A generation or so after Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, Saint Paul writes these words to the church in Galatia: Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed 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. If only the expert in the Law could have heard St. Paul’s words! He did, actually. He heard them put another way from the Messiah’s mouth.
The Law that gives life first comes from the expert’s mouth. Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the summary of the Ten Commandments. Do this, and you will live Jesus tells him. The Law, however, not only shows what you are to be doing, it also shows you that you can’t do it. Not only that, but the Law also gives you no power to do love God and love your neighbor. So that’s where you look to punt to something else. Even though the Law blocks your punt every time you try, it didn’t stop the expert in the Law from asking who is my neighbor.
The expert in the Law tries to trap Jesus. Jesus, in return, traps the lawyer by telling a parable about a man who falls into a trap. The trap the man in the parable falls into is a band of robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Half dead, you say. Sounds like the man laying there on the way to Jericho still has a chance to help himself. Half dead is better than full dead.
There’s nothing he can do. The robbers have done their work. The robbers are much like the devil. He throws the book at you, so to speak, to see how you’ll recover. You won’t recover from the devil’s attacks. He comes to steal your soul. He delivers both temporal and eternal death. Who will save you from this miserable state of being half dead?
Along comes a priest. Let’s consider the priest as the Law of God. The Law can only show you what you’re supposed to do and not to do. The Law, again, has no power to save you or help you. The Law is like the sparrows in the story of Peter Rabbit. Peter Rabbit is caught in a gooseberry net. All the sparrows can do is urge Peter Rabbit to free himself. Peter wriggles out just in time. You won’t wriggle out just in time because you’re half dead and the Law can’t help you. You’re stuck.
Along comes a Levite. Let’s consider the Levite as the words of the prophets. The prophets preach the coming of a Savior, but they also preach condemning Law. They can only point you to someone who is coming. They have no power to save you. They are only delivering a message. Granted some prophets were given the ability to perform miracles, but there’s no miracle today. Like the priest, the Levite passes by on the other side.
The story so far: you’re half dead, beaten by robbers, and a priest and a Levite have avoided you. How’s that who is my neighbor thing working out for you now? How’s your love for God going to get you out of this mess? Someone must rescue you. Someone must be a neighbor for you. Someone must come and not urge you to help yourself or point you to someone else for help. Someone must be that Helper for you.
That someone is a Samaritan. Granted our Savior is a Jew, yet He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. To the expert in the Law, to those who come to test Jesus and trap Him in His own words, even to His own people, even in our own eyes, Jesus is a Samaritan. Some from His own people even go as far as to say Jesus has a demon. A Samaritan helping anyone, especially a Jew, is unprecedented. It is practically impossible and, even if it would happen, you would be inclined to think that at some point the Samaritan will finish off the half dead man and leave him fully dead.
Not this Samaritan. He came to where the man was. The man could not come to him. He comes to the man. He doesn’t plunge a spear into his side to finish him off, though. He felt sorry for the man. He has compassion for him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He put him on his own animal, took him to an inn, and took care of him. A Samaritan, the least-likeliest person to help a Jew, or for that matter anyone else, comes to the man and takes care of him. The Samaritan loves his neighbor. In loving his neighbor, he also loves God.
There’s more. The next day, when he left, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him. Whatever extra you spend, I will repay you when I return.” Again, the Samaritan loves his neighbor and in so doing also loves God. A Jew hearing this parable would have to question what God the Samaritan loves. After all, they turned their backs on the one true God and are half-Assyrian, half-Jew. If there’s any race among the nations who should have no love for God and neighbor, it’s the Samaritans.
Jesus turns everything on its head in this parable. A Samaritan showing mercy? A priest and Levite, the two obvious choices to show mercy, finding a way to escape from showing mercy? The best part is about to happen. Which of these three do you think acted like a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers? Don’t look now, but the trap is set. Only this time Jesus isn’t in the trap. The expert in the Law is about to have the jaws of the trap dig into his flesh. Not only is he embarrassed to say the word “Samaritan”, he’s also about to get caught in the trap of the Law. Four words are all it takes: Go and do likewise.
These four words hit us in every direction. The Old Adam hears these words and gnashes his teeth. The harder you try to go and do likewise, the more you see you can’t go and do likewise. Actually you won’t go and do likewise unless you get to pick your neighbor. You can’t pick your neighbor. He or she is all around you. Yet the New Man hears these words and rejoices that there is another opportunity to show forth the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. You are His workmanship. Every day the Lord sets before you ample opportunities to show that as Christ has had compassion on you by carrying you to His cross and to His empty tomb, where you see what He has done for your spiritual death.
What is more, our Lord also carries you through the font in your baptism, puts His Body and Blood in your mouth, and mounts you up on eagles’ wings as you take comfort in His undeserved love for you. Only as you cling to His wings are you able to show mercy to your neighbor in His need. You need not go looking for opportunities. They will come looking for you, even in your own household.
You are free from the trap of death that the Law springs. Jesus takes your place in that trap, carrying you to safety. In your place there stands Jesus in the trap, showing compassion upon His children. The expert in the Law is set in that trap as well, and so are you when you, like him, think there is another way to punt out of loving God and loving your neighbor. There is only one way out: Jesus Christ. His love for you has set you free to love others, for we love because He first loved us. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.