Our Lord looked the man earnestly in the face and said: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
The “this” being loving the Lord with every ounce of your being and loving your neighbor as yourself. That is the only path to life - eternal life; there is no other.
What was it about the way our Lord said it? He meant it. He meant every single word of it. DO this, and YOU WILL LIVE. The man was squirming, and we with him. For there’s a huge, huge gap between knowing and doing. To know that love - total, absolute, pure, unending - is required is one thing. To live such love is another.
The man - and we with him - wished to justify himself. To find someway to save face. And so the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Wrong question. Jesus instead answers the question he should have asked: “Am I a neighbor? Do I love others as I love myself?” and he answers it with a story that evokes our Old Testament reading for today.
Recall that the Israelites had pounded on their brothers, the Judeans, and proposed to make slaves of them after a stunning military defeat. Only when they arrive at the capital city of the north, Samaria, with their booty, out strides old Oded to meet them. The prophet forbids what they are proposing and warns that wrath is about to bust over their heads. The princes - for once! - listen to the prophet. And a great miracle takes place. Instead of ending up as naked and hungry slaves, these neighbors from the south kingdom, their enemies, if you will, are tended, clothed, fed, comforted, and brought back to their kinsfolk in Jericho. The rebellious tribes of the north, the hated Samaritans, showed a kindness that the Judeans didn’t expect and had no claim to.
Jesus takes the whole thing and personalizes it even further. A Jew journeying down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Heading away from the place where the promises were. Heading away from the divine worship. Heading away from where God bestows the blessing, even life forevermore as Psalm 134 puts it. He’s the living picture of Adam’s fall. And as he travels he is beset by robbers. They beat him, they steal from him, they leave him naked and bleeding along the roadside. Clear violators of the fifth commandment.
But then along down the road happen a Priest and Levite - temple helpers also going the wrong way. They see the fellow and pass him by. Subtle violators of the fifth commandment. But there’s more here. They personify the Law. You see, the Law can give knowledge of what you ought to do, but it can’t enable you to do it. It can let you know that you’re in a world of hurt, that you’ve totally failed to live as God commands, but it’s helpless to do a single thing to remedy the situation.
St. Paul in today’s epistle acknowledged that if a Law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would 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.
By faith in Jesus Christ. And so along He comes, the Good Samaritan. Like the good Samaritans of old in the OT reading, He shows a kindness and mercy that is unexpected and undeserved. He comes to keep the law. To love God with His all and so to love His neighbor as Himself. He doesn’t pass by. He stops. His heart is moved with compassion - a word everywhere else reserved for our Lord in the gospels - and he comes to the man, touches him. He pours on His oil to soothe the hurt and the sharp astringent of the wine to destroy everything that would hinder His healing. He carries him to the Inn and provides for his further care and restoration and promises to pay back in full whatever is needed for that healing at His return.
So our Lord, our Good Samaritan, He comes to us who in Adam have been waylaid by the thief and murderer, by Satan and the demons. He comes to us who have been robbed of our heavenly inheritance and are lying half-dead on the roadside and utterly unable to help ourselves at all. And He provides the healing that we need.
What had the Lord said? “Do this and you will live?” So certain was He of that, that He yielded His life on the cross to provide our healing remedy, pouring out His blood to blot the accusations of the law against our lovelessness and to cover our sins. He did so confident that death would never be able to hold Him down because His live was total love - such love is stronger far than death could ever hope to be. Death has no claim on it. “Do this and you will live.” He alone did it, and behold! He lived and lives! Forevermore! The firstborn of the dead!
And as the Crucified, Risen, Ascended and Glorified Lord, His healing mission continues, for He provides His Church to be that Inn where His mercy goes on being dispensed. The oil - a sign of Baptism. The wine - a sign of the Eucharist. Here sinners receive the Good News of our Good Samaritan and the gift of His divine life delivered into their lives to slowly heal the sores of sin and gradually restore the image of God, to bring them to a love that will finally not be partial or fragmented, but whole and entire, toward one another and toward God, even as the love of Christ Himself. As Luther said: “This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way; the process is not yet finished, but it has begun; this is not the goal, but it is road; at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified.”
So we pray in our Collect today that God would grant us, His people, an increase of faith, hope and charity. That is, that our faith would be strengthened in Him and His promises; our hope would burn brighter as we eagerly await the completion of His work in our lives and in this world; and that our charity, our active love toward each other and so towards Him, would increase day by day. As we sang in the hymn: “Oh, my Thy love possess me whole!” May God richly answer that prayer for us that we too may “go and do likewise” with joy, following the example of our Good Samaritan!