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!
And it is this set up that causes Jesus to tell His famous parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story. The man is journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho, traveling down a steep and windy road where he is ambushed by robbers who take from him everything, even nearly his life. And there he lay, helpless on the side of the road, injured beyond his own ability to take care of himself. If someone doesn’t help him, he will die. The priest comes by and looks and goes on his way. The Levite comes to the place and looks and goes on his way. What is the Lord saying with that? He is obviously convicting us all for every time we walk by another person without concern, going our own merry way, without wanting to get involved, to dirty our hands, to share their pain, to help them carry their load.
But there’s also something deeper. Remember—the Parables aren’t moral stories. They’re accounts of how God works in ways far different than you or I. Paul nailed in today’s Epistle: “If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin.”
The Law is represented by the Priest and the Levite. You and I are the man who has been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. The Law can diagnose: “That man is about to die!” But that diagnosis alone can’t help. It can only show our sin, reveal our sickness, disclose our secrets, and make us aware of our misery. You sang it at the start of the service: the Law dooms to death when we transgress, it has no power to justify. That doesn’t make it bad, it just doesn’t make it saving.
So in the Epistle Paul went on: “Scripture imprisoned everything under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Faith—a gift of God not our own doing—is what gives us the promise. The Law can’t give that. The Law can guide and tell us what is good to do, and we as people once dead at the Law’s hands but forgiven and given new life by Jesus want to do what the Law asks, but that doesn’t mean the Law can ever give life. We need Jesus, we need a righteousness not our own to have life.
So Jesus went on: “A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where [the man] was, and when he saw him he had compassion. He went to him.” The others passed on, unable to help and maybe ashamed of the fact, but the Samaritan came to help and he comes to the man himself. Touches him. Washes and anoints him, binds us his wounds, and provides for his time of healing, paying whatever it costs to get the man back on his feet.
This is our Jesus, and this is the Gospel. Our God did not pass by and does not pass by. Our God came and comes all the way to where we are. Not only in our flesh, but even in our sin. That is what His cross was all about. Him reaching into the depths to bring us healing. He is not a God who heals from afar, but a God who comes all the way down and knows the sorrow of sin itself, as He carries it in His sinless body and endures every consequence of our every sinful choice, even to the point of tasting death for us. He is the One who “did this,” as the Law commanded. His life WAS unending love, and so of course, He is the One who lives – lives in a resurrected body that death will never be able to touch and that becomes the source of eternal life for us, as we are incorporated into it. He did it all so that we might be healed – that He might do for us what we could never do for ourselves. He sheds His blood and delivers His body into death in order to become for us the very medicine of immortality that a person may then eat and drink and not die, but live in Him forever.
And the Church is His Inn. It’s the place where His medicine is dispensed and where the ravages of sin are constantly being healed and sinners restored. You don’t get to leave the Inn until He returns, because then the healing will be complete and final and full. But until that joyous day, the Church is commanded to go on giving out the medicine of forgiveness to sinners – using the cross to destroy the enemy. It’s here for you today. Your Jesus has provided for you the medicine of His body and blood at the cost of His very life.
“Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said: “The one who showed Him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” So He says to each of us today: having been given mercy by Jesus our Good Samaritan, He sends us out to show mercy others. True, the Law of God will go on condemning us for as long as we live in this flesh, because our mercy and our love never measure up to the standards that God requires. But living under the forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the condemnation of the law and set upon the path to healing by our Jesus, our Good Samaritan.
There will never be a day we live in this world where we won’t need to take our medicine and exercise and seek always to grow stronger in the love that Christ has given us to share. There is always room for growth in our fervent love toward one another. But even when we fail, we have the promise that forgiveness of sins and eternal life have been given to all who have faith in Jesus Christ. By His love, His cross and empty grave, we are forgiven and set free.