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Sermon for Trinity 13 (St. Luke 10:23-37)

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ October 1st, 2009

Sermon on St. Luke 10:23-37

Trinity 13

The Law was given through Moses,but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

– St. John 1:17

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This lawyer was an expert in the law, literally a “jurist.” Jesus, however, was the master teacher not of the Law (although He knows that, too), but primarily of the Gospel. Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Lawyers are, by definition, experts in the written Law, and this lawyer had done his required reading. You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. We call them the “two tables of the Law.” The first table, Commandments 1-3, teaches us to love God. The second table, Commandments 4-10, teaches us to love our neighbor. And so Jesus summarized by saying, “Do this, and you will live.” Keep the commandments perfectly, Mr. Esquire, and you will inherit eternal life. What about you? Do you keep the commandments perfectly? Have you justified yourself through keeping God’s Law? Do you believe that the Ten Commandments teach you about Christ and His salvation? No! The Ten Commandments as a rule cannot justify this lawyer or the lawyer-in-you. The Law was given through Moses, and this lawyer delivers the Law to you a rule for human behavior: love God perfectly and love your neighbor as yourself.

Enter “A man [who] was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” when he “fell among robbers.” We New Yorkers, of course, call it “getting mugged,” also known as your initiation into New York City living. Even with the reigning “Peace of Rome,” a guarantee of safe conduct throughout the Empire, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was dangerous. I’ve seen it and I can testify that it accommodates thieves by giving them hiding places. And it is full of steep hills and cliffs, offering their own dangers and challenges. So here we see an innocent traveler, robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. How does this show us our sin? The word translated as “A man” means “anyone.” Anyone and everyone should picture this man lying half-dead on the roadside and see his own reflection through the Law of God as a mirror. Yes, I say, this man is the image of you and me in our sinful state before God. We have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have offended God by our sins and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. We have done evil in God’s sight and left undone what the good that He would have us do. In short, we are half-dead on the road of life and waiting for eternal death in hell. The Law was given through Moses, and this man’s sorry plight – yes, our state of death – delivers us the Law as a mirror to expose the sinner within.

Next came the priest and the Levite, the ministers of the Old Covenant under Moses. The priest made intercession before the people, offering sacrifices at the temple and praying for the people. In this story, the image is probably of a priest who was returning from his two-week tour of duty in Jerusalem. So also the Levite. Recall the tribe of Levi, those who were not given any land, but were scattered throughout Israel as Christ-bearers through the writing, singing, and teaching of the Psalms. Taken together, the priest and the Levite are the incarnation of the Old Covenant. Yet what did they do? They passed by on the other side, leaving the victim for dead. See how the Law is a curb for human behavior that exposes your sin and death! The Law keeps us on the road of life. It curbs human actions by writing into our hearts (even of the unbelievers) some innate sense of right and wrong. Recall, for instance, the presence of the Ten Commandments in the secular courts, at least for several years. The priest and the Levite, the Ten Commandments and the conscience, work together to keep human beings ethical, to reward good and punish evil, to order our society as God would have order. But even this dynamic of the Law as a curb will not give us life. It brings us to repentance, for we have not kept perfect order in this fallen world or in our personal lives, but have sought our own selfish pleasure at the expense of good order. The Law was given through Moses, and the priest and Levite remind us that the Law will not avail for eternal life.

Finally, behold the Samaritan, the unlikely hero of the story. Recall the OT division of two kingdoms, one Northern and one Southern. The South had the capital city of Jerusalem, the temple, and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The lawyer, priest, and Levite probably resonate with the South. The North, by contrast, had to set up their own capital in Samaria, and contend with powerful neighbors to the North, especially Assyria. Several centuries before Jesus, the North was destroyed. Those leftover from the North were called “Samaritans,” and their was no love lost between North and South. The title “Good Samaritan” was no doubt a contradiction in terms to the hearers of this parable! One can only imagine the reaction of the Lawyer when Jesus gradually unfolded the Samaritan as the protagonist of the story!

