Trinity 13 – Luke 10:23-37 – September 2nd, 2012
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
There are two ways of trying to live, of trying to deal with God. One can try to approach God via the Law and obedience, or one can live under the Gospel and Grace. One can stand before God and point to one's works, or one can simply say, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." These are the two paths, the two ways of life that are present, and sadly, most people opt for the option of the Law. Most people wish to stand before God with a laundry list of all that they have done for Him, how good they have been. That's just how we want our relationships on earth to work - we like being able to say, "you owe me" - we like the idea of you wash my back, I'll wash yours. We try to make our relationship with God work the same way. We want to be in charge, and so, we flee to the Law. We cling to our actions.
This is the approach of the lawyer, the student of the Law, in our text today. "And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" A few things to note about this question. First, Luke notes for us that this question is a test. Consider - the man is a lawyer, a student of the law. He wants to see Jesus' bona fides, see if Jesus is really up to snuff. It's the feeling out of another -- seeing if this other fellow will be able to talk shop with him. He's not really seeking to learn - rather he's trying to find out of Jesus is his peer, is worth his time in talking to. Do you get a sense of the pride and ego involved -- and that's part and parcel of how sinful man likes to operate. We like to rank ourselves, rate ourselves compared to others, and if we are better, more knowledgeable, we can enjoy putting another in "their place". That's just how human structures work - and that's all this lawyer is expecting. Something Law based, something earthy, something like what he might see the rest of the time in this dog eat dog world.
Second, the focus on the Law, on ego, on works comes out clearly in the question. "What must *I* do to inherit eternal life." Again, it's all about me, about my action. And in a twisted way -- because it's asking what I must to to... inherit. Let me ask a question - what must I, Eric Brown, only child of Gregory and June Brown, do to inherit my parent's stuff? Seriously - what do I have to do? I really don't have to do anything - it's not a competition or a game show. I don't do anything. Yet, what is this Lawyer's approach -- is eternal life a gift of a gracious God, the birthright of those He has called to be His children? Is it even something that he thinks should be his as a child of Abraham... nope - what must I do? Such a Law, such a works righteous focus.
So Jesus decides to address these issues - Jesus shows who is boss by turning the question around, and He also shows the foolishness of the question by asking one of His own. "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" You say you are a master of the Law of Moses, well, tell me what's in the Law. And the Lawyer responds, "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." Fair enough. Deuteronomy 6:5. Good answer - this is what God commands, this is a fine summation of the Law... but was the promise of the Law "eternal life" and how one inherits it? Moses introduced the commands saying, "Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey." This was the instruction to Israel on how to dwell in the promised land... but it says nothing of eternal life or forcing an inheritance. In fact, the point is that God has promised you the land - if you want to enjoy it, here's how you enjoy it... but the land is promised to you by God because that is who God is. This lawyer misses the point - he tries to point to his works as earning eternal life, when no, the passage isn't about eternal life. And to seal the deal, Jesus responds to him saying, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live." Oh, you spoke correctly, straightly, said something true - something "orthos" in the Greek - something straight and correct -- like in the word "Orthodox" or "orthodontist". Do this and you will live. For this is the Law -- if you do the Law, you will live. The only problem is this -- the cost of breaking the law is death. Breaking the Law is sin, and sin is death. And as you have sinned... guess what you aren't going to do.
The Lawyer tries to recover. "Be he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'and who is my neighbor?'" Embarassment creeps in. He basically got to give a simple Sunday School answer that any Jewish boy of 6 would be able to give -- love God, love your neighbor. Simple. And so this Lawyer tries to turn things around -- okay Jesus, tell me who my neighbor is. This shows another one of the things that living under the Law does -- it drives people to hunt for loopholes. Sinful man will treat God's Law the same way we do tax laws -- we will look for every deduction and write off that we can find, all to lessen the burden. Alright, tell me just who my neighbor is that I have to love... and more to the point, who isn't my neighbor, whom can I ignore, whom can I hate?
