September 15, 2019
Four hundred thirty years before God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, God made a promise to Abraham that all nations of the earth would be blessed through his Offspring, the coming Christ. Four hundred thirty years before God gave the Law, Abraham believed God’s promise and God counted it to him as righteousness. Four hundred thirty years before God gave the Law, Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ, through faith he saw it and was glad. The promise offered the inheritance of eternal life to all people who believe. The Law of works, which came four hundred thirty years afterward cannot nullify the promise.
Why then the Law? You cannot be justified by the Law. Scripture says, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11) Our Epistle lesson makes this clear. The Law does not offer a new and different way to salvation. So, why the Law? St. Paul tells us that the Law was added because of transgressions: sins. If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would certainly be by the law. But the law does not give life. Rather, it kills. God added the Law in order to imprison us all under sin, so that we might be saved through faith in the promise of Jesus Christ.
If the Law does not imprison you under sin, then you will think that you are free from sin. You won’t value the promise that God gives eternal life as a free inheritance through faith in Christ. The Law is necessary to show you how much you need Christ; how much you need forgiveness and salvation. You cannot do it on your own.
Our Gospel lesson gives us a perfect example of a man, who gets imprisoned by the law. A lawyer thought he was clever. He thought he could test Jesus and find some fault in him. So, he asks him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him, what is written in the Law, and the lawyer answers correctly, “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.” So, then Jesus responds, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” It is as if Jesus is saying, “It is not the hearers of the law, who will be justified, but the doers. Don’t be proud of yourself that you answered correctly; now you must do it.”
Here the lawyer has been put into a corner. His plan to trap Jesus has backfired and the Law has caught him in its chamber under sin. This is why St. Paul warns, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” (Galatians 3:10)
Yet, the lawyer hasn’t given up yet. He still tries to get out. He asks, “And who is my neighbor?” He doesn’t ask, “Who is my God?” or “How can I truly love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind?” He thinks that he has loved God simply by not setting up an idol of gold, by going to the temple and outwardly observing the Sabbath. It is as God says in Scripture, “This people honor me with their lips, while their heart is far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13) But why does the lawyer ask who his neighbor is? It’s because he’s trying to soften the command. He’s trying to make it easier to obey. He’s still trying to justify himself.
Yet, it’s not just that he is trying to make the law easier to obey, but he has revealed the true condition of his heart. Why must he know who his neighbor is? So that he knows whom he must love. It’s because he doesn’t want to have to love every person he meets. He only wants to love those whom he absolutely has to love. This is no love at all. The lawyer’s heart is far from his neighbor and far from his God. And with this question, the bonds and shackles of the Law tighten their grip, and the prison cell closes in closer. And Jesus tells a parable.
We all know this parable well. A man goes down to Jericho from Jerusalem, but he doesn’t make it. He’s jumped by robbers, stripped, beaten, robbed, and left halfdead on the side of the road. And three individuals come by. With which one does the lawyer identify himself? Which one of these travelers are you?
The first two are a priest and a Levite. These are good people, respected by all. They are no doubt going to Jerusalem to worship in the temple, offer sacrifices, pray, and study the Scriptures which teach you to love God and your neighbor. The lawyer is friends with many priests and Levites. So are you. Perhaps you even are one. Yet, do the priest and Levite stop and help? No, they pass right on by.
Now, this is understandable. The priest and Levite would risk a lot helping the beaten-up man. They could be made unclean and unable to participate in the sacrifices in the temple or even made late to the festival or Sabbath they went to observe. It was dangerous, perhaps the robbers were waiting nearby for a second victim. And besides, was it really their job? Certainly, some law enforcement officer would be passing by soon, someone more equipped to help. That didn’t fall under their vocation, did it? They didn’t beat up the man. They didn’t steal from him. The priest and the Levite aren’t to blame if the man succumbs to his injuries and dies.
Except, they are. It is their job to help the poor man. It is their vocation. This is what love calls us to do, to help those in need. The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” does not simply forbid that we hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but it commands that we help and support him in every physical need.
