The Good Samaritan Is Alive and Well
7/25/04Times New RomanArial
Most people believe no one looks after their neighbor anymore. To each his own. You're problem is not my problem. Sociology textbooks date this to the 70's when a woman was brutally murdered in the courtyard of a New York apartment complex. She screamed, she pleaded, she begged for help, but no came; no one even called the police. The Good Samaritan is dead and gone. That's how this text will be preached across the Missouri Synod and virtually every other Christian church. The Good Samaritan is gone and all we have left is priests and Levites. Pastors will challenge, accuse, and rebuke saying things like, "How many people have you passed by in need?" "How many times have you been too busy to help as the priest was?" "How many times have you looked into the eyes of someone in desperate need as the Levite did and turned away anyway?"
And the answer to the death of the Good Samaritan? Why, Jesus says it Himself, "Go and do likewise." So people will leave from church today pricked in their consciences to give that guy on the corner a dollar, to think at least twice and maybe pick up that hitchhiker, to put something in that envelope for children starving in Africa. "And what in the world is wrong with that?" Nothing. Unless of course you think by so doing you're resurrecting the Good Samaritan. If you think you can make the Good Samaritan live by works you do, then you are lost.
What you really need to repent of is not your failures to help your neighbor but of thinking that you can keep the Law by doing something, of thinking that if you go around helping people then you're justified before God. This is exactly what the lawyer in the text believed. The text says, "He wanted to justify himself." Jesus told the parable before us to deal with a man who thought he could be saved by doing the law and by justifying himself. Jesus did not tell this parable to motivate us to resurrect the Good Samaritan.
The helping the Good Samaritan does in this text is way beyond what any mere mortal is capable of. The Good Samaritan is on a journey, not commuting as the priest and Levite. While commuting, you're on your own turf. You're much more likely to stop and render aid than when traveling cross country. Furthermore, the injured man has been attacked by robbers. They might be lurking in the shadows, but the Good Samaritan stops anyway. But there's more. The Good Samaritan doesn't just give him emergency first aid. He puts him on his own donkey, takes him to an inn, cares for him through the night, pays for 2 months room and board, and finally promises to return and pay for any and all expenses beyond that.
Who among us has ever done anything remotely like this? Who among us is capable of it? Let's see. Two months lodging at a Motel 6 is $3,000 dollars. $20 a day for food is $1200. So, who among us would plop down $4200, and leave our credit card to cover any expenses above that for an injured man we just met? Not a one of us can, have, or will. But Jesus did, and Jesus did it for us. Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and therefore, the Good Samaritan is most definitely alive and well today.
Let me prove to you that Jesus is the Good Samaritan in this parable and thus redeem this parable from them clutches of those who have beat you up with it for years. First, the phrase, "He took pity on him," spoken of the Good Samaritan translates one Greek word. That Greek word only occurs in the Gospels, and it's only used of Jesus. 9 times it is used specifically of Jesus. The 3 other times it's used in parables of the Jesus-figure. The Good Samaritan, the forgiving king, and the forgiving Father in the Prodigal Son are all said to have taken pity. Second, the Jews themselves called Jesus "a Samaritan." In John 8:48 the Jews say to Jesus, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan?" Finally, the early church consistently identified Jesus as the Good Samaritan.
The real question before you is Jesus your Good Samaritan? Are you like the man who fell among thieves? Are you incapable of helping yourself or do you think you can overcome your sins against your neighbor simply by doing better, trying harder, helping more? Can you bind your own wounds with the oil and wine of promising to do better or by excusing your sins against God and man? Or do you need the Good Samaritan to save you?
Can you keep the holy Law of God or not? Is it just a case that you don't have enough mercy on your neighbor? Well if that's what you believe then just get out there and have more. But if you believe that no matter what you do, no matter how much mercy you have, you are still a guilty sinner who God must damn in eternity and punish right now, then Jesus can be your Good Samaritan. Jesus did what you can never do. He kept all the Laws of God. He loved God with all His heart, soul, and mind, and His neighbor as Himself. Yet Jesus suffered at the hands of sinful men though innocent and was punished in the hands of a wrathful God in our place. All of God's wrath against sins was poured out on the God/Man till it crushed His Body and shed His blood.
