Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our Gospel Reading for today is perhaps our Lord’s most well-known parable—so much so that our country even has a law named after it, “the Good Samaritan Law.” And so, when thinking of this parable, this is the lens through which most people tend to think of it. Most people tend to think of this parable as nice advice to follow in life—show kindness to everyone because everyone is your neighbor. The problem is, this moral misses the true point of the parable. Notice how our Lord begins today’s Gospel Reading by saying to his disciples:
“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” (Luke 10:23b-24).
These words of our Lord are applicable not only to the disciples, though they do, of course, apply primarily to them. These words are also applicable to us, who have been blessed with eyes and ears to truly see and hear, too. What our Lord means is, in order to rightly understand the parable which he is about to tell, our eyes and ears must be open to understand rightly. This parable is not primarily about offering general advice for how the average person ought to live.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, our Lord teaches us how to live a life of Christian love. We will discuss how this applies in the three estates of life:
1.) in the world,
2.) in the home, and
3.) in the church.
II. The World
2. First we consider what this parable has to teach about how to live a life of Christian love in the world. Notice the question which the lawyer asks in verse 29, which causes our Lord to launch into the parable:
But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
This is the question that so many of us want to know. Who is my neighbor? That is to say, who do I actually need to care about and help? Or, in the words of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9b). See, one of the major points that our Lord wants to get across in this parable of the Good Samaritan is this—stop asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?”! It’s a bad question. The very fact that you ask the question reveals that you don’t actually want to help your neighbor. You want to weasel your way out on a technicality. This is easy to do when you make your neighbor an abstraction. And this is precisely what asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?”, does. My neighbor no longer has a name and a face and a need. My neighbor is someone hypothetical that I get to decide whether I should help or not. But you don’t get to decide who your neighbor is, so stop asking the question! Equally as problematic to asking this question is the assertion that my neighbor is “everyone.” This is not what Jesus is saying either. If everyone is my neighbor, then my neighbor continues to be an abstraction without a name and a face and a need. To say that everyone is my neighbor means that I can let myself off the hook—I can’t possibly help everyone, so why even try? But here is what our Lord wants us to learn from this parable about living in the world: Your neighbor is whoever is nearby you and is in need of mercy. Your neighbor is Tammy, the grocery store clerk who has had a long, hard day and just needs someone to say, “thank you” after a polite conversation at the checkout. Your neighbor is Bob, who lives next door and because of health problems needs someone to mow his lawn. Your neighbor is Shelly, the homeless lady who just needs someone to listen to her and to show that they care. Your neighbor is not some hypothetical person who might need help. Your neighbor is a real person who has a name and a face and a need. Throwing money at your neighbor’s problem rarely fixes it. You can’t say, “I’ve gone and done like the Good Samaritan” when you’ve given a homeless person a few dollars or put your tithe in the offering plate at church. When Our Lord says, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37b), he means, “Go and show mercy by getting to know the people nearby you so that you become aware of their needs and care about them enough to act.” The way that we live a life of Christian love in the world is by showing mercy to the concrete people who are nearby us and are in need.
III. The Home
3. Second, we consider what this parable has to teach about how to live a life of Christian love in the home. But you may ask in all godliness and piety, “Okay, Pastor, but how do we exercise wisdom in this? There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to help everyone that I want to who is in need. I have a family and other responsibilities that need me too.” You are absolutely right. There is a need to exercise godly wisdom in this. By necessity, we have to prioritize our time because we only have so much of it. Notice how the Samaritan handles this in the parable. After caring for the man personally, we read:
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” (Luke 10:35).
The Samaritan is not able to stay indefinitely. He, undoubtedly, had other vocations and matters to attend to. Our Lord never expects that you would completely neglect all other responsibilities. This is where the Samaritan leverages his money and his acquaintances. He has met the man’s immediate need. Now he is able to pass off his care to another person who will be able to see that he has what he needs. Now that the emergency has been dealt with, the Samaritan is able to return to his normal prioritization of life. So, what does this mean for us? Well, under normal circumstances, we ought to prioritize our unique vocations. In other words, ask yourself, “What vocations do I have which are unique to me and can’t be performed by others?” Likely, these vocations will be the relationships in your family life—your relationships as husband, wife, father, mother, or child. You are irreplaceable in these vocations, so you must prioritize them above everything else. Next, consider those vocations which could only be performed by others in great need and at great cost. Likely, these will be your responsibilities to provide for your family and others—your duties at home, your work, or your volunteer work. These responsibilities should be your secondary priority after your primary relationships. In this way, you can see how to prioritize your time and energy in living a life of Christian love. There, of course, may be emergencies which cause these priorities to be shifted for a brief time, such as in the case of the Good Samaritan. But as soon as the emergency is resolved, things must return to normal. Our primary priorities in living a life of Christian love are first, the unique relationships of our family, and second, our unique responsibilities. All else follows this.
IV. The Church
4. Finally, we consider what this parable has to teach about how to live a life of Christian love in the church. Quite simply, our life of Christian love stems from the church. It is here that we learn, yes, about our responsibilities toward others. But more importantly that this, it is here that we are reminded that while we might be called at times to be a Good Samaritan toward others, Jesus is our Good Samaritan who rescued us from the darkness and despair of sin and death. He has healed our wounds and provided for our needs at great cost to himself—at the cost of his own life, in fact. And he has put us in the care of the church—our inn—which cares for us as we await our Lord’s return. This is why the Church is the heartbeat of the Christian life. Here we are anointed with our Lord’s Word of forgiveness. Here we are sustained with the wine that is our Lord’s blood, which strengthens us in our life of Christian love. Here we are both given the ability and taught how to “go and do likewise.” My friends, the life of Christian love begins and ends here in the Church with Christ. The life of Christian love does not despair of its shortcomings and sins when we inevitably fail to live how our Lord commands us. The life of Christian love commits its shortcomings and sins to Christ and seeks relentlessly to “go and do likewise” because of the great mercy that we have been shown. The life of Christian love begins and ends in the Church with Christ as we go from here seeking to show our neighbors the same mercy that we have been shown. May God make it so for Jesus’ sake.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.