Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity 9/6/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity13 Bulletin

The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.

A successful young lawyer approached Jesus; and, hoping to trip Him up, asked Him a very big question:

Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? verse 25

Aside from the man’s intentions, there was nothing wrong with that question. It should rank highly among questions you would ask the incarnate Son of God.

So, it was certainly disappointing for the man when Jesus simply told him to answer his own question: “What is written in the Law? You’ve read it, haven’t you?”

Though the man was disappointed, still, he did the best he could with an answer: “Live a perfectly obedient life in devotion to God and in service to your neighbor.”

“Okay, so what’s the problem?” says Jesus in reply. “Do all of that and you will live.”

But this was not satisfying. The man was not completely ignorant: he was aware of the many people he did not love as himself. So, he started looking for a loophole.

“Well…who IS my neighbor?” he asked. “Because maybe if my neighbor is just the guy who lives right next door to me, and maybe if loving him as myself just means being nice, then maybe I can inherit eternal life, too.”

His legal strategy was to qualify Jesus’ answer again and again, so that eventually, he could qualify himself as fit for heaven and the new creation. And this is actually a pivotal moment. The man came with the intention to test Jesus, but now, with one well-placed question, Jesus has become this man’s Pastor.

This man knew God’s Law, and so, Jesus simply applied that Law to him in the form of a question. When Jesus did that, in that moment, the man saw that the Law could not justify him; and so, he tried to justify himself. Ridiculous as it may sound, this is actually something Pastors deal with all the time; and so, we have something important to learn here as well.

Jesus did not get angry. He did not scold the man for failing to see that salvation was always by grace through faith, as Moses and the prophets and the Psalms had so clearly said. No. He told the man a story.

“So, a Jew, a Priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan are walking down the road…” It sounds more like the setup of an off-color joke than a parable about salvation. But how would this man have heard it?

It’s difficult to say how he would have heard it as Jesus was speaking. But, since Jesus’ final command to the man is to “Go and do likewise,” he would have naturally identified with the Samaritan.

It’s no different than if you asked me how to get to Fenway Park, and I told you the story of a man who walked west on Commonwealth for about a mile, and then took a short series of turns, following signs as he went. When I finished the story, you would put yourself in that man’s shoes and on his path.

But if the lawyer identifies with the Samaritan, then what about this first character we meet?  We know that he is a man, likely a Jew, going down from Jerusalem; and we know that he is brutally attacked. We know that he is stripped, beaten, and left alone, nearly dead. We know that the Priest and the Levite want nothing to do with him. We know that he is rejected, abandoned, and despised.

If there is anyone in this parable who seems most like Christ, it is this man who fell among thieves. And if that seems unsettling to you, remember that almost all of Jesus’ parables were. Also, remember that this is still a parable. And in a parable, the main point is really the only point. (More on that later)

Moving on, we see that the characters aren’t the only significant factor. Location and setting are important as well. The Levite, the Priest, the Samaritan, and the Jew from Jerusalem are not on different roads. They are all on the same road. It’s a dangerous place, full of robbers and thugs who want everything you have, even your life.

Travel was dangerous back then. And all the folks in this story would have been defenseless against these criminals. So, it is important to know that, in spite of the danger, the man from Jerusalem went on ahead. The Man from Jerusalem went first! He knew how dangerous this journey would be for you, and so He put Himself in harm’s way.

This Man went on ahead of the Samaritan. Jesus went on the road ahead of you. Jesus fell among thieves and robbers for the Priest, the Levite, and for you.

But, then, what do we do with the charge to follow the Samaritan’s example? Unless you are the type of person who has boundless wealth, time, and resources, then the extremes to which the Samaritan goes in caring for this man are out of reach. It becomes as impossible as Jesus’ first command to perfectly keep the law. Looking at what the Samaritan does, we ask what it means to “go and do likewise.”

This: it means being joined to Jesus’ own sufferings and trials and burdens. This is what happened to the Samaritan. But not only the Samaritan.

Just before Holy Week, Jesus meets others for whom He is about to suffer and die. The woman anoints Him with oil; a man gives Jesus the use of his donkey; Joseph of Arimathea covers the expense for Jesus’ temporary tomb.

Yes, these are acts of generosity. But more than that, they are moments when Jesus put Himself into people’s paths. They are moments when Jesus invited them into His suffering, death, and new life.

This is why the Church fathers offered the idea that the inn is a picture of the Church. When we think this way, then the Samaritan does not bring the man to the inn at all. It’s the other way around! The Samaritan would have never ended up at the inn; You would never have ended up here, had Jesus not put Himself in the way. But because Jesus did bring you to the inn, because Jesus did bring you into the Church, everything changes.

When Jesus showed Himself to the Samaritan, He invited him to share in His suffering. And in that moment, Jesus began to change Him. But this was only the beginning. When the next morning comes, the Samaritan says that whatever is necessary to take care of the man, he’ll pay. That’s an extravagant, ridiculous price. It is far more than delaying your journey a day or walking a few miles to a hotel. That kind of spending can get you in trouble with your spouse and your financial advisor. The only reason the Samaritan is able to do this, the only reason you can do anything, is because when Jesus joins Himself to you, when He lives in you, things can never be the same.

When you walk out those doors today, out into a dangerous world, He goes with you. The One who has introduced Himself to you on the road, and who has brought you here to the inn actually goes with you; inside you.

Jesus has put Himself in your way. Jesus has brought you into the Church. Jesus has baptized you into His Name – into His own suffering, death, and resurrection! This alone is what makes the Samaritan good.

He has joined Himself to you completely, there in the font – and in just a few minutes, here at this altar, with His Body and Blood. Here you share in that death and resurrection as St. Paul says. So, what else can you do but count yourself as among the least, the lost, and the rejected of the world – all those half-dead on the side of the road? Because if Jesus is here, then Jesus is here at font, pulpit, and altar; and if Jesus is here, joined to your flesh, then Jesus is also out there – loving the unlovable, all of you, all of His neighbors: Samaritans, Priests, Levites, and even highway robbers.

First Lutheran Church Sermon Archive


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