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LSB Proper 10C Sermon – Luke 10:25-37

July 11, 2016

July 10, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’”

The lawyer tests Jesus and His teaching. But the topic of the question that he asks Jesus is not a novel one. It is the question that the Israelites had asked in their instruction of the faith. It’s similar to the catechism questions that we are familiar with. He asks Jesus: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer probes Jesus’ teaching to see if this new, popular rabbi was changing what the LORD had given in the Torah.

As the Incarnate LORD, Jesus is familiar with what He Himself had spoken through Moses. So when Jesus receives this question, He directs the lawyer to what had been said centuries before: “He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” Jesus asks the lawyer what he had learned in the synagogue. It’s like what pastors might ask their parishioners: “What did you learn in Sunday School? What did you hear in the sermon?” or “You know the Scriptures. What do they say?” So the lawyer quotes the Torah: “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.” And when he does, Jesus commends him: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Jesus wasn’t teaching any differently than what was given through Moses in the Law. That’s what He wants the lawyer to know. There are some very deep truths behind why that is so. In particular, the great truths that Jesus is the LORD who gave those commands and that Jesus is the fulfiller of all the promises that had been spoken in the Law. Jesus had not come to remove or rescind what had been spoken in the Torah to bring about eternal life. Instead, He was there to make it so.

But after the lawyer correctly tells Jesus what the Law says, he asks a different question: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” When that happens, the matter shifts drastically. For what the lawyer is asking reveals how he interprets the Law, and that interpretation varies widely from how the LORD reads it. It’s sort of difficult to narrowly construe the first command—“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.”—since it has that word “all” in it. But the lawyer’s question suggest that there are ways to narrowly construe the second command, to figure out a way to consider people not to be a neighbor, so that they don’t have to be loved.

This type of reading of the Law is not how the LORD wants any of the Scriptures to be understood. His words are meant to be trifled with, especially those that deal with eternal life or eternal death. No, they are to be understood in their fullest sense. And the same commitment that the Israelites—or any of the LORD’s people—had to loving the LORD and having Him alone be God was also to be seen in how they loved the neighbor.

That is the point of Jesus’ reply to the lawyer who asks Him: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ reply is given in the form of a story. But the characters in the story make His point. When Jesus uses the characters of the priest and Levite, He is highlighting people who were dedicated to the love of the LORD. These were zealous for the LORD’s Law, including worship of Him alone according to all the statutes of the Levitical code. There was little doubt that they were dedicated to that truth, just as the lawyer talking to Jesus was.

But what is the problem that Jesus points out in His story? He uses an example of a robbery victim and how the people reacted to him. Recall the description of that man: “He fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” There is no more pitiful sight. It’s what we unfortunately see too often on the news reports from around the world: a person who is beaten and bloody, left to die. But when the priest and Levite come upon that man, they show no pity to him: “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.”

Where is their love for this man? Do they consider him a neighbor? If so, why do they not stop and help? Who else are they near to at the time who needs aid more than that robbery victim? The piety shown for the LORD in their worship at the Temple was great. But their love for their fellow man is completely lacking. Or if love for that man is mysteriously found in their hearts, it certainly hasn’t been expressed with their hands.

But unlike the priest and Levite, the Samaritan who encounters the robbery victim does show love to him. Jesus describes in great detail what this Samaritan does: “When he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” Quite the list of acts done by that Samaritan. In essence, the Samaritan has loved the neighbor with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind. That’s what drove him to act.

Now it’s true that the Samaritans had issues with the first command: loving the LORD alone. You can read about their issues with that command in both the Old and New Testaments, including their problems with idolatry. But in Jesus’ story, the Samaritan has no issue with the second command. In fact, he demonstrates the fullness of what love of neighbor means. And when Jesus asks the lawyer what he thinks—“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”—the lawyer gets the point: “The one who showed him mercy.” And that is what the LORD desires to have done by His people: “Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’”

Jesus’ story is meant to challenge our thinking about true piety and religion and how they lead to eternal life. The first command is to be kept. It is required to love the LORD alone. Eternal life is dependent upon that because only He is the source of it. Love of other gods will not lead to life; they are the way to eternal death. But dedication to Jesus who died and rose again is the way to forgiveness, life, and salvation. Loving Him with heart, soul, strength, and mind is to love the One who can bring you to eternal life. So we are dedicated to Him.

But that true piety and religion is not passive. It isn’t just a contemplative sort of life, where we just think about Jesus. No, faith is active. It is demonstrated by what we do, which does include our gathering together to hear about His work done for us and praising Him for it. Being here in this church building is part of how we show our love of the LORD. Yet, that is just half of the matter. Because love of the LORD also includes abiding by His commands, including the great command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

True piety and religion means carrying out the instructions that Jesus gives to the lawyer: “You go, and do likewise.” That is what He desires to see in us, so that we would have the combination of both the priest and Levite’s love of the LORD and the Samaritan’s love of the neighbor. And the way that can be done is to simply notice who around us is in need and look to aid them with what the LORD has given to us. Love of neighbor doesn’t have to be exotic or extravagant. Even what the Samaritan did in Jesus’ story was actually quite basic. It just took time and effort to get his hands dirty with the problem: to bind up the man’s wounds and transport him to the inn. And those sort of acts are what we are capable of doing, using the abilities and gifts that the LORD has given us.

But what’s also interesting about Jesus’ story is that the Samaritan didn’t have to go far and wide to find someone who needed help. The robbery victim was just right there in front of him. So perhaps we need to think about who has been placed right here in our midst. And to love them is just to look at them in the same way that Jesus did. Our compassion and love of neighbor is just a reflection of the compassion that He had for us. The gracious will that Jesus fulfilled has been revealed to us in His sacrificial acts done for us. And that will has become ours, as the apostle notes: “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” 

Walking in a manner worthy of Jesus is to love the LORD alone and to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the response to His graciousness shown to you. That’s the true piety and religion. That’s what leads to eternal life. And that’s what you have been called to as Jesus’ disciples. So that just as He acted for your benefit, so you also can go and do likewise.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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