate the friendliness and good deeds. We love only when we think we will get love back. We do not step forward in love for those around us, because we are afraid of never getting anything back in return.
Jesus is however the embodiment of true love. He is consistent. He will not carve out an exception for the sinner. The priest and the Levite are completely wrong to ignore the beat up man by the side of the road. The Samaritan risks all, steps forward expecting nothing in return, shows true love to the man. In meeting the beaten man whom they could help, the beaten man becomes the neighbor of the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. The neighbor is every person with whom I come in contact and whom I can do either harm or good to.
One wonders if the story of the Good Samaritan is a parable, or history retold. There is no introduction which describes Jesus as telling a parable, He does not say, “The kingdom is like a man going down the road...” to begin this story. That’s usually the marker for a “parable”. Further, this story is placed with other historical narratives at this point in the Church Year, last week Jesus healed the deaf/mute man, next week Jesus cleanses the Ten Lepers. In the story, the geographical setting is specified by using the proper names of Jerusalem and Jericho. That road was known for banditry. To this day, Palestinian Christians revere a site midway between Jerusalem and Jericho as the inn to which the Good Samaritan took the man left half dead by robbers. Byzantine monks built a shrine there in the 6th Century anno Domini. Many churches in the world have even treated the Good Samaritan as a specific saint with his own place on the liturgical calendar. It’s as if this was a real story in many people’s minds.
And on many levels, it is. For all of you sinners have in unrepentance and apathy to God’s Word, gone down out of Jerusalem, that is, gone away from the Godly company of the prophets and apostles, from Christian life and conduct, to set out for Jericho, the cursed city of robbers, through the dangers of this world, and have devoted yourself to sin and ungodliness, to the glory and delight of this world, and have clung to the devil’s lies. You too fell among robbers, into the devil’s power. You were the one left lying half-dead by the side of the road. And the world, like the priest and Levite, are only too glad to not get involved and not seek to help you, because you are not their kin, you are not them, and the people of this world in the end only look out for “number one.”
The Palestinian Christians and the monks so long ago were right to revere the inn on the road to Jericho. For it honors the truly Good Samaritan, the saint worthy of honor and glory. For the One who shows mercy to help in time of need, who extends true love for His every neighbor, out of true love for His Father is the Lord Jesus Christ. Filled with compassion for you, who in your sin have been His enemy, He nevertheless turns the other cheek, does good to you, blesses you, prays for you. He does not withhold His tunic either, wrapping you in His righteousness. He gives and gives some more to everyone who begs of Him mercy and relief, and does not demand one thing back. As He wishes us to do unto others, He has first done it unto us and for us: He stepped forward and gave true love to you, dying in your place, truly loving His Father and you with nothing held back, allowing His holy body to be beaten and nailed to a cross, His precious blood to be shed, hung as the sinner of all between two bandits.
All of that happened along another road leading down out of Jerusalem, and there, the Good Samaritan, our Lord Jesus Christ, rose victorious from the death He died for your sake, conquering the devil, the world, and our flesh, and now, ascended in glory, sends His Holy Spirit with the strong wine and soothing oil of Jesus’ saving Word of forgiveness and life in preaching, baptizing, and feeding you His resurrection meal.
And the story of the Good Samaritan is true on another, today, here and now level. Having rescued you from sin and death and devil, our Lord sends His Helper, the Holy Spirit, who works in you to will and to do what your Father would have you do. To be good to your neighbor, to love those God has placed in your life with His true, unreserved, no-strings-attached love, to find them where they are in their beaten-up and bloodied state as hurting sinners and love them and care for them in God’s stead.
This doesn’t mean that we necessarily save someone’s life from imminent danger, although that could happen. But it really means that we love those around us as God has first loved us, within the vocations God has given to us each day. So you are to be the worker that goes the extra mile for your employer who doesn’t always deserve it, the employer who does the same back for his employees when they need help. This means you are the parent who goes that extra mile and does the tough love of parenting your child with high expectations and low tolerance for sin against God and neighbor for the child’s own good, and even when they are older and ought to know better, even when it means doing what is difficult and unpopular. This means that you husbands lead your wife and family in sacrificial service and by humble example, this means that you wives lovingly submit to your husband in support and nurture of your husband and children. This means that you Christians look out for each other, pray for each other, think of each other’s needs, seek the best for the neighbor out of love for them, reflecting the love God in Christ has first shown you.
This is the story of the people of the way to Jerusalem, who are in the inn of the holy Christian Church, the living shrine of the Good Samaritan, where He has entrusted you to His innkeeper preacher, until He returns again to deliver you at the last from every hardship, anguish, distress, from all sin and every kind of evil, and carry you along with all His elect children on His shoulders into the heavenly inn of eternal life, the new Jerusalem, that shining city on the hill where God’s love and praises know no bounds.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +