Mixed Signals


I have sent mixed signals in regard to the Samaritans. I've taught that they were a mixed-race consisting of Jews left behind after the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel and foreigners the Assyrians imported. In reality, they were a pure heathen race (Trench, 317). Also the animosity between Samaritans and Jews went both ways in equal severity. In another case of mixed signals, the Samaritans interfered with the sacred Passover. When the Jews were held captive in Babylon, those still in Palestine would notify them of the exact time of the Passover moon by lighting a signal fire on Mount Olives. It would be passed mountain to mountain all the way to Babylon. The Samaritans would light a fire one day before (Ibid. 319).

Doesn't our text send mixed signals? Doing is emphasized. The word is used 4 times. Two each by the lawyer and Jesus, and the 2 times Jesus uses the word it's an imperative. The lawyer asks, "What doing eternal life I will inherit?" Jesus answers, "You must do the commandments you mentioned and you will live." Then at the end of the text the lawyer says that the one who was a neighbor was "the one doing the mercy." Jesus follows that up with, "You must go and you must do likewise."

This text is signaling that eternal life is all about doing. The lawyer comes to Jesus with an incredibly confused question: "What doing will I inherit eternal life?" How's that? If something is an inheritance it's yours by gift not by doing. Moreover he approaches Jesus with the arrogance of being sure he can do whatever it is as long as he is told what it is.

The lawyer's question may be confused and arrogant as it signals that going heaven is all about doing, but that's not what really troubles us. No, it's Jesus' answer. It too signals that being saved is a matter of doing. The lawyer asks, "Doing what will save me?" And Jesus sends him to the law and says that's what you must do to be saved. What? Where's confess your sins and God will forgive them? Where's believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved?

Don't go there so soon. Let the law have its way with you. The law does say, "You must do this to be saved." And you must hear this with all the command, demand, and insistence that God speaks it. It must get through to you that there's no end to the doing the law requires. The priest doesn't excuse himself from the requirement of the law to help his neighbor by crossing over to the other side of the road pretending not to see. The law doesn't let him off because as a priest if he helped a non-Jew or touched a dead body he couldn't collect, distribute, or eat the tithes brought to the temple which meant his whole family suffered.

The law never lets go. Let me ask you. Is there an end to you loving yourself? Psychology teaches you there is and so you think there is an end to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. But from Leviticus 19 to Ephesians 5 the command to love others is based on the fact that no man at any time doesn't love himself. You can no more stop yourself from loving yourself than you can stop yourself from breathing until you die from holding your breath. As you involuntarily breathe, so you involuntarily love yourself. This shows the law requiring you to love your neighbor as yourself is unrelenting, unremitting.

Now you're beginning to feel the pressure; now you're beginning to think like this lawyer. What about when I did this or that? Surely if I do this, this, and that too I can keep the law. The Levite did in fact do better than the priest. He at least went right up to the half-dead man rather than crossing to the other side so as he could pretend not to see him. But get this; nothing less than what the Samaritan does is doing what the law demands.

You're not out from under the law of loving your neighbor like you always do yourself because you give a bottle of cold water to the guy on the corner. You don't fulfill the law of love by giving the man with the sign a dollar, 10 dollars, or 100 dollars. No after Jesus tells in detail all that the Samaritan did risking his life while travelling in a strange place by stopping where robbers might still be, binding up the wounds of a bleeding enemy, checking him into an inn, caring for him through a long night, paying for 2 months lodging, and then promising to pay anything more after detailing all that the Samaritan did, Jesus commands the lawyer, "You must go and you must do likewise."

The law still says that to you today. If you want to go to heaven based on keeping the law, then dollars to sign holders or checks to Feed the Children aren't enough. The law of love requires that you check the homeless man into a motel, bathe him yourself, pay for him to stay there two months, and then leave your MasterCard at the front desk. And you're still not done. The law says you have to get up and do it again. You must, you have to, you're commanded to go, find the next homeless man, and the next, and the next.

