+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 10:25-37
Theme: Shown Mercy, Showing Mercy
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God alone absolves guilt. God alone heals the soul. God alone mends the heart. God alone frees the conscience from the anxiety of wondering if He is pleased with us; if we have done enough. He does these things through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. And, remarkably, He uses the medium of human interaction to accomplish His will. In short, He has integrated believers into this scheme by which He brings life to the world. Today we are instructed in these matters through Jesus’ story about the Samaritan who lends aid to the victimized traveler.
In response to the question on eternal life Jesus sums up both tables of the law; a person must love God and their neighbour. The inability for anyone to do this properly is evidenced by the immediacy of the follow-up question, “And who is my neighbour.”1 The man wanted to be able to answer yes and so wanted to define some parameters. The effort to claim success in a defined area and then apply it to our entire spiritual life is a temptation and deception of our sinful nature. We like to think we at least have our personal realm of perfection or control over sin. But it is nothing could be further from the truth. We easily become comfortable with certain sins, usually sins we consider to be minor, while claiming success for avoiding other temptations. In this way we may think we have fulfilled God’s law. In reality, it’s those sins we think we have under control that betrays our self-righteousness.
In the illustration, Christ refers to a priest, a Levite a Samaritan and a half dead man. The priest and Levite would be considered the most likely to give aid as a natural result of their professions. The Samaritan would have been considered least likely because Samaritans and Jews held a deep hatred for each other. As we place ourselves in the narrative we might first consider if we would act more like the priest or Levite or like the Samaritan. But we do better to see ourselves as the half-dead man.
The Levitical and Aaronic priesthoods were for the most part hereditary, you could not simply decide to be a priest. It would not be natural to put oneself in the place of a Levite. We must receive help before we can give it. The man who was half-dead was in no condition to help anyone, he needed help. We are to see ourselves as the one beaten up and left for dead. It is a spiritual comparison. Spiritually, we are born in even worse shape than this half-dead man. We are born completely dead. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”2 Spiritual deadness leads to all kinds of carnal activity. The sinful nature, left unrestrained, seeks to participate fully in unrighteousness. Thus, hatred, falsehood, violence, adultery, murder and idolatry not only characterize the unbelieving world but also pose great challenges for Christians. The inevitable consequence of unrighteousness is sickness, decay and death.
But Christ brings life out of death. He calls us to repentance. The primary work of Christ is not to show us how to pursue righteousness; the law does that. Christ’s primary work is to impute to us His righteousness. He declares that we are something we could never, ever achieve. Therefore, this story of the Good Samaritan is not primarily about morality. It is not primarily about condemning the unethical decisions of the priest and Levite and praising the righteous choice of the Samaritan. The story is primarily about the unfettered mercy of God. Christ Himself is represented by the Samaritan. Here the gospel flows freely. Under the influence of the law the priest and Levite surely considered the right thing to do, but convinced themselves they were justified in what they did not do. They may have thought the man to be dead and contact with the dead would have left them ceremonially unclean. But the Samaritan’s heart was moved with compassion. He immediately went about tending to the man’s needs. He set aside all concern for social acceptability. He became “saviour” to the man half-dead.
This illustration of Jesus is given in response to the question, “Who is my neighbour?”3 Christ turns the popular understanding of who the neighbour is on its head. The neighbour is not the person you share the back fence with. He is not the one akin to you in social status. He is not the one who shares your common interests and values. The neighbour is the one who is willing to sacrifice with no thought of reward. The true neighbor is the one who loves the unlovable. Jesus Christ is the neighbour of neighbours. He is the divine Samaritan who indiscriminately rescues humanity and offers hope and healing to all.
Jesus Christ seeks souls dying from sin and brings them into the life-saving care of the church. The church is where the spiritually sick gather to find cure for the soul. Christ has broken in on the kingdom of darkness and revealed the light of salvation. The apostle says today, “[He] has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”4
The forgiveness of sins is the centre and purpose of all meaning and life in the church. Everything else is secondary; wisdom for earthly living, direction for decisions, social interactions, psychological or emotional highs. Forgiveness is the promise of baptism to which we return every time we confess our sins. Forgiveness is the precious gift offered when we receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. The church father Saint Ambrose once said, “I always sin, therefore I always go to communion.”5 Dear friends, church is never a small part of a Christian’s life. A Christian’s life is one small, but essential, entity of the church’s life. In other words, you are not just a body that attends church, but by grace and through faith, you are a living member of the body of Christ. God has shown us mercy in Christ. We have the privilege of reflecting that mercy to others.
Our life is sustained and our salvation assured not by intellectual recognition that Jesus was an historical figure who died on a cross. Christ died for sinners. You are a sinner and your sins were there. He rose so that you can be resurrected. You have the baptismal inheritance. The entire life of a Christian is one of repentance, a yearning for the complete forgiveness only Christ can give but which we can only fully enjoy in eternity. Luther says it this way, “This life, then, is a life of being healed from sin, it is not a life of sinlessness, with the cure completed and perfect health attained. The church is the inn and the infirmary for those who are sick and in need of being made well. But heaven is the palace of the healthy and the righteous.”6 May God grant us the strength we need for this ‘earthly hospice’ until we arrive at the heavenly palace. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
10 July, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 10:29
2 Ephesians 2:1
3 Luke 10:29
4 Colossians 1:12-14
5 St. Ambrose, De sacramentis
6 Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans