Summary: Christ gave the story of the Good Samaritan to expose our failure to show mercy to one and all. Christ is the true Good Samaritan, showing mercy to us all.
Yesterday the New York Daily News had an article titled “Little Duckling has Guardian Angel as Good Samaritan Rescues it at New York Botanical Garden.” It’s about a New Yorker, who saw a little duckling and wanted to save it from predators. So she scooped it up, took it home, and let the duckling frolic in her bathtub that night. Then on the following day she took it to a safe place called “Berkshire Bird Paradise,” where it would be cared for along with many other “saved” birds.
The news likes to use the term “Good Samaritan” as an abbreviated way of describing a person who goes out of their way to help someone else, especially as the rest of the world walks by. Is that what a Good Samaritan is? Well, actually, the original question that produced the story of the Good Samaritan wasn’t “Who is a Good Samaritan?” but rather, “Who is my neighbor?”
But this question actually was the follow-up question on an even deeper question: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" What does eternal life have to do with my neighbor? As the question implies, being an heir to eternal life doesn’t depend on who my neighbor is, but what I do. At least that was thinking of the expert in the law. But I’d like you to notice something when you read Christ’s discussions with others. If someone asks Jesus a question, and Jesus answers with another question, you’ll find that Christ’s questioner was working with a wrong premise.
Let’s look at the ‘wrong’ premise of the expert’s question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What does a son have to do to inherit his father’s land? Isn’t the inheritance a gift, something for which the parent had worked for? Well, we know of parents, who were so upset with their children, that they wrote them out of the will. Maybe the expert realized that God has good reason to disinherit his children. Since he obviously believed in the possibility of hell, he wanted to know how he could make the list of ‘heirs,’ so that God’s vengeance would not be upon him. Since the expert in the law, emphasized his own doing as the cause of making the list of God’s heirs, Jesus pursues this and in essence says, “Okay, expert on the law, tell me, what does the law say you have to do in order to become an heir of eternal life?”
“'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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” His answer could have come right out of catechism classes. He answers with both tables of the Law. God wants us to love him and our neighbor. But what an impossibility! Who can claim that he does everything out of a perfect love for God? Even if you do the right thing, but fail to do it because you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, you have failed to observe the law. Every aspect of your being must love God: Pastor F.W. Wenzel describes the love God demands of us: “the heart puts sincerity into the love; the soul, feeling and warmth; the mind, intelligence; the strength, the power.”
Consider the best environment for loving God as he demands. Isn’t it here in his house - together with your fellow Christians. But how well did you show your love for him in the first half of our worship? Did you sincerely bring your sins before God, admitting your failures and lack of love? Did you answer God’s merciful forgiveness with a heartfelt song of thanks, or did you get lost in thought, falling into mind-numbing repetition? Did you ponder both hymns we’ve sung so far, as prayers that you are bringing before the Almighty? Was your strength all their in your worship? If we can’t even love God perfectly for one hour, what hope can we have of remaining on his list of heirs?
But the person next to you, can’t say, “I’ve noticed that your worship was half-hearted.” The most obvious examples of someone who is weak in their love for God are those ways in which they fail to serve God by loving their neighbor. So when Jesus accepted the expert’s answer and said, “Do this and you will live,” the expert must have felt a twinge of guilt. Luke says, “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” We all try to justify ourselves before God: ‘I’m a good father, worker, friend, and neighbor to the guy next door… at least the one who is nice to me on the one side.’ Is that enough? Though there are a lot of holes in that argument already, Jesus zeroes in on the false premise of the expert. The man is trying to limit the number of people he needs to love as himself. Jesus doesn’t let him get away with it. And finally we get to the story of the Good Samaritan and the real question we all have to ask ourselves.