The priest and the Levite failed. The Law hems them in. They’re stuck in a cell with their sin of hatred for their neighbor. They should have helped. What about the lawyer. What was going through his mind? Did he try to justify the actions of the priest and Levite? Does he identify with them? How about you. How does the law speak to you concerning this? Are you the priest or the Levite? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself and done unto others as you would have them do unto you? Does the Law convict and imprison you?
Now, let’s look at the Good Samaritan. What does he do? As soon as he sees the man, he has compassion on him. His heart aches for this man and his suffering! He does for the man, what the man wishes someone, anyone would do for him. He helps him. He pours on oil and wine to stave off infection. He binds up his wounds. He puts him on his own animal and leads him to an inn. He pays for his medical care and when he leaves, he makes sure that this stranger gets all the attention he needs, promising to pay whatever cost accumulates when he returns.
The Good Samaritan doesn’t make you look good, does he? He truly loves this man and treats him as he would want to be treated. He truly is good. Are you good?
Yet, Jesus doesn’t answer the lawyer’s question; does he? Well, not exactly. Jesus then says, “Which of the three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus wants this lawyer, hemmed in and shackled by the Law, to identify himself as the beat-up man. And he wants him to see the Good Samaritan as his neighbor.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He is truly good. He has fulfilled the Law by loving God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind. He did not see equality with God a thing to be grasped, but became obedient even unto death on a cross. Jesus loves his neighbor. He willingly died for the sins of the whole world. Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse, as it is written, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” By his death, he breaks the bonds of the law, opens the door and frees us.
Satan, the world, and your own sinful flesh beat you up and left you mangled on the side of the road. Your sins are killing you. They lead only to hell. The priest and the Levite symbolize the Law. Will the Law help you? No. The Law tells you to do. You can’t do. You’re beaten up. The Law doesn’t help. The Law condemns. The Law only helps those who help themselves. The Law passes by.
The Good Samaritan is Jesus. He doesn’t pass by. He has compassion. Your suffering is his suffering. He wants to take away your pain. He binds up your wounds caused by your own sins. He pours his grace upon you, baptizing you, cleansing you in his blood, preaching the Good News of the Promise to you. He carries you where you have no strength to take yourself. And he brings you to the inn.
The inn is Christ’s holy Church. Here in the inn, Christ makes sure that you are taken care of. He instructs the innkeeper, who is his minister how to care for you to bring you back to good health. He supplies the Church with all that she needs to provide necessary care and he promises that his provisions will never run out. Christ daily and richly forgives your sins, he speaks his word of grace to you, he even feeds you his own body and blood, which is medicine like non-other, because the one who eats such food becomes like it: immortal. When Christ returns, he will find all those in his inn healthy and whole.
The Law imprisons you, so that you have no place to go, but to Christ. The Law makes your sins visible, shows you who you really are, a beaten-up sinner at the side of the road. The Law shows you that you cannot help yourself. This is why even Jesus preached the Law to this lawyer. To hem him in, so that he would be ready to believe the promise.
Unless you see yourself in need of salvation, you will not accept Christ. And unless you see Jesus as your Good Samaritan, you will not love God or your neighbor as the Law requires. “Go, and do likewise,” Jesus says. Do as the Good Samaritan has done to you. Do not try to justify yourself by loving God and your neighbor the minimal amount possible. Rather, love as God has loved you in Christ Jesus. Love God, sing his praises, hear his word, pray to him, because he has given you an inheritance through Christ. Love your neighbor, whomever that might be, do unto them as you would have them do unto you, because Christ has loved you even when you were his enemy.
No, Jesus is not a Law giver. He is the promise keeper. And he frees us from the condemnation of the Law. Yet, to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself remains the greatest good you can do. It was good before the Law was given and it remains good after Christ has rescued us from its threats. Now, we are free to love God and our neighbor. To love is a fruit that the Law cannot force, but which is produced by the love of God received through faith.
Four hundred thirty years before the Law was given, God gave Abraham a promise. And it is this promise by faith in Jesus Christ that we believe. And it is by faith in this promise that we will inherit eternal life. Amen.