Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37
Date: July 9 & 10, 2016
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Luke 10:25–37 (EHV)
25 Just then, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “What do you read there?”
27 He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.”
28 He said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 It just so happened that a priest was going down that way. But when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite also happened to go there, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 33 A Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was. When he saw him, he felt sorry for the man. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He put him on his own animal, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, when he left, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. Whatever extra you spend, I will repay you when I return.’ 36 Which of these three do you think acted like a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”
37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he replied.
Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
We all like compliments. We all like to feel good about ourselves. We all like to think we’re making a positive difference in people’s lives. We all like to feel like we’re accomplishing something.
We’ve been told for decades that self-esteem is incredibly important, and to a certain extent, it is. God has given you many gifts and skills and it’s good to acknowledge that those things make you special, unique, and blessing to those around you. But self-esteem gone haywire turns into self-righteousness. Self-righteousness says that God should love you because you’re so good, or you’re better than anyone else, or at least you don’t do those things that other people do. Self-righteousness is so dangerous because it can be very difficult to see in ourselves, almost something subconscious.
Jesus in our Gospel this morning is attempting to help the expert in the law unearth the sinful corners of his heart that his self-righteousness was trying to gloss over. He had become convinced that he had kept God’s law and kept it as God expected—perfectly. He surmised that he had loved God with everything he had and had certainly loved his neighbors as himself. But then Luke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives us some very telling information: But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” He wanted to know that he had done everything right and had treated everyone that he needed to the right way. Jesus tells a parable to show the man that this simply was not true.
Jesus’ parable requires a little bit of explanation. The Jewish people and the Samaritans, who lived in the region north of Judea, did not care for each other. In 722 BC, more than 700 years before Jesus was born, the Assyrian empire carted off about 2/3 of the northern kingdom of Israel into exile. They left about 1/3 of the people there and then imported people from elsewhere in the empire to settle in Israel. This was their way of maintaining peace in the empire. It would be far less likely that a nation within the empire would rise up in revolt if only 1/3 of the people living there actually considered that place “home.”
As a result of this mixing of people, you have an odd religious concoction spring up, once which took bits and pieces from many different religions, including the Old Testament Scriptures, largely the books of Moses. This made the Samaritan people more detestable to the Jewish people than even the pagans. At least the pagans believed and did things that were totally contrary to the truth of God’s Word. The Samaritans, though, mixed the truth with lies and created an impure religion.
You can get a sense for this expert in the law’s personal distaste for the Samaritans though at Jesus’ question, “Which of these three do you think acted like a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” He can’t even bring himself to acknowledge that a Samaritan did this. The best he can muster is, “The one who showed mercy to him.” Jesus’ parable, in showing the Samaritan being merciful to a Jewish person, shows that we must consider all people our neighbors and love them all as we would love ourselves.
This shows one of the real problems that this expert in the law had: he had dismissed the Samaritans as being part of the group of “neighbors” he was to love as himself. His prejudices, creedism, and racism led him to see those people as being beneath him and not worthy of that kind of love, respect, or even empathy. Jesus, being able to read his heart, knew this. He tells this parable to assure him that every other human being on the face of the planet is his neighbor and this his hatred or at least apathy for this particular group of people meant he was not justified in God’s sight. He tells his parable to also assure him that, despite overall feelings of self-righteousness, he was not the person that God expected him to be.
What is there in your life that your sinful nature tries to self-righteously smear over? Is it the same problem as this teacher of the law? We live in a world where people are killed because the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or even their profession. We might let one outwardly hostile or detestable person color our perception of a large group of people—especially if they are people with whom we do not identify. Does any of that same sinful mindset filter down to us? Maybe we wouldn’t kill anyone. But, do we think less of people whose skin looks different than ours? Do we think less of people whose diet looks different than ours? Do we think less of people who hold different (sometimes radically different) religious beliefs? Do we think less of people who have different political views? Do we think less of people whose jobs or aspirations are not in sync with our own?
Maybe it’s not actually any of those things. If Jesus was speaking to you, maybe he wouldn’t have focused on distaste for a particular group of people. Maybe his parable would have centered around lust in your heart that makes you disrespectful to your neighbor’s marriages. Maybe his parable would have centered around the greed that leads you to want to take your neighbor’s possessions or be incredibly envious of his or her success. Maybe his parable would have centered around the anger that leads you wish harm on or say mean things to your neighbor which includes that person that cut you off while driving, or cheated you at the store, or was rude to you at work.
It doesn’t take long for us to realize that we do not have a foot to stand on before God, do we? Our sin may not make the news, but it’s real and it’s damning. We cannot justify ourselves before God. To be justified before God means that God would declare us not guilty in his courtroom. We are not justified. We are not innocent. We are guilty as charged, guilty of sin, and the punishment for that sin is hell.
But Jesus did not tell this parable to tell this expert in the law, “You’re out of luck.” He told this parable to bring him to repentance. When Jesus met another man at another time who felt that he could earn eternal life, just before he hit him with the law, we’re told that Jesus “looking at him, loved him” (Mark 10:21). It is no different here. Jesus tells this parable to this expert in the law because he loves him.
Sin has to be dragged out into the light. There is some sin that is very obvious and very public. We see it often as the religious leaders try to trap Jesus in his dealings with adulteresses, prostitutes, and thieving tax collectors. But the self-righteousness that sinks itself in and drags us down does so subtly. It’s an attitude of the heart that we may not always be conscious of, and it’s something that we might actually be able to hide from most people.
But in parables like this, Jesus holds the mirror of his law to us to show where the attitudes of our hearts are distorted and we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we should—that is, when we start to think highly of ourselves at all. Those attitudes can rob us of eternal life because they can lead us to depend on ourselves, and not on Jesus.
But as Jesus shines this mirror on us, we are forced to see these attitudes of our hearts and then drown them. We will not inherit eternal life because we are better than other people. We will not inherit eternal life because we helped everyone we’ve ever seen in need like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. We will not inherit eternal life because we haven’t committed some of those very public, obvious sins.
We will inherit eternal life because Jesus lived a perfect life in our place. He was perfectly selfless and that selflessness was used for our benefit. Because Jesus, the one who actually had inherited eternal life, turned around and gave it to us. We will inherit eternal life because Jesus’ love for us gives it to us. As Jesus bore the punishment for our sins on the cross, he suffered for our overt sins and our hidden self-righteousness. We lay all of it at his cross and he takes it all away. Our sins died at the cross and our life is secured by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We will be in heaven not because of us but because of Jesus.
That means we lay aside all matters of self-righteousness because we know that we did nothing to earn or deserve this eternal gift from God. It also means that we lay aside any sense of entitlement or superiority because everyone in this world—no matter their race, family, political views, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, or even what they have done—are people for whom Jesus died, whose sins Jesus paid for, and those whom Jesus wants to live with him forever. As we set aside those things that separate us, it means we can share together and with those who don’t know it yet the things that bind us together as a human race—we are dead in our sins and made alive in Jesus.
God be with you and bless your loving sharing of this message with all people. Amen.