"Who Is My Neighbor?"
"Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
That question was right at the heart of everything Jesus was up to ! You see, He was throwing wide open the gates of the kingdom of heaven and all sorts of people were crowding in through them. He befriended tax collectors, prostitutes, other notorious sinners. He welcomed them with open arms, forgave their sin and sat down to eat with them! And all without them doing anything but coming to Him and seeking mercy! it perplexed and angered the Pharisees and their friends, the Lawyers. It seemed to them that Jesus was making light of the holy law. So to test Jesus' orthodoxy, the lawyer asks him the question: "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus in effect answers: "You're the expert. You tell me." Not the answer the man expected. Still, he knew his law and knew it well. "Love God with your all. Love your neighbor as yourself." Can you see Jesus smile and respond: "Yes! Exactly! Now, do that and you will live, you will have eternal life."
Can you see the smile fade to a frown on the lawyer's face? "Do that?" he thinks. "Jesus has just implied, in front of all these people, that I haven't been" And so, feeling the smart of Jesus answer, and wanting to justify himself, the man said: "Well just who is my neighbor?"
The lawyer asks that because he wants to change the subject. You see, Jesus had answered his question. If you want to do something to inherit eternal life, the only thing you can do is to live a life of love. Perfect love for God and perfect love for the neighbor. No slip ups. No failures. Totally committed, burning love. That's what you have to do if by your doing you would win for yourself eternal life. Moses cuts no deals. But isn't it obvious to anyone with a conscience, that we haven't and that we can't?
So Paul was right in today's second reading. "If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would be by the law. But the Scripture has imprisoned everyone under sin so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."
We can't love the way God demands in His law. Each of us has failed again and again to be a neighbor, to show mercy and love. But as Gomer Pyle liked to say: "Surprise, Surprise!" That perfect life of love that God demands of us - that is the life that our Savior lived for us. His love for His Father never faltered. Not once. Nor did His love for his sisters and brothers in the human race ever fail. He loved us all perfectly. Did then and does now. And it is His perfect love which God makes our own by faith.
And so the story of the Good Samaritan. You know it well. The man who fell victim to the robbers. The man lying, naked, bleeding, in pain and dying. The priest who walks by. The Levite who walks by. Then the Samaritan - and you must remember the enmity between Jews and Samaritans - the Samaritan, who does not walk by. Who had every reason to keep on walking, but whose heart is moved by pity. Who helps. First aid, then being transported to an inn and tended at the Samaritan's expense until the man was restored. Jesus tells the story and then asks: "So, who proved neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?"
"The one who showed mercy" the lawyer answered quietly. Jesus had driven him to confess what was at the heart of God's Torah, God's law. Hosea summarized what all the prophets before had tried to say: "For I desire mercy - steadfast love - and not sacrifice."
Do you see that the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about the mercy in the heart of God? We are the one beaten by the thieves and robbed. Oh , yes. Satan and his gang waylaid and pounded on us. Robbed us of the beautiful Image in which God had first fashioned us. Left us for dead in the dust from which we had been taken. And the Law of God - signified by the priest and the Levite - was no help. It could show us that we were wounded and dying, but it couldn't heal us. Yet God saw our state, and He wasn't content to walk on by. No. At the heart of God is mercy, is pity, is love. Even when we thought of Him as the enemy.
Our Good Samaritan didn't just happen down the road. Our Jesus was sent because of the Father's love. In mercy He came to heal us - He who had every right to walk on by us. Instead of walking by, mercy led Him to the cross, forgiving our sin. Mercy led him to the grave, dying our death. Mercy led him to the glories of Easter morning, shattering the power of sin and death over all who trust in Him, all who are baptized into Him.
His healing work he still carries on in the Inn of his church. Here he pours out the saving water of Baptism. Here He still reaches out to you His healing touch in the bread and wine that are his own body and blood. Here He still speaks to wounded consciences the Word of absolution that salves the broken heart.
That means that the church is a hospital. It's a place where people are touched, held, loved, and healed at the direction of the Son of God. A place where the medicine of divine forgiveness is poured out liberally - for our Good Samaritan has commanded that every soul be cared for richly and He has paid the price in full.
The lawyer asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies that eternal life is the gift of God for the taking and the living, right here and right now - for life everlasting IS the life of mercy, it is pouring of self out for others. It is the life of Christ! Jesus invites us all to taste and celebrate it with him. You don't wait for heaven to taste eternal life! It can be yours today. "Mercy" "Go and do likewise!" Which is just to say: come and live my love now! As I pour out more life for you and into you than you'll ever be able to hold, you pour out yourself for others and so taste the joys of life unending, heaven itself, the love of my Kingdom, to which may He grant us all to attain by His grace and love for mankind.