“The Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

See how Christ is the Good Samaritan! In my experience, most folks who attended Sunday School at some point in their life can tell you that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and later died outside Jerusalem, both in the Southern Kingdom. But do you remember where Jesus was raised? Nazareth, which is part of the North Country. Indeed, the title “Jesus of Nazareth” means, in effect, Jesus of Samaria. Jesus from the North. Jesus is our Good Samaritan, the unlikely hero of this story and, in the minds of many, the unexpected giver of grace and truth.

See how the Good Samaritan comes to the victim and shows compassion. You all know how it goes. Someone collapses in need, yet several folks to walk right by until at last one compassionate person stops to help. Recall how the priest and the Levite walked by on the other side. But the Samaritan came to the victim to show compassion. The word “compassion” here literally means the outpouring of the inner parts. So the Good Samaritan made it his life’s purpose in that moment to help this victim. See how Christ does all this for you! He saw victims like you and me, left for dead and unable to help ourselves through the Law. But instead of remaining in Heaven to think about our plight, He became man. Conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born of the Virgin Mary. He showed His compassion through His miracles, healing the sick and raising the dead. And, in the ultimate act of compassion, He went to the cross, absorbing our sin, sickness, and death into His own body. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” especially as He became a man to die for our sins.

And He didn’t stop there. His work is not just past tense, dying on the cross and then leaving us to fend for ourselves. Rather, risen from the dead and alive forevermore, He gives us His oil and wine. Olive oil is a common feature in the Middle East. Travelers from the West are probably surprised to see olive oil in just about every home and restaurant. It is used as food, medicine, and for ritual anointings. So also wine. It’s present at almost every meal, even being consumed by folks well under age 21! Wine says life, joy, and family – the good stuff of God’s creation. But I ask you: What is the theological use of oil and wine in the Christian faith and life? Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For centuries, oil was used for pre-baptismal anointings, a meaningful ritual that something is actually happening in baptism; that baptism means something. I suppose that we have put the oil on the liturgical shelf, so to speak, but the connection is there nonetheless. Wine, however, is more obvious. It is part and parcel of the Lord’s Supper. No Welch’s grape juice here, but the real thing: wine, the drink of joy; the drink that says Christ is present. Taken together, oil and wine remind us that Christ, our Good Samaritan, gives us the healing balm of the Gospel sacramentally. The oil of baptism to rescue you from the power of the devil. The wine of the Lord’s Supper to strengthen and preserve you steadfast in the true faith. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” who daily and richly forgives our sins through His blessed sacraments.

And the Good Samaritan ensures long-term medical care. He takes the man to the inn, a large structure with shelter for man and beast. According to the custom of the day, inns were used as meeting places, hospitals, and just about anything else you could do in an ancient building. And the Samaritan instructed the innkeeper to care for the man. As the Samaritan cared for him, so the innkeeper was to care for him, even after the Samaritan left. What is our inn? The Christian church, the place where we receive long-term care for our souls. The church is a spiritual hospital, where dying sinners receive the spiritual healing of forgiveness, life, and salvation. And who is our innkeeper? The pastor, who is ordained to oversee the spiritual care given to the flock in word and sacrament. To paraphrase Jesus, “Take care of the flock. Baptize little babies. Absolve penitent sinners. Preach full-strength Law and Gospel. Distribute my body and blood. And when I return to judge the living and the dead, I will reward you with the life everlasting.” “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” and His grace and truth continue to flow mightily to us in this Christian church.

As for the lawyer, he understood the parable, but he certainly didn’t like it. He couldn’t even say that the Samaritan had mercy on the victim, but settles for the phrase, “The one who showed him mercy.” But we, who hear this parable in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, know that the story of the Good Samaritan is richest and purest Gospel. Oh, we need the Law, especially to bring us to repentance. But greater than the Law and greater than the priest and Levites in our life is the One who is compassion incarnate, who gives us the healing power of the Gospel, and who abides forevermore in this Christian church. He is the One who shows mercy on us. And His name is Jesus, the Christ. INJ. Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

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