So we get the signal from this text that going to heaven is a matter of doing for your neighbor, but we also get the signal that we are never, ever done doing. The law never lets us say, "I've done enough. I'm done doing." You have to receive both law signals. For only then will you be able to receive the comforting, refreshing, Gospel signal that Christ is the end of doing to them that believe. Actually, Paul says it even stronger than that. He says Christ is the end of the law. Romans 10:4 says, "Christ is the end of the law for everyone who believes."

Christ Jesus, true God begotten from eternity from the Father, descended into the Virgin Mary's womb so that He might be born under the same law you and I are. He descended to take on all the doing that the law requires. You know the parable is commonly called the Good Samaritan. It would help if it were called the Perfect Samaritan because then we would know what the ancient Church did. The Samaritan is Jesus. No sinful, fallen man could do what the Samaritan did. If you think otherwise, then, "You must go and do likewise." Then the doing the law demands is still on you.

You and I are not the Samaritan; we're the priest and Levite guilty of passing by human suffering in so many ways. Yet God the Father passes over our sins, our failures to love our neighbor as our self, and He grabs hold of the Perfect Samaritan. Think of it. He has risked His life, bloodied His clothes, spent His time and money on an enemy, and when He leaves the next day, He's grabbed, put on trail, found guilty of not helping the man, stripped, whipped, crowned with thorns, pieced with nails, and then crucified! And we priests and Levites go away unpunished.

Our sins were punished there on Jesus. In the Agnus Dei we'll sing of Jesus as the Lamb of God that "taketh away the sin of the world." The original wording had "He bears the sin of the world" (LSB, 1314). Hear that? When your sin presses you, hear that Jesus bore your sin. Feeling the weight on your shoulders is wrong. Jesus bore it long ago in your place.

This Gospel signal is for you if you can't do or bear anymore; this Gospel is for you if you know that you love yourself so much you can't love anyone else the way the law demands; this Gospel is for you if you know you are guilty of having passed by many a person in need. This Perfect Samaritan is for you if you're the man who has fallen among robbers. This is St. Augustine's take on the parable. He says, "Robbers left you half-dead in the road but you have been found by the kindly Samaritan." (ACC, III, 180).

I would disagree only in this. We aren't half-dead as the man in parable, we're full dead. The law was no help to us. Knowing what to do wasn't our problem. The doing was. As the 11th century exegete Theophylact pictured it, in the persons of the priest and Levite the law came and stood over us where we lay, but then overcome by the greatness of our wounds, and unable to heal us, they left us (Trench, 323). Then the Perfect Samaritan showed up and He started doing.

Jesus paid for the right to have compassion on sinners who had been robbed of their human dignity by their own fault. He paid for that right by being the perfect keeper of the law in our place. He paid for the right to be compassionate to sinners who don't deserve it by bearing our sins. The Samaritan in the parable has compassion and then does something. If Jesus just had compassion for us sinners dead in our trespasses and sins, we would still be dead in them. No, Jesus must do something so the compassion, forgiveness, and life that He won by His perfect life and paid for by His guilty death gets to us.

Historically, the Sacraments have been called "the ligaments for the wounds of the soul" (Trench, 324-5). A ligament holds together joints or keeps organs in place. The point being, just as the Good Samaritan poured oil and wine on the physical wounds of the half-dead man, so the Perfect Samaritan poured Baptism and Absolution on the spiritual wounds of us totally dead men. Jesus is the end of our doing things to save ourselves and He supplies the medicine to treat the wounds we have from what we have done and what we have failed to do.

The signals in this text are only apparently mixed. There really are 2 different ones. If like the lawyer you think all you need to be saved is to know what to do and you can do it, then go keep the Commandments. If you're further like him in that you seek to justify yourself, then go and do and do and do. But if you're convicted of being dead for what you have done and have been convinced you can do no more to save yourself or help save yourself, there's a another signal in this text. It tells what Jesus did, does, and will do for you. The Perfect Samaritan will bind up your wounds with Baptism and Absolution. He'll carry you to the inn of the Church where He has paid to have you nourished by His Body and Blood till He returns. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (20130714); Luke 10: 25-37