Sermon – St. John's Lutheran Church, Fredonia, WI
July 14th, 2013
July 14th, 2013
“First.. we kill all the lawyers” The famous line from one of Shakespeare's plays has become a running joke about how to make a good start at fixing all the world's problems. But our Lord Jesus Christ, who deals with a lawyer in our text today, would surely disagree. Jesus' approach to this lawyer is to engage him, to teach him, and thereby to also teach us. And out of it, we get one of the greatest parables – that of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan, who might not be who you think he is.
First, the lawyer. Like many characters in the Bible, he suffers from a universally common disease – self-righteousness. Of course, it seems he's also testing Jesus here in this witty little exchange about what he needs to do to be saved. While he gets the answer right, intellectually, he gets in wrong in his own life – for he doesn't do what the law demands.
Notice the four – count 'em four – times “All” is used here. Love the Lord with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your strength, and ALL your mind. All is a pretty universal, word. It's a pretty extreme form of law that demands ALL of us – but that's God's law. An all-or-nothing, 100% holiness of life, heart, mind, every part of your being. The standard is perfect perfection – not just pretty good or even mostly good. All means all.
“Do this and you will live” Jesus says. And if anyone could, we would. Of course you know the problem is, even the holier-than-thou lawyer couldn't do it, and neither can you or I.
To put an even finer point on it, we don't really even get close. It's not that God's standard is unreasonably high or unfairly impossible – he's a just God and who are you to question his law anyway – but we don't really even come close to fulfilling it. We trample the law. If we're honest with ourselves, we're not just a little corrupt, but wholly unclean, throughly rebellious, and 100% polluted with sin. If we are ALL anything we are ALL sinner. The polar opposite extreme.
But like the lawyer, we would like to argue our case. Our pathetic attempt to wiggle out of the law's condemnation might follow his rhetoric: “well, just who is my neighbor, then?” (Notice how he sidesteps the question of loving GOD with his whole heart and just quibbles about the neighbor part).
The Old Adam likes to pick and choose neighbors. We say it's impossible to love all people. We come up with good reasons for loving some and not others. Usually it's the people we like, who are like us, who can do something for us, that we consider neighbors. And the different, the foolish, the bad people don't deserve our help. Thank God he doesn't use our standard for showing mercy, by the way. And to illustrate the point – Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Of course, Jews and Samaritans generally despised each other – different ethnic and religious backgrounds, rival states neighboring each other. So the parable surprises us that the man who is robbed gets help from the least likely person (so the lawyer would think). And without unpacking the parable's meaning too much – he tells the lawyer, “go and do likewise”. Be a good neighbor. And the lawyer, sadly, continues to miss the point.
What the lawyer should have said, and what we must also confess, is that I CAN'T and I DON'T, and my sinful nature doesn't even WANT to love God or my neighbor. Not with my whole heart, or any of it at all. I can't “Go and do likewise”. And therefore – I cannot be saved. I cannot justify myself. I cannot walk the perfect walk that is required. I'm no saint. I'm not even a very nice guy. I'm certainly no good samaritan.
But Jesus is. Here's the not-so-secret secret of this parable. Jesus is the Good Samaritan if there ever was one. He finds us beaten and bloodied (and worse really) by our own sins, by the devil, by the sinful world. He picks us up, cares for us. Has compassion on us (a common refrain in Luke's Gospel is Jesus having compassion). And Jesus gives of himself – but far more than his own oil and wine, his own donkey and silver coins. He gives his very self – his own life – his own body and blood for our healing and restoration, even for our justification.
Like the Samaritan, he also departs, leaving us in the good hands of his Holy Spirit and with the ongoing nurture of his word and his sacraments. And like the Samaritan he promises to return and settle accounts, and to make all things right.
Only by faith in the Good Samaritan who saved us do we begin to be one to others – to reflect and share the love of Christ for our neighbor. The lawyer never got this far with Jesus – he wanted to do it on his own. But in Christ, by his Spirit, his people are first saved and then empowered to “go and do likewise”.
But now it's different. Loving our neighbor is a joy not a burden. And it happens truly out of love, not out of obligation and fear. Sure, we never do it perfectly, even with Christ, but he perfects our imperfect love of neighbor. He makes our good deeds acceptable and pleasing to God. And this fine distinction is an important one. Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing”. But in Christ, in constant repentance and faith, he can do great things through us.
So. Christ, by his perfect life and perfect death and glorious resurrection – has made us like himself. He has made us holy and righteous, and won for us victory over death. So, too, by His sanctifying Spirit, does he promise to make us like himself in all things. That He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion.
As we grow in God's word and in our understanding of just how helpless we are, may we learn to rely on Christ all the more – who binds up our wounds and brings us to safety. And who bids us, in faith, to “go and do likewise”, for he has first loved us.
“First we kill all the lawyers” – how about instead, first the law must kill us. So that we see our sin, and our predicament. Confess. Repent. And then see the One who fulfills the law perfectly rescues us and resurrects us and pays for everything we need. Receive his love and mercy. And then, go and do likewise. For his sake, and in his name. Amen.