O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Who is my neighbor
Who is my neighbor
Based on Luke 10:25-37
Preached on July 14, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, this morning we had the pleasure of hearing one of the most popular parables in all the New Testament. It is a text we all know, yet it is also a text that seems to be full of confusion in modern Christianity. Some say the parable of the Good Samaritan should teach us how we ought to treat our neighbour. While others claim this notion actually defies the true teaching of the parable. There seems to be some sort of debate. Of course, there could be a number of reasons for this, but I like to think that the account is craftily made muddy by the presence of a lawyer. Now we've all heard jokes about lawyers, but have you heard the one about the surprising reunion.
So there's this woman relaxing at a fancy resort. And as she is looking around she notices this man coming towards her who she has known for years. The man was something of a "burnout" in high school so she is surprised to see him at this fancy resort. "You're looking good," she says to the man. "Well, I made partner at a law firm, but don't tell my mother. She still thinks I'm a drug dealer and she would be terribly disappointed if she knew how I really make a living."
These sorts of jokes expose a stereotype of what lawyers are like. They are sometimes known for finding ways around the law. Loopholes that obstruct justice. The lawyer in our text is no different. He is a Scholar of the Law of Moses - a special class of priest that arose during King Josiah's reform. He can likely recite the text of the Torah by heart and he engages our Lord in a battle of wits. He asks a Law question, typical of a lawyer, and the Lord gives him a Law answer. He asks, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" "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 neighbour as yourself" - "Do this and you will live"
Now, this is where our text gets interesting, because this lawyer is not stupid, he knows that he cannot fulfill the Law as it has been proclaimed, so he seeks to limit the demands of God. To lower the bar a little. In his self-righteousness, he is looking for a loophole - The text says, "desiring to justify himself he asked, 'Who is my neighbour?' You see, this scholar realizes that according to the Word of the Law - everyone is his neighbor. Every single person he ever sees, speaks to or bumps into. And he knows the Word of the Law says "Sacrifice yourself for them all. Even if it's inconvenient. Even if it means you will go without. Even if it means you will die." But he doesn't do this - nobody does this - but he still wants to justify himself so he tries to find a loophole in the Law. Maybe if he just changes the meaning of neighbor he can still feel good about himself. So he asked, 'Who is my neighbor?' Jesus' answer is incredible.
In fact, He tells a story. It takes place in the heat of the day. The sun is scorching down. The long dusty road is stretched out toward the horizon. A man trudges his way from Jerusalem to Jericho humming a psalm to himself, just minding his own business. Alone and content he is suddenly aware of movement nearby. He shifts his weight and turns to see blackness descend on his head. He stumbles, dazed, and pain throbs through his face. Suddenly more blows, many of them. He cries out, falling to the dirt and the clubbing of boots begins. The pain ricochets throughout his body and he struggles to breathe. And just before he loses consciousness he feels his clothes being torn off.
Somehow he is roused, and he realizes he is alone. His clothes are gone, and his lungs burn with each breath. The ground he lies on is dry. Very dry, except for his blood and sweat mixing with the dirt. Tears come to his eyes, for he knows he is going to die.
But just then, through the blur of his tears, hope appears. A figure on the horizon. It is a priest. Surely he'll help - he is a man of the Law. But the priest passes him by. The bleeding man is unclean and the priest cannot risk making himself unclean by helping this man. His work in the temple is too important. Someone else will help him. Next comes the Levite, another man of the Law. But he too passes him by. His work in the temple is too important. Someone else will help him. The hope of the dying man begins to fade and he realizes his own righteousness will be no help to him. Again, the tears well up.
The lawyer seeks to find limit to the demands of God- but in His parable Jesus teaches a difficult truth. The Law will not change. It has accused you, and it will kill you. It will leave you dying on the side of the road. It will do nothing to save you, but will nonchalantly pass you by. Your works do nothing but get you killed. As Jesus teaches elsewhere, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." There are no loopholes.
But, what about you and me? Are we any different than this lawyer? Do you ever search for loopholes in the demands of God? Do you say to yourself, God couldn't possibly condemn me to hell for this one little sin? But be honest before God - the answers to these questions are just the beginning of your self-righteousness. They are just the beginning of the way you justify yourself before God.
Much like the Levite who passed by, you and I think highly of ourselves when we do good deeds. We think we are helping God bring about His kingdom. As though our work for the Church could not be done by anyone else. Perhaps God will have more mercy on me if I serve His church. This is not the case.
What's more, we pride ourselves because we are not like those people outside the Church. We are more righteous than them, those heathen. And much like the priest we pass them by. We try our best not to be implicated in the lives of sinners. Not to be associated with lawbreakers. Those sinners who are getting what they deserve.
Much like the lawyer in Jesus' day, you are proud because you know the true doctrine. But knowledge alone will not save you. You are just like the lawyer. You feel as though you deserve to go to heaven, but you do not! What you and I truly deserve from the Law is to be crushed in our self-righteousness and lay dying on the side of the road. You deserve to have every person pass you by as you die in your filthy, selfish pride. Repent of your pride.
But where does this leave us? We do not have an answer to our question 'Who is my neighbour?' Who is this person? - At this very point, Jesus makes a radical shift - The neighbour in the parable is not the one that you love. The neighbour in the parable is the one who, after the Law has accused you, beaten you and left you to die, has mercy on you and comes to save you. Who is my neighbour? What does the text really say? It says the neighbour took the dying man to an inn, gave the innkeeper two denarii and told him he would return. Two denarii is two days wages. So what we have is a neighbour who has compassion on a dying man, takes him to the safety of an inn, pays his way and promises to return on the third day with full payment in hand.
Dear friends, the Good Samaritan is Christ. Jesus is truly saying "You are my neighbour" "I have claimed you as my neighbour" Where you try not to be implicated, I have implicated myself for you, my dear neighbour. I have left my bright, glorious throne room of heaven, crossed every social, ceremonial and theological line imaginable and I have implicated myself to abandonment on the Cross! I didn't take a loophole. I didn't lower the bar. For you are my neighbour.
"Beloved" Christ says, "You are my neighbour even when you leave your neighbour dying on the road. Even when you yourself are dying on the road. You are not too dirty for me. Your blood does not offend me, no - I will mix my perfect blood with your sinful blood, in the real meal that is my flesh. I will make myself the enemy of all, even my very own Father. I will hold myself sweaty and bloody on this cursed tree. Your nakedness is clothed by my shame. Your loneliness is filled by my emptiness. I forgive you of your selfish pride. I forgive you of everything. I have fulfilled the Law for you. My blood has made you clean."
"I see you there. I see that you are dying - that you cannot help yourself. And my insides hurt for you. I must come to you."
In your Baptism, Christ has taken you to the safety of the inn. He has stored up your inheritance in heaven, where it will never spoil, blemish or fade - and where not a single robber can enter, where your baptismal robe can never be stripped from your body again. In your Baptism, he has cared for the wounds left by the Law. He has washed them and healed them, and He continues to do so each week with His oil and wine - His Word and Sacrament. In Christ you are safe. In Christ you are saved. Praise be to God, for He did return on the third day in a glorious resurrection that we will share bodily with Him on the Last Day. And when that Last Day comes, you will see your neighbour face to face. You will see your God in His heaven and you will be with Him forever.
Let us pray.
Lord, You should have left me to die, but instead you left your throne and came to die in my place. You paid the full price of my sin, and you overcame the grave to hold me in your presence forever. Keep me in Your mercy always, in Your holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr