Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 10:23–37): 23 Turning to the disciples [Jesus] said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 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. 35 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (ESV)
Jesus was throwing wide open the gates of the kingdom of heaven and all sorts of people were crowding in through them. Our Lord befriended tax collectors, prostitutes, and other notorious sinners. He welcomed them with open arms, forgave their sin and sat down to eat with them! And all without them doing anything but coming to Him with repentant hearts and seeking His mercy! Our Lord’s acceptance of such sinners perplexed and angered the Pharisees and their friends, the lawyers. These lawyers were not like the lawyers of today, who are concerned with civil and criminal cases; rather, they were scholars of the Torah, the Law-Gospel Old Testament Word of God. And it seemed to these lawyers that Jesus was making light of the holy law. So to test Jesus’ orthodoxy, the lawyer asks Him the question: What shall I do to inherit eternal life?
If I had been there, here is how I would have replied: “Don’t be so stupid! You’re a lawyer; you know how an inheritance works. The only way you inherit anything is by being born or adopted or marrying into a family.”
Now, imagine a dysfunctional family in which the children live in constant fear of being disowned and disinherited by their parents. Behind every act of obedience, the children are thinking: “What if I don’t measure up to my parents’ expectations? What if my obedience is not enough to satisfy them? What if my failures cause me to lose the inheritance?” Their every action becomes a strategy to earn the inheritance as a reward. But to live such a life is to live as a slave, for here there is no freedom to love and serve and give, only a fearful calculating and scheming as to how to stay on good terms with one’s masters. You see, this dysfunctional family has twisted the natural relationship between parents and children into a deformed relationship of masters and slaves.
That is the kind of relationship the lawyer wants with God. He is not interested in receiving heaven as a gift from a loving God; he would rather do something to earn it. And so, he asks Jesus: Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus in effect answers: “You’re the expert. You tell me.” Not the answer the man expected. Still, he knew his law and he knew it well. “Love God with your whole being. Love your neighbour as yourself.” Can you see Jesus smile and respond: “Yes! Exactly! Now, do that and you will live, you will have eternal life.”
Now, Jesus does not say do this, and you will live because He thinks we can love God with our whole being and our neighbour as ourself. Rather, He wants to help the lawyer and us realize that if we want to trust in our ability to keep God’s Law, then the only standard is perfection. If you want to do something to earn eternal life, then you must live a life of perfect love. If you do not want to receive eternal life as a gift, an inheritance, but as an reward, then you must love perfectly. Perfect love for God and perfect love for the neighbour. No slip ups. No failures. You must have a totally committed, burning love. That is what you have to do if by your doing you would win for yourself eternal life. But the truth is that none of us has lived such a life; in fact, none of us can live such a life. No one can love so perfectly that he receives heaven as a reward.
We cannot love the way God demands in His law. Each of us has failed again and again to be a neighbour, to show mercy and love. And so we all deserve hell. But the Good News is that God’s love is perfect. In fact, God is love. And Jesus, God’s Son, is Love Incarnate, Perfect Love in the flesh! The perfect life of love that God demands of you and me—the life that is impossible for us to live—that is the very life that our Savior Jesus lived for us. His love for His Father never faltered. Not once. Nor did His love for people ever fail. Jesus loved us all perfectly. He did then and He does now. And it is His perfect love which God makes our own by faith.
And so the story of the Good Samaritan. You know it well. The man who fell victim to the robbers. The man lying, naked, bleeding, in pain and dying. The priest who walks by. The Levite who walks by. Then the Samaritan—and you must remember the enmity between Jews and Samaritans—the Samaritan, who does not walk by. Who had every reason to keep on walking, but whose heart is moved by pity. Who helps. Who gives first aid, and then transports the man to an inn, where he is tended at the Samaritan’s expense until he is restored. Jesus tells the story and then asks: So who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?
The one who showed mercy, the lawyer answered quietly. The lawyer was convinced that the Old Testament was all about God’s demand for obedience, but Jesus had driven him to confess what is the true heart of God’s Word—mercy. The prophet Hosea summarized what all the prophets before had said: I desire mercy—steadfast love—and not sacrifice (6:6).
Do you see that the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about the mercy in the heart of God? We are the one beaten by the thieves and robbed. Oh , yes, Satan and his gang waylaid and pounded on us. Satan robbed us of the beautiful Image in which God had first created us. Satan left us for dead in the dust from which we had been taken. And the Law of God—signified by the priest and the Levite— was no help whatsoever. The Law could show us that we were wounded and dying, but it could not heal us. Yet God saw our sad and sorry state, and He was not content to walk on by. At the heart of God is mercy, pity, and love. Even when we thought of Him as the enemy.
