Updated: Sep 11
St. Luke 10:23–37
Then turning to the disciples he 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.” And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
At the beginning of our text, Jesus encourages His disciples. He says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” In Jesus’ ministry that is escalating very quickly toward the cross they can take heart in the fact that they know things through faith that even prophets and kings didn’t know.
You know those same things. You have the knowledge of salvation. You know that God has had mercy on sinners like you and me. We have inherited corruption; we demonstrate it every day. We deserve only punishment and eternal death. But God has put His own Son in our place to take our punishment. The cross that seems like foolishness to the world is God’s means of forgiving your sins and giving you His eternal kingdom. The man who questions Jesus in the beginning of the text doesn’t know what you know. He’s asking the wrong question. He asks: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
This is the sort of question that seems like the right question when it comes to finding out how to be right with God. It’s the question that our sinful nature asks. The wise prophets and kings Jesus refers to earlier; they all ask this question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s the most natural question in the world. In order to get something good there must be something we have to do. Nothing good comes for free. That’s the way the world works. Everyone knows it. That’s it.
And since that’s the way the man in our text wants to think about it, and in order to make a point, Jesus goes along with this line of thinking for the moment. If it’s the case that we have to do something in order to inherit eternal life, then hopefully it can be said of this man that he has done what is required. God has a Law, after all. He has Commandments. Has the man followed them, loving the Lord [his] God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind, and His neighbor as [himself]?
Before he quickly says, yes (which would have been his instinct), the man wants clarification. He doesn’t want to go ahead and say, yes, he’s done everything that is required in the Law only to have Jesus come back and say, Aha! There’s some certain neighbor you’ve neglected to love! So, the man inquires that one step further to say, “And who is my neighbor?”
It says the man asks this, desiring to justify himself. So, that might either mean that he was intending to debate, if he thought Jesus’ definition of neighbor was out of line, or maybe, that he would be interested in adding others to his “neighbor list” in order to be sure that he could inherit eternal life. He might be looking to make a minor adjustment to his life in order to get within the parameters of inheriting eternal life. Because that’s how he was thinking about it; he would be responsible for obtaining eternal life. It would come to him because of what he had done.
Look at the way our Collect talks about it, though. Notice how its emphasis is diametrically opposed to how this man is thinking. It says, Almighty and everlasting God, You have made us heirs of Your eternal and great promises. Doesn’t say we’ve done anything, does it? We inherit God’s eternal and great promises, then. They are given to us as a free gift, like when someone hears the reading of a will, and learns that a loved one has handed down something. It isn’t a wage that has been earned. It is gracious gift. St. Paul is talking about this in our epistle lesson. The inheritance doesn’t come by Law, as in us obeying so well that we can get it; it comes through a promise of a Savior from sin that would come through Abraham’s family (Galatians 3:18).
Jesus goes on to tell one of His most famous parables, the one known often as The Good Samaritan. It’s important to think of the context we’ve been discussing when we’re looking at this parable. The Collect goes on to say, Increase in us daily the gifts of faith, hope, and love, that we may love all that You command. Good that we do, including the loving of our neighbor doesn’t come from ourselves; the Lord brings it about in us. It’s a fruit of our faith. In fact, this parable demonstrates our failure to love as God would have us love.
A man is in desperate need of help. He probably won’t survive without it.
Jesus is telling this account to a Jewish lawyer, and the man in need of help is a fellow Jew. It’s important to know that because loving our neighbor is under discussion, and though our sinful nature is sometimes greatly stressed when it comes to loving those who aren’t like us, loving what we might call our own is usually thought of as sort of a given (race relations, you know). But two fellow Jews - religious leaders even - come by, and decide to keep walking - away from the dying man (it seems like it even indicates that they crossed the road to avoid him). Why would they do this? Theologians talk about a concern they might have had according to Jewish Law, of becoming unclean by coming into contact with a dead body. They might have considered the danger in the area to still be imminent. Whatever is the case, they saw a man who needed them to love him enough to put his interests above their own, and they refused. They had their reasons.
You and I have our reasons too, don’t we, for failing to love our neighbor? It can be hatred with us too, like it was between many Jews and Samaritans. But also, it can be hurt feelings. The person said or did something to us that, we reason, makes them unworthy of our love. Just plain old self-centeredness can be it too. We have time for the things that interest us; but not for our neighbor.
God doesn’t tell us to love Him and our neighbor so long as it seems warranted under the circumstances, though, or so long as it doesn’t inconvenience us too much; He says to do it, and He means to do it…period, always, without fail. And in so far as you and I haven’t done it, we have walked the same steps as those first two passersby in our text, away from the needs of our neighbor, away from loving him as God requires. When Jesus says to the man, do [what is written in the Law], and you will live, He means you will live if you never fail at it. Inheriting God’s kingdom through the Law would work for us if we hadn’t inherited a sinful nature and hadn’t ever sinned. But we have sinned - all of us, every day. Jesus was trying to get the man to see that about himself.
Now think of what our Savior is like. He’s like a man who comes across someone in such great need that he will perish without His help. Now, the man who needs His help isn’t like Him. No one would ever expect this man to help the one who needs help. But He doesn’t walk away from him like the others did. He has compassion. He goes to him and sees to his wounds. He puts him on his own animal and brings him to an inn, paying for his care - even if he should need to pay more when he returns. Everyone is His neighbor as far as He is concerned.
You and I might wish that the totality of our own deeds could be described like those of this man in the parable. They can’t. Were it true that we needed to do something to inherit eternal life - like the man was suggesting, we couldn’t.
Jesus’ parable isn’t showing us how to make small adjustments in our lives so that through our works we can inherit the kingdom of heaven. Instead, we’re seeing what has been done for us by the perfect Savior who rescued us from certain eternal punishment and death. He has done so at great cost to Himself - even the suffering and death of the cross. He has done so though our sinfulness had made us His enemies rather than His neighbors. No one would ever have expected such grace. Our sinful nature still struggles with the concept, doubting sometimes that God could possibly have us without our doing something to deserve it. Maybe you have sins that grieve you greatly - that occupy your thoughts and cause you to feel helpless.
Jesus has walked toward you rather than away from you to serve you in your great need. His selfless, perfect love has paid for yours and mine that has been selfish, and imperfect. He hasn’t had His reasons for not loving, but rather has done everything that was necessary to care for you in your greatest need. Your sins are entirely and freely forgiven because of Him.
You can take heart like Jesus’ disciples. You have the knowledge of salvation. Instead of asking what you shall do to inherit eternal life, you come here to this place to hear again what Jesus has done for you. The Holy Spirit began to tell you this news in your Baptism, and to enable you to believe it. Cling to it in faith. Rejoice in it. Receive the Supper this morning as God’s gracious gift to you in your great need. Your Savior presents it to you for the remission of sins. You have been helped in your helplessness with what meets your need. You have been helped by the perfect neighbor. God be praised. Amen.
Other Texts for this Sunday:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules[a] and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.