Half Dead Isn't Dead Enough
The only time the word "half dead" is used in the Bible is in our text. Right now half dead is popular. Zombie video games and vampire movies are trendy. Zombies, vampires, and two people in the parable are not quite dead and for one of them that isn't dead enough.
The lawyer is half dead. He thinks he can do something to live eternally. You can see he is somewhat confused here. He asks Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life." You don't normally get an inheritance for doing something but for being someone. In any event, to the lawyer it's a foregone conclusion that something must be done to go heaven, and he thinks he can do it once he knows what it is. If Jesus will just give him a to-do list, he'll get right on it.
Incredibly Jesus does just that. He gives the lawyer a to-do list to go to heaven. Actually, Jesus causes the lawyer to come up with one from the Bible. This expert in the law is pointed back to the law of God that he knows so well. God's to-do list is short; just two items. "Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus promises if he'll just do those two things he'll go to heaven. That's it. You don't have to give money to church; Jesus doesn't even list going to church let alone Bible class. That's easy, isn't it?
Well, it seems easy until you think about it. If you love someone, you also trust them. If you don't trust them, you don't really love them. I trust God when I see the breadbasket for tomorrow full. I trust God when I get a good health report. I trust God in blue, clear skies. And as for loving my neighbor. I have no problem loving those far away in Africa dying of AIDS or the people far away in Haiti afflicted by the earthquake, but my neighbor who doesn't cut his grass, takes my parking space, or plays loud music that's much harder. And that's what the Greek word refers to, not to people far away, but people literally "near" you.
This was a little too close to home for the lawyer, and notice he isn't convicted of not loving God but of not loving his neighbor. We know that because the text says, "He wanted to justify himself." You only try to justify yourself if you think you're being accused. Good lawyer that he is, he won't let the accusation stand. He can't be convicted of not loving his neighbor because after all, "Who is my neighbor?" Since no one can say for sure, who can say I wronged anyone?
The lawyer is only half dead. Paul says in Romans 7, "I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died." The lawyer didn't. He came to Jesus full of life able to do whatever it took to go to heaven. Jesus had him preach the law to himself and he was awaken to the realization that he didn't love his neighbor, but he didn't die. No he half died. He was still able to make an argument to justify himself.
How about you? Does the law of God leave you only half dead? Half dead things are crazy. Haven't you seen a zombie or vampire movie? They go berserk. Or think of someone half drowned. They thrash and lash even the person trying to save them. Half dead isn't dead enough, but how do you know if you are?
You're half dead like the lawyer if you think the message of the parable is, "Go and do likewise." This is the message for the person trying to justify himself. This is the message for the person who says he can't be convicted of not loving his neighbor because he doesn't know who that is. This is the message for the person who thinks this is about picking up hitchhikers, giving 10 dollars to the guy on the corner, or giving the panhandler 50 cents. To the person who thinks he can fulfill the law of love to his neighbor, Jesus says, "Go and do what the Good Samaritan did." But note well: he didn't pick up a hitchhiker or give someone some cash in passing. He risked his life to save a man. He paid for two months lodging at Motel 6 on I-35 and then left his Platinum Visa at the front desk.
You want to quibble about who your neighbor is because you think if you just knew that you could keep the law? Then you're only half dead, and I say put this on your precious "to do" list: "You must go and do what the Good Samaritan did. Every hitchhiker you ever see you must pick up. Every bum gets a credit card. Every charity a blank check." What's that? You can't do that; you're not able to do that. Thanks be to God then you're like me and St. Paul too: You're dead in your trespasses and sins. Dead I say, not half dead.
Jesus isn't half dead either. Jesus is all the way dead. Isn't that what Paul twice says. He says, "We preach Christ and Him crucified." And he says, "As often as you eat His Body and drink His Blood, you do proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." A half dead Jesus isn't dead enough. He has to be all the way dead because to pay for sins the Law required nothing less than death. But it couldn't be a death like yours or mine. As we sing, "Ten thousand deaths like mine would have been all too few." The death of guilty sinners such as us doesn't pay for sins. We're blemished, tarnished, defiled offerings. That's why if a person has nothing but their death to offer to the wrathful God they go to hell to pay and pay and pay for eternity.
