What did the disciples see and hear that made their eyes and ears blessed? It was something many prophets and kings desired to see…and did not see it, not to mention what prophets and kings not hearing what they heard. The disciples saw the Good News in action among 72 others sent by Jesus ahead of Him. They saw, as it were, Satan fall like lightning from heaven as demons were subject to them in His name. The Father’s will is revealed to little children, not merely in age but in believing the preaching of the Father’s only-begotten Son.
After all the excitement of healing the sick and demons made subject to the 72, Saint Luke includes an interesting encounter with a lawyer. The man is not a lawyer as we know them, but is a student of Torah, the fullness of the Law of God revealed primarily in the first five books of the Old Testament. The lawyer doesn’t get the fact that the One He challenges is Torah in flesh. The lawyer calls Him, “Teacher”. He does not call Him Lord or even Jesus. “Teacher”. The question the lawyer asks gets to the heart of the matter not only for what happens earlier in Luke chapter ten, but for Luke’s entire Gospel. What shall I do to inherit eternal life?
The answer is love. Satan falls like lightning from heaven because the love of God in Christ Jesus is proclaimed. Jesus comes to heal the sick from their sin; a full healing by removing the debt owed to the Father and paying that debt in full. Jesus Christ loves His Father by willingly, obediently, suffering death to make the payment for the wages of sin. He dies that we may never die. That is love, a love stronger than death.
The lawyer knows the answer to his own question. Love. Jesus even tells him he knows the answer. Do this, Jesus says, and you will live. That’s not enough for the lawyer. Who is my neighbor? The lawyer perhaps knows the answer to this question. By the end of the parable, though, the lawyer’s answer and Jesus’ answer are two different answers.
If what Jesus tells in the parable of the merciful Samaritan is true, then the lawyer has had his worldview exploded, stomped on, and thrown in the trash. A lawyer studying the Law of God, zealous for the traditions of his fathers, answers that his neighbor is his fellow Jew. As Saint Paul says in Galatians chapter six: as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. The lawyer wants to remove the prepositional phrase to everyone. Yet as a child of God, you are given to show mercy to everyone. Yes, especially to other Christians, but chiefly to everyone, especially your enemy.
That is what stands at the heart of the parable of the merciful Samaritan. So often we hear him called the “good” Samaritan. What he does is good, yes, but what he does chiefly is be merciful. A couple months ago we heard Jesus say be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. But what do we do with the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable? They are the ones who should be the ultimate example of being merciful. Here we have a man half-dead lying by the side of the road. This is their opportunity to do good to one who is of the household of faith.
They keep walking. Not only do they keep walking, they go out of their way not to help by going from one side of the road to another. This dodging of the half-dead man is quite a feat in itself. They are, as it were, going out of their way not to help. God forbid they end up like this man. There may be robbers who will do to him as they did to the man lying in the road. Better to be safe than sorry. Better luck next time. They will take a rain check.
There is no rain check when it comes to doing good to your neighbor. The Law of God says Love. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. No percentages of love. God is looking for whole-hearted love, a wellspring of love that knows no end. There are no enemies when one shows mercy to everyone. In fact, your enemy should be the number one target to whom you should show mercy. Yet the priest and the Levite look out for themselves and won’t help. Their actions do not jibe with Christ’s words to the lawyer: do this, and you will live.
A half-dead man cannot raise himself. Someone must help. A Samaritan, the bitterest enemy of a Jew, is the one who helps in the parable. When he saw him, he had compassion. His guts churned for the man. This is a reaction from one’s guts. It is an instinctive reaction to seeing someone dying. You can’t help but help. At great cost to his life and livelihood, the Samaritan went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
The Samaritan’s plans are interrupted. He spends at least two days pay and risks his life to show mercy to his neighbor. Perhaps the half-dead man is a Jew; perhaps he isn’t a Jew. It doesn’t matter. He is shown love, a love that goes above and beyond what is necessary. The love shown to him saves his life, at the cost of the Samaritan also falling prey to robbers.
This is more than the lawyer can take. He can’t even answer Jesus’ question at the end of the parable: Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? If the lawyer says, “The Samaritan”, he’s in deep trouble with his fellow lawyers. “Samaritan” is akin to saying the dirtiest of all dirty words. The lawyer stays true to form saying only, the one who showed him mercy. Then comes the ultimate gotcha: You go, and do likewise. Hey, lawyer, be a merciful Samaritan. Do the thing you hate to do most of all. Love your neighbor who isn’t in the household of faith. You want to keep the Law? Then keep it all the way.
Whether because you won’t or you can’t keep the Law of loving God and loving your neighbor, Jesus keeps it. He seeks half-dead, actually fully dead people, fully dead to sin, and rescues them because they can’t rescue themselves. The love of God in flesh, bones, muscle, and blood picks you up and carries you from death to life. He satisfies your debt of sin by exposing Himself to the worst punishment possible. He sheds His blood to set you right with the Father. He rises from the grave as the Forerunner for your own resurrection from the grave.
As He shows you mercy, so you, like the lawyer, are given to go, and do likewise. Your success in showing mercy to your neighbor won’t match that of Jesus Christ. You’ll fail. You’ll pull the priest and Levite rain check and find a way around the situation. You’ll ignore what is in front of you to save your skin. Where you fall short in showing mercy to your neighbor, and you will fall short, Jesus never falls short. His mercy, His love for sinners, even His greatest enemies, always hits the mark.
When you see Jesus at work in His Gifts under water, bread, and wine, when you hear Jesus at work in His Gifts of preaching and absolution, you see God’s mercy in Jesus Christ in action for you. Having seen, heard, and tasted that the Lord is good; you go forth to love your neighbor, even your enemies, as you love yourself. When you look for a way out, or when your love for others has failed, Christ is here for you to forgive your sins and give you His life. Blessed are your eyes and ears, for they see and hear Jesus at work for you.