“Christ, the Good Samaritan”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, have you ever asked a question in such a way that you were guaranteed to get the answer you were looking for? Questions like, “Should we have ice cream of ice cream sandwiches for dessert” or “Does this dress make me look fat,” are often on our lips. I suppose with that second one, most men would know what I’m getting at. Loaded questions. That’s where you set up the other party to answer a question according to your own predetermined conclusion. In the text today a certain lawyer stands to do just that. In fact, he actually gets two questions in. We will see how Jesus answers him in kind, giving to him both the answer he expected and the answer he didn’t want at the same time. Jesus shows him who his neighbor is, but His main goal is to show him what God has already done for both the lawyer and for us.
(I. A loaded question)
(II. A loaded answer?)
The Gospel reading opens, “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” (v. 25) I had wished to go a little further before we got to a loaded question, but sometimes in life you don’t get what you want. Sometimes we look to Scripture to reinforce something we already believe and we come back (or should come back) empty-handed for trying to read our interpretations into the Bible. This is what we are about to see with the lawyer. Though unnamed in the text, we do know at least two things about this man. First, he was a teacher of the Law – a student of the Torah, who sided more with the Pharisees. He did believe in eternal life. Second, he most likely had already rejected Jesus as Lord. In Luke 7 John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus if He was the one they were looking for. Jesus tells them to go tell John what they had seen: blind men seeing, the lame walking, disease-free lepers, and the dead raised. After the messengers leave, He tells the crowd that John was the one written about who would come before the Messiah. At this, the Pharisees and lawyers scoff, it says, because they “rejected the purpose of God for themselves.” (Lk. 7:30)
He still recognized Jesus as a teacher of the Law, though, and addresses Him as such. “Teacher, what shall I do,” he asks, expecting this teacher of the Law to answer in kind. I.E. responding to him with the answer to what man must do, assuming that he does bear responsibility in gaining eternal life. It’s worth noting that the Greek work for “put to the test” is only used one other time in Luke – to describe the Devil tempting Jesus. Jesus answers the same way He answered Satan – with Scripture. “He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” (v. 26) That is, He asks the lawyer what the Law says. Rather than his interpretation, the question of how he reads it refers to the recitation of the Shema in the Synagogue. The lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” and adds, “and with all your mind.” That covers the first 3 Commandments, then he covers 4-6, “and [love] your neighbor as yourself.” (v. 27) Jesus confirms that the man has answered correctly, “You have answered correctly,” He says. “Do this, and you will live.” (v. 28)
Perhaps now would be a good time to pause for a second and reflect. When reading this passage, this is unfortunately where some people stop. They read, “Do this and you will live,” and interpret The Good Samaritan to be all about morality and chiefly concerning our love for our neighbors. It is often then turned from Gospel into Law. This is the mindset the lawyer has – that the way of the Torah is the way of life. Life does come from following the Law completely, but it does not come from the Law itself, but through God’s gracious actions toward us despite our sin. It is because of God’s choosing of His people and bringing them into communion with Himself that we have eternal life. Then, out of love for Him and in response to His grace, we are led to love Him above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is not because of our works that we inherit life because, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 10:4)
The lawyer asked Jesus a loaded question that he was sure would bring a satisfactory, but instead he felt convicted by Jesus’ response. Looking to save face and regain stature he poses Jesus another question, “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29) The very question assumes that there are some people who are not his neighbor. Out of his own mouth had just come the admission that in order to live eternally he must love his neighbor as himself. Well, that is a problem isn’t it? Aren’t there just some people that, no matter what, you just cannot get along with? There are some people that we just really don’t want to love. What more proof do we need to show that we have transgressed God’s Law and therefore are not worthy of inheriting eternal life? Thankfully, Jesus has some more to say.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.” (Rom. 13:10) The lawyer knows that he can’t do that, he can’t love everyone. But, he also can’t call the Law into question, and so he asks Jesus for some clarification on what “neighbor” means. Jesus answers with what loving your neighbor looks like by demonstrating those who try to inherit life through following the Law. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. It happened that there was a certain man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The man is not named nor is his ethnicity given. As he travels the steep and curvy downhill road, robbers pop out from behind the numerous rocks and strip the man of his clothes, beat him and leave him for dead.
Now, by coincidence a priest happened to be coming down the same road, probably having just completed his duties in the temple. This priest, who should’ve known that love is the fulfillment of the Law, sees the half-dead, naked man and walks on by on the opposite side of the road. Likewise a Levite, whose job was to assist the priest, is also coming down the road. He actually comes up the place where the man lay but then crosses to the other side. Perhaps he was copying the priest. The priest was his superior, the one who knew the rules. Finally, here comes a Samaritan – the sworn enemy of the priest and Levite. He goes to where the beat man is and has compassion on him. He bandages his wounds and pours oil and wine on him. Then he puts the man on his own animal and cares for him at an inn.
At the end of the story Jesus did not ask the lawyer, “Now tell me, lawman, who is your neighbor?” So, I will not ask you that. We know who our neighbor is. Everyone around us who is in need. I’m not going to demand that you go out and love your neighbor. To do that from here would be to turn the sweetest Gospel into the sternest Law. We know that we are called through the love of God to show love to those around us, and yet we do not. We do not love our neighbors as ourselves and we justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment. We are the priests; we are the Levites. We are the man beaten, left half-dead by the roadside. Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan. As we traverse the rocky road from birth to death we fall among robbers. We fall prey to our own attempts to keep the Law. We fall prey to our own sinfulness until we are stripped, bruised, and mostly dead. As others pass by, only One can save us. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the most despised of all men, has had compassion on us. Through His death and resurrection He has bandaged our wounds. He has covered us in both the oil of gladness and much fine wine. He is the one who has loved the unlovable, who has shown perfect love to His neighbor in our place so that we might receive eternal life through Him. The lawyer asked Jesus expecting an answer about what he might do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered that, in fact, all has been done. Jesus is the Good Samaritan that has come to rescue us from our sin.