Our Good Samaritan did not just happen down the road. Our Jesus was sent because of the Father’s love. In mercy He came to heal us—He who had every right to walk on by us. Instead of walking by, mercy led Jesus to the cross, forgiving our sin. Mercy led Him to the grave, dying our death. Mercy led Him to the glories of Easter morning, shattering the power of sin and death over all who trust in Him, all who are baptized into Him.
Our Lord still carries on His healing work in the Inn of His church. Here He pours out the saving water of Baptism. Here He still reaches out to you His healing touch in the bread and wine that are His own body and blood. Here He still speaks to wounded consciences the Word of Holy Absolution that heals broken and contrite hearts.
That means that Christ’s church is a hospital. The church is the place where broken sinners are touched, held, loved, and healed at the direction of the Son of God. The place where the medicine of divine forgiveness is poured out liberally—for our Good Samaritan has commanded that every soul be cared for richly and He has paid the price in full.
The lawyer asks Jesus the question: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? It’s a stupid question because you do not inherit wealth by doing things. And so, if you think you can earn heaven by your obedience, then you will always be questioning whether your good deeds are good enough. And of course, they are never good enough because God demands perfect obedience. This way of living keeps you enslaved to sin and leads to eternal damnation. But Jesus shows you a better way—the way of life and salvation.
First, Jesus, God’s eternal Son, became Man, born of the Virgin Mary, to die for us sinners, bearing our sins and our condemnation so that we may be saved. And He rose from the dead three days later as a clear sign of the Father’s acceptance of His Good Friday sacrifice and of His victory over sin, death, and the devil. And there’s more.
In Holy Baptism, Jesus came to you as you lay lying in the ditch of sin and death and enmity against God. You were lying in the ditch, not half-dead, but fully dead towards God. But in the waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus made you God’s child; Jesus became your brother and He welcomed you into the family of God.
Remember what I said earlier about how an inheritance works. The only way you inherit anything is by being born or adopted or married into a family. Well, guess what, the Bible uses all three ways of proclaiming what Jesus has done for you. In Baptism, you were born from above; you were adopted by God; and now—changing the imagery from children to wife—you were also brought into the holy, catholic, apostolic church, which is the Bride of Christ.
Yes, now you belong to God’s family. And this holy family is not at all like a dysfunctional family in which the children live in constant fear of being disowned and disinherited by their parents. Rather, think of a healthy family, in which parents and children freely love each other. The parents gladly sacrifice their sleep and priorities to provide their children with a loving home. And the children do not have to scheme to do things to win their parents’ approval. Rather, the children help around the house and listen to their parents simply because they know how much their parents love them and they, in turn, love their parents and are grateful for their care.
The same is true of you and me as members of God’s family. Now, being sinners, we often live as dysfunctional children who are constantly trying to avoid being punished for misdeeds or hoping to be rewarded for good deeds. But if that is your life—if your motivation for doing good is merely to avoid God’s punishment or be rewarded—then you are still living as a slave. And that is not your calling in Christ.
God the Father loved you so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to win for you your salvation. In Holy Baptism, you are now His dear children. God gave you salvation while your were still sinners and could do nothing to earn it. And now, you live in freedom. You are God’s children, and so you do not live in fear of losing your inheritance through your failures nor are you scheming to be rewarded. Rather, in humility you simply confess your sins to God, trusting Him to forgive you and to fill you with the Holy Spirit, who gives you the power to love and serve and give, not because you have to earn anything, but because you live in the freedom of those belong to God’s family, the freedom of Christ! What joy is yours, for you know God loves you, and you, in turn, love both God and neighbour in thanksgiving for God pouring out His mercy upon you through your Saviour Jesus Christ. And you do not boast of your love and service, for you know that what good you do in this fallen world is a gift to you from your loving heavenly Father.
The lawyer asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies that eternal life is a gift. Eternal life is the gift of God to be received and lived by faith in Christ, right here and right now. Eternal life is the life of Jesus being poured out for sinners lying dead in the ditch of sin. And thanks be to God, the life of Jesus has been poured out upon you in mercy and love. Now, you do not have to wait for heaven to taste this eternal life; in Jesus it is already yours.
That is why Jesus says to you: Mercy—Go and do likewise! Yes, do likewise—not as a slave but as one who has been set free by the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. For you who are baptized in Christ, the command to Go and do likewise has become our Lord’s gracious invitation: “Come, come and live in My love now! And as I poured out more life for you and into you than you will ever be able to hold, so now I give you the grace to pour out yourself for others in love and mercy. Yes, come and live in Me—in My love, in My mercy—and so taste the joy of life unending and serve others with the joy of heaven itself.” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, receive life eternal not as a reward for what you have done but as a gift, a pure gift, from Jesus, Love Incarnate, Who did not pass you by but Who stooped down to embrace you in His mercy and love! Amen.