And so Jesus tells the familiar story - the story of the Good Samaritan. There's the man, traveling along the rocky road between Jerusalem and Jericho. It's a dangerous road, lots of hills and cliffs in which bandits could hide - and this man runs afoul of some - and they rob him and beat him near to death, leaving him for dead. And there he lies. A priest comes by - high, holy, respected... and the priest passes on by. As does a Levite - another highly respected man, a good Jew. And let us be fair - this is understandable. I could take any of you here to parts of Dallas or Chicago where you'd lock the doors and just want me to drive on through as quickly as possible. A man lying beaten and possibly dead means there's danger - hurry on your way. But then a third man comes by - a Samaritan. Someone who would have been despised and hated - looked down upon by Jesus' listeners, probably looked down upon even by that beaten man. And what does the Samaritan do? He rescues the man, treats his wounds, even puts the man on his own donkey -- which is incredibly brave. If the robbers come again, the donkey might be able to flee to safety, carrying the beaten man... the Samaritan would be left at the mercy of the robbers. And even when they both reach the safety of the inn, this Samaritan opens up his pocket book, drops down good solid cash to care for this stranger, with the promise of more. Consider - this Samaritan is someone despised, he's far from home - that inn might be his only point of safety... and what if the next time that inn keeper says, "Ah, you owe me another 20 denarii"? The Samaritan would have to pay, or again, his life would be in danger as he is forced outdoors at night amongst the robbers. Incredibly bold love and care is shown. And so, telling the story Jesus asks, "'Which of these, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?' He said, 'The one who showed him mercy.' And Jesus said to him, 'You go and do likewise.'"
Jesus teaches us about love here - what love looks like. And even as He instructs us to go and do likewise -- let's be honest. That's not often what our love looks like, is it? Or even if we muster up enough fortitude to go through the motions - how often is there grumbling or a bit of disdain, disquiet in the back of our minds? And here is the thing - if we try to live by the Law, try to show our worth to God by the Law, what we end up doing is ignoring that disdain, or overlooking the times when we don't show love - whitewashing our own actions, puffing up the times where we do okay into something grandiose and sweeping the dirt of our lives under the rug and pretending it's not there. Like the Priest and the Levite we simply skirt by uncomfortable truths, difficult tasks, and go on our merry way. The only problem is this -- the Law says "Do this and you will live" -- not pretend that you've done this and you will live. If we try to justify ourselves as the Lawyer did, God's perfect Law will only show us how far short we fall. And even when we strive to go and do likewise, if we look honestly, we will see that we have not done what we ought - we will see that we do not deserve to live.
There are two ways that man can try to live. The first is the way of the Law, of works. Christ our Lord shows us today that this is false, a pipe dream. But do you remember what He had said to start off our Gospel reading? "Then turning to the disciples He said privately, 'Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it.'" That's kind of cryptic, isn't it? But the point is this -- there is a second way to live -- and that is to live under grace, under mercy. Consider the man beaten by robbers. How was he to live? Was he to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and live? Was he to dust himself off and just do better next time he travelled? Well, it would have been a bit late for that, wouldn't it have? No, for him to live, another had to rescue him, had to show him mercy. And that is what the prophets, that is what the kings had longed to see - the Messiah who would once and for all accomplish God's mercy, for even lawyer knew that God desires mercy. The love that sinful man does not show, the Messiah would. Man had fallen amongst sin and death, and so Christ Jesus would come and rescue us. He would deliver us from the valley of the shadow of death - He would go to the Cross and there pour out mercy upon us all by the shedding of His blood. He would rise from the dead so that we too would rise, not by our strength but by His.
My dear friends - you will not live, you will not have eternal life if you seek it on your own terms or by your own works. You simply won't - you can't do enough to earn it. But God knows that, and God is merciful, and so out of His love for you He has sent His Son to win you life and salvation and to give it to you freely by His grace, to preach it to you, to cover you with it in your baptism, to feed it to you in His Supper. Live in His mercy, live a life of repentance and forgiveness, and Christ who has died to see that you inherit eternal life with the Will and Testament in His blood shall see that you have it in full. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.