Luke 10:23-37 (Parable of the Good Samaritan)
(Jesus), how many times must I forgive my neighbor when he sins against me? (Matthew 18:21)
(Jesus), who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 18:1)
The Gospel accounts are full of Jesus responding to such “bad questions,” questions that are operating from a presumed truth that is not true. The parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus responding to just such a question.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now, the question desires to obtain something valuable. What’s more valuable than eternal life – life with God, not separated from Him? This sounds priceless, doesn’t it? What sacrifice, what effort, what work might go into obtaining such a lavish thing? It’s not a scoff-worthy question at all. It’s predictable. It seems right in line with how things go.
So Jesus lets the question ride. He goes with it.
What is written in the law? How do you read it?
The lawyer is no dolt. He’s got the answer well in hand: Love God above all things. Love your neighbor as yourself.
“Love God. Love people.” That sounds like a very uncomplicated way to obtain eternal life, right? Jesus concurs: “(YOU) Do this and you will live (eternally).”
And these two uncomplicated instructions have a subject – a doer. You! You, love God. You, love people. This uncomplicated version of “obtaining eternal life” puts you and me right in the crosshairs! And eternal life is valuable enough that we will do the necessary inspection work, hoping to rule out any unfortunate missteps. You and I – we’re going to have to “check our work.” We are left to audit our “love.” Do I love God? Do you love your neighbor?
But an honest self-audit of our “love” is not so kind and gentle as we often imagine. Rather, it leaves us in the same dark place as St. Paul from his confession in Romans 7:
For I delight in the law of God (of “love”) according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:22-24)
That’s St. Paul’s audit… SAINT Paul! The best he’s got to offer are good intentions and wretched results.
WHO WILL DELIVER ME FROM THIS BODY OF DEATH?
The question that means to earn eternal life turns into a desperate plea of rescue from death! But this spiral to the bottom of ourselves also gives us a better, in fact a life-giving, question: Who has been a neighbor to me?
An unlikely One, that’s who. One who has no reason to stop for you and yet does. A Compassionate One. One who is moved to intervene because of your helplessness and my hopelessness. In fact, the answer to this better question, as routine and “old” as it has become, has been spoken together by Christians for centuries the world over in the Apostle’s Creed. Who has been a neighbor like this FOR ME?
I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, Our Lord.
I believe in the One who became my Neighbor by being conceived and born of human flesh FOR ME.
I believe in the One who suffered and died FOR ME – The One who rescued me from my dying and my death with His riches: not gold or silver but His holy precious blood – His compassionate suffering and death.
I believe in the Neighbor who has promised to come back for me – the One who according to the great expense He has provided will bring me with Him for all time and eternity.
This Parable of the Good Samaritan is certainly a picture of love and charity. What it is not is an invitation to find in ourselves the charitable one. Rather we find ourselves learning the question, “Who is this Samaritan Neighbor FOR ME?” In that question, the sinner is given Jesus! In Jesus there is love and charity so full and so complete that it delivers eternal life!
The One who shows us mercy is our Neighbor. And in His abundant mercy, we are free to go, and do likewise.
Pastor Kyle Madson
Norseland & Norwegian Grove Lutheran Churches
Editor – Lutheran Sentinel