It takes a holy death to satisfy the wrath of God, but who can live a holy life? Perfect Adam and Eve only did for a few days, weeks, or months. It takes God to keep God's laws. He came into the world a lowly, despised Man. The church leaders said He had a devil, that He was a devil; they even called Him a Samaritan even though no one could convict Him of not loving God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. They cast His name out as evil; they hated Him though no one could convict Him of not loving His neighbor as Himself. Jesus even loved His neighbor more than Himself. That's what it means when you give up your life to save someone else's.
Jesus went all the way into the grave, not half way. He died for our half hearted attempts at keeping the law that we think are able to justify us. He died for our being priests and Levites who think that we really do keep the law as long as we have a good reason for not keeping it. He died for our being lawyers who think that God has a doable "to list" that will get us into heaven. And so, I preach Jesus and Him crucified, I proclaim that the death of Jesus has paid for your being sinful priests, Levites, and lawyers.
But wait; Jesus isn't only all the way dead; He's all the way alive too. God the Father raised the stone-cold, 3 day dead Jesus, to prove that His perfect life and perfect death were accepted by Him in place of and in payment for your sins. Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and He's alive and well. On the road of life, He finds us beat up by our sins and stripped of any righteousness, and when no one else will or can He has compassion on us. This is that Greek word that means to be moved in the noble organs. Jesus heart goes out to us in our sins and sinfulness; His heart breaks for us in our fallenness. His gut moves in pity for us. So He pours on the oil of baptismal waters and gives us His Blood for wine. He bandages up our wounds and covers our nakedness by sending away our sins.
But the Good Samaritan isn't done yet, is He? If He leaves us where we are by the side of the road, we're sure to be found by the thieves again; we're sure to be beaten up by our sins and sinfulness again; we're sure to be stripped of the righteousness of Christ that He has clothed us in. So the Good Samaritan carries us to the inn called the Holy Christian Church. We're safe here. In here all our needs will be met because Jesus commands the Church to take care of us. In here, there's a constant flow of baptismal waters to drown our old adam and bring forth a holy new man. In here, there's the constant proclamation that your sins were paid for by the death of Jesus so you might live. In here, there's Jesus' Body and Blood to give you strength for the rest of your journey.
Don't leave the inn of the Church. Jesus has paid for you to stay here till He returns. Jesus literally sweat blood to pay for us to stay here. Jesus literally weeps at the thought of you leaving without Him. Unbelief will make you leave. Unbelief is believing you're doing all right or at least not as bad at that other guy in keeping God's to-do list. Unbelief is believing you can face God's judgment on your own. Unbelief is believing you don't need the shelter, food, and forgiveness of the inn of the Church.
Unbelief leads people out of the inn of the Church, but so does despair. You despair because your temper is no cooler, your lusts no lesser, your patience no thicker, or your love for God no better than your love for your neighbor. And in your despair, you fall back into the same den of thieves. Your sins beat you and leave you naked and ashamed of yourself. But once more the Good Samaritan finds you, and He carries you back to the inn of the Church, cleans you up with full forgiveness, and puts His Body and Blood into yours. And right here is where the Devil, the World and your own fallen conscience scream, "Despair!" And to despair is to make two sins out of one. Yes you've sinned, but when your despair of Jesus' forgiveness you deny the Lord who bought you.
Hear Luther, "What does it matter if we commit a fresh sin? If we do not immediately despair, but rather say within ourselves, O God, thou livest still! Christ my Lord is the destroyer of sin,' then at once the sin is gone" (AE, 51, 63). Think of it. The last thing the Good Samaritan wants is for the guy He saved to be acting as if he was still as bloody, muddy, beat up and naked in the inn as he was out of the inn on the road. The person in the Church who despairs of being forgiven isn't as Paul says dead to sin and alive to righteousness. No, he's half dead to both, and the half dead are miserable. Ask zombies and vampires. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (20100718); Luke 10:25-37