The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost July 22, 2007
417, 270, 439, 370
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested [Jesus] saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus answered and said:“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves? And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
In the name of Jesus, who speaks with all the authority of God Himself, dear fellow Christians:
Have you ever driven by a big league ballpark while a baseball game was in progress, and wished that you were inside? You see the parking lots filled with orderly rows of vehicles, and the lights shining through the stadium’s huge windows. You picture the teams on the field, and imagine the cheers of the crowd. Attending a game in person is an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
But how does a select group of 30,000 people get in, while many others can only drive by and imagine the sights and sounds inside? They are just like everyone else, except for one thing. They are allowed to pass through the turnstiles of the stadium gate, because they have tickets. You could argue, “Look, I have my baseball cap and glove, my seat cushion, and money for the concession stand. I should be allowed in.” But it wouldn’t work. You could try to make your own ticket, and tell a person at the gate, “If you hold it far enough away, it almost looks like the real thing.” But it wouldn’t work. It is an unbending requirement that you need a ticket to get in.
“What do I need to get into heaven?” asked the expert in the law. What is required of a person before he is admitted into the perfect joy of eternal life? Jesus directed the man to God’s Word, the source of all truth: “What is written in the Law?” The man replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” “That’s right,” Jesus told him, “do this and you will live.” Love is the fulfillment of the Law. That is the required ticket to get into heaven.
But the expert in the law needed further clarification. It couldn’t be that simple and broad—just a blanket command to love God and neighbor. There have to be defining limits to one’s love. For example, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responded with the familiar story of a man attacked by robbers as he was walking the 17 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a likely scenario, because the road was narrow and winding, and there were many caves and rocky outcroppings in which to hide. The victim was robbed, beaten, and left for dead along the road. By chance a priest came along, took one look, and quickly walked by on the other side. A Levite arrived, stared at the battered, bloody body, but he, too, crossed over to the opposite side and went on. Both these men were church leaders. They knew about God’s command to love one’s neighbor, so why didn’t they stop and help. They probably reasoned that the law didn’t apply in this case. They might become ceremonially unclean. What if the attackers were still lurking nearby? They didn’t know the man. What could they do? He was probably beyond help anyway.
They narrowly defined and restricted the command to love one’s neighbor. But God doesn’t! The love the Law requires is that shown by the third traveler. If anyone had an excuse to ignore the wounded man, the Samaritan did. There was intense hatred between Samaritans and Jews. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as rank heathen, and the Samaritans saw the Jews as arrogant religious snobs. The Samaritan traveler could have told himself that if the tables were turned, the wounded Jew would not stop for him, and so he was certainly not going to risk his life for this stranger either. But love overruled every excuse and objection. The Samaritan’s heart was filled with genuine compassion for the man.
God’s Law does not merely suggest that kind of love as a noble goal. It requires it for eternal life. But then we look at our own lives. We have not pulled over for every fellow driver stranded on the shoulder of the highway. We may not have helped the person whose grocery sack broke in the parking lot. We have walked right by family members in need of help. There are many in the community whom we easily ignore, because we don’t know them personally.
We can list all kinds of reasons for not recognizing these people as neighbors to whom we owe love, but the point is, God’s law has no loopholes. The love it requires recognizes everyone whom we meet as a neighbor. The best we can offer is a cheap imitation of the real thing. God doesn’t say, “Love a few,” or “Love many,” but simply, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we don’t have that, we don’t get in.
The Samaritan not only recognized the injured man as his neighbor, he himself became a neighbor by putting love into action. He went to the man, crouched down, cleaned out his wound with wine, put oil on as a salve, and bandaged him. He took him to an inn, cared for him throughout the night, and when he had to leave the next morning, paid for extended care. He truly loved his neighbor as himself. That is the love required by God’s law.
We learn and speak of it, but do we always live it? Do we sometimes avoid the sick or dying, because it makes us uncomfortable or it’s inconvenient? Do we hear of families who have lost everything in a flood, but do nothing, because we tell ourselves the government or the Red Cross will step in to help? Do we fail to act, because we do not personally know the one in need? James writes, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16 NIV).
God requires a neighborly love that always leaps into action whenever there is a need. But we do not have that in and of ourselves, and so the law condemns us. If you don’t have it, you don’t get in. There are no exceptions, no excuses. As Paul warns, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:19-20 NIV).
When Jesus told the expert in the law, “Do this and you will live” it was like dropping a house on a mosquito and telling him to lift it off himself. It is impossible for anyone to love as unconditionally and completely as God requires. But the situation is not hopeless because the same God who lays down the requirement of the law is the Lord of promise and love who provides, as a free gift to all, the very love He requires.
That love came in the person of Jesus. He is the perfect good Samaritan. We were lying in the road dead in trespasses and sins. Jesus put aside everything else to come and be with us. He fulfilled the Law for us by loving God and His neighbor in every way. He made up for our lovelessness by suffering the penalty for all sin on the cross. He became the victim to give us new life. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 4:10). God’s Law requires perfect love. God applies Jesus’ perfect love and obedience to us and in that way we have what we need. In Jesus we have the perfect love God demands and so the gates of eternal life stand wide open!
That has a tremendous impact on our attitudes and actions. As a seminary student I spent a summer in Washington DC. One afternoon in the middle of rush hour, my car suddenly died. I managed to coast over to the shoulder of the road and wondered what I would do next. Hundreds of cars were racing by, but no one showed the slightest sign of stopping to help. But then the Lord sent me a good Samaritan. A congregation member happened to be on the same road. He recognized my car, attached a tow-rope, and pulled me to his home. I had dinner with his family, spent the night, and the next morning he even repaired my car. Ever since then I’ve been much more aware of others in need on the road and more ready to help because of my gratitude toward the one who helped me.
The Lord Jesus rescued us from certain eternal death. Through Him we are on the road to certain eternal life in heaven. Jesus’ love transforms us and gives us a spirit of gratitude which shows in loving concern for our neighbor’s needs. That is the love which pleases God—not a half-hearted response enforced by Law, but a willing expression of gratitude from the heart.
On the Last Day the Lord will point to these acts of love as being done to Him personally, and as visible proof of saving faith. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me’” (Matthew 25:34-36 NIV).
Four major non-Christian religions are: Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Each attempts to answer the question of the expert in the law: “What must I do to be saved?” Each comes to the same basic conclusion: “Work hard and do your best, and earn your own salvation.” Millions buy into that philosophy, and devote their lives to the effort.
But tragically, it doesn’t work. It is like trying to manufacture your own ticket for a baseball game. It might resemble the real thing in certain ways, but it is not authentic. God requires a standard of perfect love that we do not have. But then incredibly in Jesus He offers us that love we lack! Loved so wonderfully by God, how can we not then love our neighbor in Christian gratitude? Amen.
All are redeemed, both far and wide,
Since Thou, O Lord, for all has died.
Oh, teach us, whatso’er betide,
To love them all in Thee!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.