When we hear the Parables, we’re so tempted to hear moral stories. We hear in each detail something that we must do. And the Parable of the Good Samaritan is the prime example of that. Be nice, do for others what most people would refuse to do, and you can inherit eternal life. Right? Not quite. As attainable as that Law sounds, it isn’t. Pretty soon we find out that it’s impossible to do enough. Pretty soon we find out there are people I don’t want to do that for. So, as nice as that Law sounds, it’s damning. We know what’s right, but we don’t want to do what’s right. So that leaves us in one of two places—either crying out for mercy or trying to find ways to relax the Law. And that’s exactly where today’s Gospel puts us. The reason for the lawyer’s question is clear. If I am to love my neighbor as myself, it would certainly help if I could make that list of neighbors shorter. If I don’t have to worry about how I treat him or her or that entire group of people, I might just stand a chance!
The way a question is asked determines how it is answered. The lawyer doesn’t hear about God’s mercy because he doesn’t ask about it. He asks a Law question—what must I do. Not, ‘how will God save me’ or ‘how will God keep His promises,’ just “what must I do.” However, the way he finishes that question shows that he may not have been the best lawyer in town. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Typically one doesn’t inherit anything based on works. An inheritance comes because of the graciousness of the giver. That the lawyer’s question is misguided will become apparent soon, when Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He reveals that the inheritance is given by grace, a pure gift that is given despite sin, not something earned from God.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.