Showing Selfless Samaritan Love

We read in Luke 10:25-37 that Jesus encountered a man who had a question about how to get to heaven.  Jesus tells him a story to teach him what Love your neighbor as yourself really means.  Jesus tells him that keeping the law requires “Showing Selfless Samaritan Love.”  July 14, 2019.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!” This is a famous line delivered by President John F. Kennedy during the speech at his presidential inauguration on January 20, 1961. With that memorable line, he exhorted his listeners to ask the right questions! Asking how others can serve you is not the right question to ask, and in fact, if everyone just sits back and waits to be served, then it will never happen, because there won’t be anyone to carry out that service.   That’s why JFK proclaimed that the opposite was the right question: “Ask what you can do for your country!” This way you can be a part of the solution. This way you can be a productive member of society. This way you can contribute instead of being a drain. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!”

Jesus encountered a man who had a question. And it was a good question! It was the right question! In fact, it was perfect question. There’s never been a more important question on the lips of man than the question that the law expert asked. “How do I get to heaven?” “How do I get to eternal life?”

Jesus answered his question with a question.   

The man lived up to his title as an “expert in the law” by quoting two pertinent Scriptures. A good car mechanic has the answers to your car questions on the tip of his tongue and he’s ready to share his knowledge with you. “What does an alternator do? How can you tell if you need new spark plugs? How long can I really go before I have to get an oil change?” If you are taking your car to a person who is an expert, then they will be able to answer easy questions like that no problem. If they can’t, maybe you need a new mechanic!

This man’s craft was studying the Old Testament. He was a scribe, maybe a teacher, a theologian you could say. He dedicated his life to studying the Old Testament so it should come as no surprise that he is able to answer Jesus. Jesus, the master teacher, answers his question with a question of his own when he asks him: “What is written in the Law?” (Jesus) replied. “How do you read it?” 

From Deuteronomy (6:5) the expert effortlessly quotes ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and just as easily he rattles off Leviticus 19:18: and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

Every student loves to hear the words of affirmation “That’s right!” from their teacher. Now imagine hearing those words from Jesus! “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he doesn’t skip off in glee to live happily ever after! He’s not ecstatic about the kudos he just got from Jesus. In fact, it’s disturbing to him! He knows that Jesus preached about mercy and forgiveness, he knows that Jesus has proclaimed himself to be the only way to heaven.  He came to Jesus to refute that teaching with what he knew from the Old Testament law, but Jesus just agreed with him. They weren’t the same and he knew it! He had to keep the conversation going!

And we don’t skip off in glee upon hearing what the law says, either. Though Jesus words are absolutely true – “Do this and you will live!” There’s a problem. There’s a big problem! We can’t and we don’t do the things that law requires! We can’t and we don’t live up to the high standards of perfection that the law demands. All too often it’s half-hearted dedication and double-minded devotion that we offer. We can’t and we don’t love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength. “Do this and your will live!” is hardly an encouraging pep-talk, because we know what the backside of that coin says – “Fail to do this and you will die!” 

The expert hadn’t flipped that coin yet, and thought that he could still achieve eternal life through his obedience, so Jesus tells him a story to teach him what “Love your neighbor as yourself” really means. Jesus tells him that keeping the law requires Showing Selfless Samaritan Love.    

It’s no coincidence that the hero of the story was the very one that the law expert wouldn’t have considered a neighbor at all. The Samaritans and the Jews avoided contact at all costs. They would do more than just cross the street, the Jews who planned to travel from Judea (in the south) to Galilee in the north would actually cross the country and the Jordan river twice to avoid travelling through Samaria. They would avoid each other when they were healthy and they most certainly would when there was danger looming.    

But Jesus wanted to show that law demands more than just loving those that are near to you, or those that look like you, or those that deserve to be loved. It involves more than just loving when it’s convenient or safe or prudent. The law requires Showing Selfless Samaritan Love.  

