God bestows mercy and salvation upon humanity.
He has compassion on sinners.
In the parable today, Jesus demonstrates that, but first consider the lawyer who “stood up to put [Jesus] to the test” (Luke 10:25). Consider what he says:
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25).
In response, Jesus asks him two questions, and it’s important to notice exactly what He asks.
Because it’s not just, “What is written in the Law?”
It’s not just, “What do the words on the page say?”
Jesus adds, “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26).
Any fool can tell you what the Bible says.
Unbelievers quote the Bible all the time, right?
Only to call you a hypocrite though, right?
Lately, I’ve heard this quoted: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
What they mean is—do whatever the government tells you to do, but they forget that some things—your conscience, for example, or your children—some things don’t belong to Caesar, so render them to God.
Any fool can quote the Bible.
Even the demons do that—and shudder (cf. James 2:19).
But only the believer, only the one who, by faith, is righteous and lives, only he can explain with confidence how a sinner can be and is saved.
Jesus isn’t concerned with merely “What is written?” but also “How do you read it? How does what you read apply the mercy and salvation of God to you, to the poor, miserable sinner, and to all?”
For his part, the lawyer tries.
He’s read the words on the page: “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” (Luke 10:27; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5).
There isn’t a better answer than that, but the right answer doesn’t help him, because he doesn’t know how to apply them.
He knows the right answer from the catechism, but he doesn’t know what it looks like to live it out.
Jesus says, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28).
That’s not a nice thing to say.
If you think you can love God perfectly, if you think you can love your neighbor perfectly, why don’t you?
Jesus confronts the man with his inability to love God and neighbor.
But, “Desiring to justify himself, [the lawyer] said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29).
He doesn’t ask, “How could I possibly love God perfectly?”
He assumes that he does.
He assumes there’s nothing lacking in his heart with respect to God.
He thinks he needs only to define and redefine “neighbor” so that he can keep that, too.
So Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.
If you’re a priest, a levite, or the lawyer—this isn’t a nice parable.
Jesus’ words here hurt, just like when the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus told him to go and sell all that he had and give to the poor (cf. Luke 18:18-30).
These words are Law, spoken to break our self-justifications, so we can know our need for and receive the Gospel.
This is how God bestows mercy on us.
This is how He has compassion on us.
First, the diagnosis. Then, the cure.
And then, the prescription.
“A man was going…from Jerusalem to Jericho and…fell among robbers, who stripped him…beat him and departed, leaving him half dead…A priest was going down that road…and when he saw him he passed by on the other side…Likewise a Levite…[who] passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan…came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Luke 10:30-33).
Jesus then asks, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ [The lawyer] said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise’” (Luke 10:36-37).
Forget for a moment that this conversation is between a lawyer who doesn’t get it and Jesus who’s teaching about eternal life.
We can’t hear these words and refuse to help someone in need.
“You go, and do likewise.”
Sometimes, help takes the form of a $5 sandwich, or $50 for groceries, or a meal they didn’t cook, on plates they don’t have to wash, eaten at a table they don’t have to clean up.
Who hasn’t needed that?
And so, Christians help.
But this is true, too:
Sometimes, the help a person needs is an empty stomach that’s had to survive on beans, rice, and lard.
That can be help, exactly the help you need, if—for example—you’re unwilling to work.
St. Paul writes, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Help, whether it’s the help you need yourself or the help you need to give, is not always a happy thing. Christians are commanded to help those in need—even and especially if they’re people you don’t like.
That’s why it’s important that a Samaritan is the good guy in the parable—and the priest and the Levite aren’t. The ones who should help—don’t, and the one you don’t expect to help—does.
Jesus’ words cause some embarrassment here, on purpose, since we like our enemies to suffer and our friends to succeed. But see, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
The Good Samaritan helps a man who’s unfit to pay him back and, moreover, the Good Samaritan promises to pay for whatever else is needed to care for the man.
That’s an unattainable standard.
This parable is told to a man who desires to justify himself, and so, this part of the parable must first condemn all.
Everyone knows the Good Samaritan is the good guy.
No one wants to be the priest or levite.
But you aren’t the Good Samaritan, because you have a breaking point, a stopping point, a point at which you have to say, “No more.”
You’ll pay someone else’s bills—to a point, right?
But thank God you can evict him now, right?
You’ll do all the chores, without help and without complaint—for a time. Until you snap.
You’ll even love the unloveable—until your body gives out and you become a wailing, wretched mess.
All it takes is one bad day.
The Good Samaritan has no such limit.
He says, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back” (Luke 10:35).
That’s perfect love.
You’re not the Good Samaritan.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help. The Good Samaritan’s the only one who proved to be a neighbor, showing mercy.
But this lawyer desired to justify himself, and that must be destroyed.
Here, then, is the first way to read this parable: The priest and the Levite are unbelievers and those who claim to be Christians yet justify themselves, glorify themselves, and thank God for themselves.
The Samaritan is Jesus.
And you are the man left for dead, the one Jesus sees, the one upon whom He has compassion. He binds you up, applies oil and wine, carries him to an inn, and takes care of him.
Jesus has done that for each of us.
At one point, each of us had a heartbeat and no faith.
Left for dead in our trespasses and sins, then, our Lord came to deliver.
On us all, He had compassion.
With oil and wine He heals our wounds.
Oil, applied to the baptized or to the sick, is a fragrant remembrance of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Oil, in Scripture, has to do with healing.
We read in James chapter five: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:14-15).
Our own rites for Holy Baptism have a place for anointing with oil, as do the visitation rites for the sick, distressed, and dying.
The Good Samaritan applies oil, because Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to help, save, comfort, and defend us all.
Regarding wine—we know Jesus took the cup, after supper, and when He had given thanks, that He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins…” (cf. Matthew 26).
Wine gladdens the heart (cf. Psalm 104:15)…
Is good for the stomach (1 Timothy 5:23)…
And was chosen, by God, to be the means by which we receive the all-availing sacrifice of Jesus’ blood—with His body, under the bread—for the forgiveness of our sins.
With these, our Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
Jesus, the Good Samaritan, brings the man left for dead to an inn. The man can’t make the journey himself, so Jesus brings you into the inn of the Church.
And I think this is the best example of what the Office of the Holy Ministry is: you don’t survive off of the innkeeper—your survive off of the Word of the One who promises to make all things right when He returns.
I may plant.
And another may water.
But God gives the growth.
The Good Samaritan takes two denarii, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and tells the inn-keeping pastors, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back” (Luke 10:35).
That is the Lord’s bounty.
We may not be sufficient to the task, but He always is.
Jesus, the Good Samaritan, has gone. He’s ascended to His Father, and we see Him no more.
But we wait for Him to return—as He’s promised.
We are the man left for dead.
On our own, we couldn’t get to the inn.
On our own, we have nothing, are nothing, can do nothing.
But upon us, Jesus has compassion.
God’s bestows mercy and salvation upon humanity.
The lawyer must have been heartbroken since he desired to justify himself.
But you can rejoice.
You can’t “do” salvation.
But Jesus, the Good Samaritan, sees you, knows you, has compassion, and takes care of you.
From now unto life everlasting.
Having received His mercy, then, go and do likewise.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt