“And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”
That little sentence contains the whole problem. We are capable of knowing what we “must do” to inherit eternal life. We know that to inherit such a life we must live in love. Love toward God, love toward our neighbor. But knowing isn’t doing. And there’s the rub.
Knowing what we ought to do, we so often, so dreadfully often, find ourselves doing exactly what we know we ought not to do. And just knowing what is right, what God expects of us, what our neighbor deserves of us, has never enabled us to DO that right, to fulfill the expectations of God, and render our neighbor the service that we know we owe him or her.
So, where does that leave us? It leaves us either crying out for mercy, or putting on a show. The lawyer in today’s Gospel opted for the show. He sought to move the spotlight off of himself and his failure to live in love: “And who is my neighbor?”
The reason for the question is clear, isn’t it? If I am to love my neighbor as myself, it would certainly help if I could cut down on the number of my neighbors – if, for example, I didn’t need to worry about how I treated him or her or them, well, I might just stand a chance.
And it is this set up that elicits from our Lord his famous parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story. The man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho, traveling down a steep and windy road where he is set upon by robbers who take from him everything, even nearly his life. And there he lay, helpless on the side of the road. Injured beyond his own ability to take care of himself. If someone doesn’t help him, he will die.
The priest comes by and looks and goes on his way. The Levite comes to the place and looks and goes on his way. What is the Lord saying with that? He is obviously convicting us all for every time we walk by another person without concern, going our own merry way, without wanting to get involved, to dirty our hands, to share their pain, to help them carry their load. Yes, but something deeper.
Paul nailed in today’s Epistle: “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.”
The Law is embodied in the Priest and the Levite – and they can see and diagnose: “Yup, that fellow’s sick, even unto death.” YOU and I, WE are the man that has been beaten up by thieves and robbed. Adam is that man and we are in him. The Law can’t help Adam and it can’t help you or me – it can only show our sin, reveal our sickness, disclose our secrets and make us aware of our misery. But what it can’t do, what it has no power to do, is to help us, to heal us, to restore us. The Law of Moses simply can’t do that.
But Paul went on: “that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” And Jesus went on: “A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him he had compassion. He went to him.” The others passed on, unable to help and maybe ashamed of the fact, but the Samaritan came to help and he comes to the man himself. Touches him. Washes and anoints him, binds us his wounds, and provides for his time of recuperation, paying whatever it costs to get the man back on his feet.
This is our Jesus, and this is the Gospel. Our God did not pass by and does not pass by. Our God came and comes all the way to where we are. Not only in our flesh, but even in our sin. That is what His cross was all about. Him reaching into the depths to bring us healing. He is not a God who heals from afar, but a God who comes all the way down and knows the sorrow of sin itself, as He carries it in His sinless body and endures every consequence of our every sinful choice, even to the point of tasting death for us. He is the One who “DID THIS” – His life WAS unending love – and so of course, He is the One who lives – lives in a resurrected body that death will never be able to touch and that becomes the source of eternal life for us, as we are tucked into it. He did it all so that we might be healed – that He might do for us what we could never do for ourselves. He sheds His blood and delivers His body into death in order to become for us the very medicine of immortality that a person may then eat and drink and not die, but live in Christ forever.
And the Church is His Inn. It’s the place where His medicine is dispensed and where the ravages of sin are constantly being healed and sinners restored. You don’t get to leave the Inn until He returns, for then the healing will be complete and final and full. But until that joyous day, the Church is commanded to go on giving out the medicine of forgiveness to sinners – using the weakness of the cross to destroy the power of the enemy. It’s here for you today. Your Jesus has provided for you the medicine of His body and blood at the cost of His very life.
“Who 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.” So He says to each of us today: having been mercied by Jesus our Good Samaritan, He sends us out to mercy others. True, the Law of God will go on condemning us for as long as we live in this flesh, for our mercy and our love never measure up to the standards that God requires, they remain partial and fragmentary. But living under the forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the condemnation of the law, freed the inability of Priest or Levite to help us, and set upon the path to healing by our Jesus, our Good Samaritan. There’ll never be a day we live in this world where we won’t need to take our medicine and to exercise and seek always to grow stronger in the love that Christ has given us to share. But the path to our healing, is precisely learning to live in His love toward each other. This He sends us forth to do in the confidence that “the promise by faith in Jesus Christ has been given to those who believe” and to Him alone, who loved us to cross and empty grave, be all the glory now and ever and unto the ages of ages.