5th Sunday After Pentecost – Vicar Ferguson

In the Holy Name of Jesus.

Christ our Lord in today’s reading tells the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” What are we supposed to go and do? Have mercy on others as the Good Samaritan? Are we to love our fellow man? There are a lot of bad people in the world. And we are expected to go and have mercy even on them?

The last question that Jesus poses to the Lawyer is a little cryptic. It is subtly worded and easily overlooked. Let us look at what Jesus is asking the man. The question that Jesus asked isn’t, “Who is the neighbor to the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan.” The question that Jesus asks is, “Who was the neighbor to the man who fell among the thieves?” There is a difference between the two.

You cannot choose your neighbors. You move and you inherit your neighbors. They might leave the area on account of you being a nuisance or something, but by in large you don’t get to choose them. That certain lawyer was looking to who he was supposed to be neighborly. The Lawyer had in mind a particular kind of people who he thought he could be a neighbor to. For example, there is a homeless man down street and every so often he thought about buying him some food and giving it to him, ya know being a neighbor and all.

But that is not what our Lord is talking about. You could of course be a neighbor to the homeless man down the street and hand him a sandwich. But does that inherit eternal life? No, as the old Luther hymn goes, “My own good works all came to naught, No grace or Merit gaining.”[1] Your good deeds of Samaritanism do not put you in a place to inherit eternal life. Besides that, it is clear that you are the half-dead man on the road. It is clear that you are in no place to help others. Your half-dead quality is not specifically physical. Your sin causes physical death, but without remedy you soul will die. Your fallen state has left you spiritually half-dead on the road. You are not up to the task of saving others.

Jesus asks the lawyer, “who was neighbor to the man who fell among the thieves?” There is a passivity here which the lawyer did not ask. The lawyer wanted to know who he was to be neighbor to. Jesus wanted the Lawyer to know who his neighbor is. The question isn’t, “Who are you supposed to be neighborly with?” but rather, “Who is your neighbor?” Jesus cleverly rewords the question to show that you do not inherit salvation by being neighborly to someone. You inherit salvation by someone being neighborly to you.

So, who is your neighbor? Who do you go to when the store is closed and you need a cup of sugar? This is the question. Jesus, like our dear friend Mr. Rogers, is asking us “Won’t you be my neighbor?” We are half-dead along a desolate road in the middle of the night and we hear Jesus asking us to be his neighbor. What do we say in reply? “No thanks Jesus. I will wait here for the state patrolmen to come by and he will save me. I trust that the government has my best interests in mind. I’ll have him be my neighbor”. “No thanks Jesus, I hear and ambulance coming by. They have decent medical training. They can save me.”

In the moment of death, we would turn away from the creator of the universe and trust in some other person who’s doomed to die like the rest of us? I am not accusing you of being so foolish, you are here today in church hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments. As Christians we know that Jesus is our neighbor. He is the one who on the road of life stops where we are and picks us up and brings us to the place where we can heal. Jesus is the one who anoints our wounds and cleanses us from sin. He is the one who has set up those who take care of us until he returns. Jesus is the one who will return to finish the job. Jesus is our neighbor.

When you are half-dead on the road of life, turn to Jesus and trust that he will do what he has done many times before. Jesus has saved others let him save you. The almighty creator of all things is a capable physician. He has your best interests in mind. If that means restoring you to full health, then he will do so. If it means that your time is up, he will take to you away from this valley of sorrow to be with him in heaven.[2] Worrying is futile. Who among us can add an hour to our life?[3] Trust in Jesus. Trust in our Good Samaritan. How then can we inherit eternal life? Have Jesus as your neighbor and eternal life is yours.

Go and do likewise. That is what Jesus means by this story that he tells. Go and have Jesus as your neighbor. This is salvation. Jesus finds you and brings you to the inn of his church and keeps you safe there until he returns. The spiritual triage of Jesus is the medicine of immortality. Take the mercies he pours out on you and trust that they will keep you safe until he comes again. Neither the Word of God nor the Sacraments will fail you while you are as this inn: because Jesus does not fail you.

While we are at the inn how are we to treat our fellow guests? In our neighbors we are to see God. Our Lord tells us that whatever we do for the least among us, we do so to God.[4] When we see a fellow Christian in dire straits, we see someone loved by God. We can love this person because God loves this person. We know how to bear with each other’s suffering for God has borne ours. We know how to love because God loves us. We know how to be Good Samaritans because God is our Good Samaritan. Our love for others fails unless we rely on the love of God.

The story of the Good Samaritan is not about you. This story is not about how you can get enough charity write-offs in order to avoid the eternal hellfire. There is no role for you in this story besides the half-dead man on the side of the road. Neither the Priest nor the Levite who pass by on the other side have a place for Jesus in their lives. They are content to offer sacrifices and not to give a rip about their relation to Jesus. You do not want to be them. You do not want to follow where they go. You are not the Good Samaritan. If you are then why are you here? The Good Samaritan does not stay in the inn as a guest. He goes ahead and returns later. You are the half-dead man on the side of the road who Jesus cares for. Thanks be to God that Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

In the Holy Name of Jesus.

[1] Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice. LSB 556

[2] Luther’s Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer 7th petition.

[3] Matthew 6:27 paraphrased

[4] Matthew 25:40 paraphrased

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