St. Paul, Int’l Falls MN
Church of the Lutheran Hour, Ft. Frances ON
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
August 26, 2018
Our Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ
Luke 10:23-37 ESV
The Good Samaritan parable is perhaps the best-known parable of Jesus. We know that it means you have to be nice to other people, especially when they’re lying half dead by the side of the road. This parable asks us to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of mercy, and that’s difficult and a little uncomfortable. But this parable doesn’t just teach us to choose the difficult and right path, it teaches us that Jesus chose the difficult and right path too: we have a Good Samaritan in Jesus Christ.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30). The parable has only just begun and we already have a man who is half dead. As our man lays there, beaten and bleeding, the thought comes upon him that soon he will die, alone in a ditch. Maybe someone will find his body after and maybe someone will recognize him and give him a decent burial; maybe not. As he fades in and out of consciousness, his hazy mind hears the sound of footsteps approaching.
“Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32). Jesus doesn’t just pick some average Joes to pass by our man; he picks some of the most religious and holy people of Jerusalem: a priest and a Levite. They are both from the tribe of Levi which God specially chose to serve him in his holy temple; perhaps the priest is even just coming back from the temple in Jerusalem. The point is, these men are around God’s house and God’s law, and they know what God expects of them. They know that God has said “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). They know that God has shown Israel great mercy, because after their captivity, the fact that Israel even exists is a mercy. Surely they will help our man.
And yet when they come upon this dying man, they don’t reflect any of God’s mercy. They cross over the road and pass by on the other side. You could call them thoughtless, but they aren’t; they thought about it, and they intentionally moved so they wouldn’t have to do something about the dying man. It’s really their attempt to excuse themselves, they can tell themselves that they were on the other side, that they didn’t just step over the man’s body. But it would have been more honest for them to just step over the man’s body. This act of crossing over shows that they knew what they had to do, but didn’t do it. Knowing what you should do doesn’t mean you will do it.
Contrast this with the Good Samaritan who knows what he should do, and he simply does it. He comes walking along the same road as the priest and Levite, but instead of crossing over to the other side, he walks up to the dying man. He knows that he must do something or the man dies. And though the Good Samaritan does the right thing, it’s not the easy thing. The Samaritan has to stop his journey and be late for dinner wherever he was going; he pulls out his own wine and oil to dress the man’s wounds; he puts the man on his own animal while he walks; he brings the dying man to an inn and pays the innkeeper out of his pocket; he even takes the time to come back the next day to check up on him.
So you’ve heard this parable enough to know that you’re supposed to be the Good Samaritan. But as we said, knowing isn’t the same as doing. How do we do as the Good Samaritan did? Because our natural inclination is to be the priest and the Levite, to go the easy path, turning a blind eye to things that bother us, things we know we should do. The Bible asks us to do hard things, and if we’re honest, it’s much easier to cross over to the other side of the road and pass by those hard things. Jesus tells us this story because he knows that we don’t want the inconvenient words of the Bible to push us to actually do something.
You all have already acted like the Good Samaritan by caring for your neighbors in Haiti, Sudan, and throughout the world, and that generosity for missions is truly something to be proud of. These far-off strangers are certainly your neighbors, but so are the family and friends closest to us. Many need physical help, but many more need spiritual help. Both those near and far need to hear about Jesus Christ, and not only hear about him, but to come to church and receive his gifts. Many of our family and friends are that man lying half-dead by the road. They need a Good Samaritan who will bring them to that spiritual hospital, the inn of the church, to give the oil of Baptism and the wine of Communion for their wounds. Think about that inn of the church as a hospital; because we’re all here in the hospital. You are simply a sick person telling other sick people where to find the medicine. You aren’t a doctor, I’m not a doctor. We can only point to the doctor, the one who will freely give the medicine of faith in his Word and his Sacraments.
Because Jesus tells this story not only to tell you what you should do, but to tell you what he has done. He is the Good Samaritan who came upon you while you were lying by the side of the road, as Paul says, “dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), having been robbed and beaten by Satan. Jesus felt that gut-wrenching compassion and his heart cried out within him as he looked upon the world thrown down into the dust by the side of the road. And like the Good Samaritan, he knew he had to do something, and he did it. He crossed over, not to the opposite side of the road like the priest and Levite, but came running to our side of the road: he crossed over from heaven to earth. He gave us the oil of Baptism and the wine of Communion for our wounds. He took on the load of this world’s sin and let us ride easy. While he took us in to the inn of the Church, where we could rest and be at peace, he went off and ascended the hill of Calvary to die on the cross. He did all this for you, because he is the Good Samaritan who has love and mercy, who is Love and Mercy. Even when you feel broken by your sin, you can rest in this love and mercy that covers all sins. Even though you experience disappointment in your child’s rebellion or a friend’s rejection of the Gospel, you can rest in God’s steadfast love that waits to carry you to his kingdom and give you eternal rest.
Dear friends, the Good Samaritan lives within you, because you live in him. I have seen the Good Samaritan at work in you, both in the love and mercy you show toward each other, and the love and mercy you have shown toward me. This is my last Sunday here at St. Paul, and I want to thank you all for your kindness and generosity. It has been an absolute pleasure to be with you, to walk and talk with you for a time, even as our time together comes to an end. May you continue to cling to the cross of your Good Samaritan, and to show forth his love and mercy, now and always. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). Amen.