The love that our God demands is striking! That love is not easy: to put others before ourselves, even those that don’t care about us, to put the needs of others always before our own. To love those with abrasive personalities or who only want to talk about themselves. To love those we suspect don’t like us and those that we know for sure don’t! A Selfless Samaritan Love - loves for the sake of loving, it loves for the good of the recipient. A Selfless Samaritan Love is not at all concerned about its impact on me, but only concerned with its impact on those around me!

The people that the expert would relate to the most – the priest and the Levite were the ones that were loveless in the story. But the hero – the one who was the example of the kind of love that the law requires, he was a Samaritan. 

And again the law cuts us to the heart. We fail at Showing Selfless Samaritan Love. We choose the ones that we want to love or make excuses for not loving other. We allow subtle or not so subtle racism to infect our hearts and distort our worldview. We freely love those that will love us back, but when it will hurt, or when it will cost us time or energy, or when we might endure hardship or struggle, then we shrink back and fail to love.  

And for our loveless attitudes and our selfish lives, we deserve worse than to be left on the side of the road. We deserve worse than to be passed by on the side of the road by priests and Levites, we deserve to be passed by and abandoned by God. We deserve hell.

But instead of passing us by and giving us what we deserve, we have a Savior who instead took our place. He began by taking our place under the law of God. He subjected himself to the laws demands and perfectly obeyed to earn our forgiveness. And then he took our place again, carrying our sins and enduring the wrath of God that should have been ours. Jesus takes up our infirmities and Shows Us Selfless Samaritan Love. He doesn’t leave us bleeding on the side of the road, but instead he himself bled for us! He didn’t lie half dead on the road, but gave 100% of his life for us. He didn’t just risk potential danger to love us, he embraced the certainty of a horrific death so that we could have peace! That’s Selfless Samaritan Love. He paid the price for our healing and has taken every effort to ensure that health and life and hope would be ours. He’s bandaged our wounds with his amazing grace and empowers us to live out our days for him!

How do you think the man in the story responded when the Samaritan returned to the inn after his journey? We aren’t told this part of the story, but how do you think he responded? The Samaritan came back days later with more gifts, with more care, with more compassion, with more love!  How do you think he responded when he saw that the life-saving care, the night in the inn, the promise to pay for whatever future care was needed was not the end of it, but that he would follow-up and days later still care and still love? I can’t imagine any other outcome than absolute appreciation and thanksgiving. I can’t imagine and ending other than the man using all of his strength that he had to thank the one who saved his life and placed a heaping pile of love on top of that.

My friends, Jesus has done the same to us. His selfless Samaritan love in saving us was not the end of the story, but he follows up and continues to show us his mercy and grace. He heals our words through words of forgiveness and absolution spoken to us by a pastor, a spouse, a friend. He feeds us in Word and Sacrament. He protects and guides us in his loving care. He showers us with gifts that we don’t deserve. How are we going to respond? Let’s muster up all the strength that we can to show our appreciation and care. Let’s go out of our way to offer up thanksgiving and praise. Let’s dedicate the new lives that we’ve been given to living for Jesus.

Jesus told (the expert in the law), “Go and do likewise.” Go and show mercy. Go be neighborly to all whom God has put in your life!

And that’s the opportunity that we have before us! We’ve been purchased and won by the blood of Jesus. We’ve been made heirs of everlasting life. We’ve been given the peace of knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and nothing can take away the heaven that he’s secured for us! And we now have the opportunity to live Showing Selfless Samaritan Love.   

We can look for those who are in need. We can look for those who are lonely or broken-hearted. We can easily find those who are like us and those who are nothing like us and we can Show them selfless Samaritan love. It’s the way we’ve been loved and it’s the way that we can love.    

My friends, Go and Do Likewise! Go - with joy in your heart and eagerness in your soul, Go - into the world Showing Selfless Samaritan Love. Amen.   

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on July 14, 2019