And now having satisfied God's wrath against sinners both by keeping the laws we break and suffering the punishment we deserve, Jesus the Good Samaritan comes into our lives bringing His Body for food and His Blood for medicine. Because we are without strength to help save ourselves, Jesus the Good Samaritan, carries us to the inn which is His Holy Christian Church. He commands the Church to take care of us which She does with the cleansing water of Baptism, the forgiving Word of Absolution, and the food and medicine of Communion. Jesus, the Good Samaritan, then goes away visibly, but promises to return saying all our food, drink, medicine, and salvation are on Him from here to eternity.
Is the Good Samaritan alive and well or not? Another way of putting this is are you all the way saved or not? Do think of yourselves as still out there on the road to Jericho which you will only reach if you can fight off the robbers, tend to your own wounds, and crawl on? Or has the Good Samaritan, Jesus, like the calvary of old, rode in and rescued you? Are you safely in the inn of the Church where not even the gates of hell can reach you? Do you look out on life from the safety, the security, the certainty of being eternally saved in the holy Christian Church or is your eternal salvation up in the air, in doubt, an open question?
Well, then neither Jesus nor I want a thing from you. Unless Jesus is your Good Samaritan, unless He has deposited you safely in the inn of the Church, to be cared for by His Word and Sacraments, you can only hear this parable as the lawyer in the text did. You must do what the Good Samaritan did in the parable or you cannot be saved. Your life can only be one long list of have to's and do not's. Each day you must measure your life by how well you have kept the Law of God. If you've feared, loved and trusted in God above all things all day, then you can feel good about yourself. If you have loved your neighbor as yourself, then you can lay your head down in peace and know that God is not going to punish you.
And that's how many of you live. Firmly under the law. But from here you divide into two camps. Some of you feel good about yourself because you think you can, have, and do fear, love and trust God above all things, and you lay your head down each night in peace really thinking God won 't punish you because you have loved your neighbor as yourself. For you I can do nothing. You are lost because you really believe you have salvation under the law. The best I can do for you is what Jesus did for the lawyer. If you want to be saved by the law, go ahead. Go and do likewise. Go and do and do and do till the Lord in His mercy shows you that you can never do enough to be saved. Go and do likewise till you choke on the law and cry to Jesus, "Have mercy upon me the sinner."
Those in the other camp that lives under the law never ever feel good about themselves because they know they never in all their life for even one minute have truly feared, loved, or trusted God with all their heart, soul, and mind. And they never lay their head down in peace at night but fear the onset of cancer, heart disease, danger, disaster, or tragedy because they know in their heart of hearts that they've never loved their neighbor as themselves. I can help them. God never thought you could save yourself by fearing, loving, or trusting Him enough or by loving your neighbor as yourself. That's why He sent you a Savior, Christ Jesus, a.k.a., the Good Samaritan. Through your Baptism this Savior has carried you into the Church. In this Church, this Savior feeds you with His own Body and Blood till He returns for you. Dear fearful Christian who sees all your works as nothing but filthy rags, fear not you're safe in the Church.
Think about how safe and saved you are by the Good Samaritan. Dwell on how well provided you are in this Christian Church. In here you're like a man on a rock as the flood waters rush by. Safe on the rock you can reach out to others being washed away spiritually or physically. But if you're not safe on this rock then you're out in the flood waters fighting for your spiritual and physical life like all the rest. So any reaching out is frightful and impossible to you. Therefore, first be planted firmly and forever in the inn of the Church by the work and mercy of Jesus. First see the Good Samaritan is alive and well saving you, then look for your neighbor. The raging waters of life look different to the person who is safe in the arms of the Good Samaritan standing on the rock of salvation then they do to the person is in the middle of those swirling, surging, waters. Before you lift a hand to do anything for anyone, first see that the Good Samaritan is alive and well enough to save you. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VIII (7-25-04); Luke 10:25-37