MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
Luke 10:23 And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: 24 For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. 25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. 29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? 30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. 36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? 37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
This is Gospel is familiar because it has been used so often to promote works-righteousness. For instance, a group of Princeton seminarians were told that their sermon on the Good Samaritan was going to be taped because it was so good. Then they were told to rush to the taping because of the schedule. Each one thought he was late. On the way a needy person was placed. All the liberal seminarians refused to help the needy person because of the rush to preach on the parable of the Good Samaritan. One is tempted to say that the seminarians were negligent simply because the Word of God had been neglected for so many decades at their institution.
The lawyer in this lesson wants to justify himself through the Law. Many people miss the impact of what Jesus replied to him. Jesus asked what was written, and the lawyer gave the summary of the two tables of the Law. Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind summarizes the first three commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself summarizes the last seven commandments, the second table. Jesus said, “Do this and you will live.” God’s Law demands absolute perfection. Anyone who can obey the 10 Commandments his entire life, by thought, word, and deed, will see eternal life. However, no one can.
As Luther has often said, we cannot get past the first commandment, knowing that we should fear, love, and trust in God above all others. Those who think only in terms of the Law will either despair of their sins, which is false, since we have a Savior, or boast of their virtue, as if they can meet the standards of divine perfection.
This lawyer suggests that he has loved God with his heart, soul, strength, and mind. The group of four suggests completeness in the Bible, and we often find it when totality is being described, such as the Gospel going to every nation, tribe, people, and tongue. God’s Word is very concise, so we should pay attention when He uses four words when we might use one.
The lawyer implies meeting the demands of the first table by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” He desired to justify himself, that is, he wanted to satisfy himself that Jesus’ definition would send him straight to heaven on a pile of good works. He was probably good to all his friends, especially when he received good in return.
“Who is my neighbor?” – That was the core of a good discussion with a learned rabbi. The brightest students are supposed to stump the teacher or ask a definitive question. One can imagine a proud smile on his face, since he was seeking to justify himself.
The lawyer was looking for the Law, but Jesus told a parable that destroys the Law salesmen and offers the Gospel as the only source of salvation. It is worth noting that the social activists in the liberal denominations love this parable, because they use it to ask if we should bind the wounds of the beaten man OR make the road to Jericho safer. The answer is obvious to them. They fail to see that they are the priest and the Levite, Law-mongers.
"These were the preachers of the law, and showed what the world was, namely, full of deadly sins, and it lay there half dead, and could not help itself, notwithstanding all its powers, reason, and free will. Go then, thou beautiful painted rogue, and boast of thy free will, of thy merits and holiness."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholaus Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, V, p. 29.
The man was on his way to Jericho when he was robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead on the road. The priest and the Levite walked on the opposite side of the road to avoid him. Legalists have no compassion. They are in the business of condemning or saving through works, so they must calculate all the time. A legalist will commit a greater sin to avoid a minor sin. In this case, the legalists might have calculated that the man was unclean, or deserved to get a good beating. It would have been a risk to help him, but avoiding him risked nothing, so they shunned his broken body.
In contrast we have another portrait of Christ. The legalists never see this. The Good Samaritan is Christ. He is despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53) God’s Word portrays Jesus in such a friendly and loving way that we cannot help but be drawn to him. We can see this in children who have perhaps the greatest love for Jesus and the least doubt in His goodness.
"But Christ, the true Samaritan, takes the poor man to Himself and His own, goes to him and does not require the helpless one to come to Him; for here is no merit, but pure grace and mercy; and He binds up his wounds, cares for him and pours in oil and wine, this is the whole Gospel from beginning to end."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholaus Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, V, P. 30.
The love and mercy shown by Christ shames the legalists because He needs nothing and gives everything out of pure mercy. A man left for dead in the road has nothing to offer, no money, no health, no strength, and no good works.
The actions of the Good Samaritan are all compassion. The compassion is defined in six ways, an indication of the divine activity of the Trinity:
1) And went to him,
2) and bound up his wounds,
3) pouring in oil and wine,
4) and set him on his own beast,
5) and brought him to an inn,
6) and took care of him.
The elaboration of detail in a simple story illustrates the extent to which God comes to us when we are dead in sin. The compassion of Christ is defined by the many different efforts He makes to heal our wounds and restore us.
One description from Luther illustrates his perception of the entire Word of God. He describes the oil and wine as the healing of the Gospel followed by the sharpness of the cross.
"But wine is sharp and signifies the holy cross that immediately follows. A Christian need not look for his cross, it is always on his back. For he thinks as St. Paul says, 2 Timothy 3:12: 'All that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.' This is the court-color in this kingdom. Whoever is ashamed of the color, does not belong to this king."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholaus Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, V, p. 30.
The love of Christ for each one of us is also shown in the continuing display of mercy shown by the Samaritan. He also gives the innkeeper money and offers to pay even more in the future for the man’s needs. “Whatever you spend I will repay.” In other words, there is no limit, no lifetime cap for his health care.
Christ is so generous with us that He comes to us out of pure grace, takes care of our immediate needs, and then provides for our future needs. We can see that in His establishment of the sacraments. Once again, the legalists are upset that God might give us both the Word and the Sacraments. They cannot understand the abundance of God’s grace in God working through the Word in those earthly elements.
God has done whatever is necessary to keep us in the truth. Man has adulterated the Word from generation to generation, but God provides leaders who establish the truth once again. Was it an accident that Luther’s enormous genius in teaching the Word was accompanied by the invention of the printing press?
So the conclusion of the parable puts the lawyer on the spot. Jesus turned the tables on him and asked, Which one proved to be the neighbor to the beaten man? The lawyer had to say, “The Samaritan.”
Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” Or, in other words, “Instead of relying on the Law, as the priest and Levite did, rely on the Gospel and show the Gospel fruits of love, joy, and peace.”
We need to hear this Gospel lesson, because Lutheran orthodoxy is always threatened with salvation by the law. It is so easy to define orthodoxy by what we do (or cannot do) rather than by what we believe. Those who aspire to the title of orthodox are quick to say, as the lawyer, did, “I have the first table down. Now let’s define the second table, our relationship with man.”
We have to question our iron-grip on pure doctrine, because the sinfulness of man is evident in apathy toward the Word and also in chasing fads and false doctrine. If we do not study the Word and the Confessions, with humility, our attitude can quickly turn into legalism and salvation by works.
In our treatment toward others, the example of the Good Samaritan shows us that we should think in terms of mercy rather than Law. That does not mean we should tolerate criminal behavior. Even when Christ was dying on the cross, He did not stop to denounce the death penalty or suggest alternative treatment for the criminals dying with Him. But the Good Samaritan teaches us to be more like Christ in mercy and less like the legalists in shunning.