Go and Do Likewise
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
August 26, 2018
This would be the easy way to preach, and it would save a lot of time. Brothers and sisters in Christ, what must you do to be saved? There was a man who was beaten and left for dead by robbers. Two professional church workers happened down the road but passed right on by. A person who would have nothing to do with his kind and vice versa saw the man and had compassion on him and helped him. Go, and do likewise.
Jesus responds to a man asking what he must do to be saved and Jesus tells him a parable about being merciful and telling the man to be merciful. I have read this passage dozens of times, I’ve heard several sermons on it, and it’s hard to go away from it without thinking that Jesus is saying that we must be like the man in the parable and we will be saved. The next verse goes on to a different situation. Lutherans especially squirm a little in hearing these words from our Lord. What about salvation by grace? What about all our works are as filthy rags? What about being saved by Christ and not by what we do? But it’s in black-and-white: Go and do likewise. It’s from the mouth of Jesus Himself. It’s the very Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself.
One simple thing we ought to take away from this is to not be content with the seeming contradiction. You’ve read this a dozen times? Try a dozen more. Keep at it. Don’t ever stop reading the Word of God and don’t settle for what it appears to be. A passage of Scripture after all is a passage contained in the whole of Scripture. It doesn’t stand on its own but is dependent on its context, particularly, what comes before it and what is being shown in the particular book of the Bible it’s in, and finally that it is to be understood in light of the Scriptures as a whole.
Therefore, the sermon needs to be a little longer. Jesus is responding to a man who was an expert in the Law of God. At the time this occurred, that meant the first five books of the Old Testament, the books of Moses. He knew what they said, what they taught. He was an expert in the Law.
He comes up to Jesus to test Him. He knew the Law, did Jesus? Or perhaps, he knew the Law, did Jesus teach it correctly? Whatever way this man might have been putting Jesus to the test, he wasn’t seeking an answer from Jesus in order to be taught by Him.
Jesus is God, He knows this. He answers accordingly. The man in effect is asking what he must do to come into possession of eternal life. Another way of saying it is, What must I do to be saved?
Lutherans would respond to the guy with something like this, “There is nothing you can do to be saved. You are saved by grace. Jesus died for your sins, that is how you are saved.” But Jesus is God. He answers according to the state of this man’s heart. He is an expert in the Law, he believes he understands it, that he believes it. Jesus says, “What is written in the Law, how do you read it?”
“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole strength, and your whole mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Excellent answer. This man does indeed know the Law, he not only quotes it, but understands that the entire Law of God is summed up in these two commandments, love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus says to him, “You have answered correctly.” But Lutherans would be very uncomfortable at this point and point out to the man, that while true, you are unable to do this and you can only be saved by grace. Jesus answers continues on in a very unLutheran way: “Do this and you shall live.”
We already heard two weeks ago from the lips of Jesus that the Pharisee prayed to God about all the good things he did was not justified and that the tax collector who prayed for mercy was justified. Why is Jesus telling this expert in the Law that if he loves God and his neighbor he will have eternal life? Do Lutherans have it wrong? Is Jesus teaching two different things?
Keeping in mind that Jesus is God and knows the man’s heart, He knows the man is asking Him in order to test Him, He responds accordingly. Was this expert in the Law really wanting to know what he must do in order to be saved? Or was he more like the Pharisee we already heard about and wanting confirmation from God on how good he was doing in keeping the commandments of God?
We see his heart shining through when Luke tells us that the man wanted to justify himself. He was not approaching the Lord with the intent to be taught by Him. And certainly not with the intent of submitting to Him for salvation and being saved purely by grace.
“So he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Let’s assume he’s thinking, Okay, I have the God part down, I know who He is and I love Him with my whole being. Let’s talk about the second part, about loving my neighbor. Who exactly is this? Is it my fellow Jews? Is it the people in my circle of friends, or where I live, or is it everybody? This guy wants to nail it down so that he can love those people and stand in gratification like the Pharisee that he has kept God’s Law and therefore is saved.
Who is my neighbor? Jesus answers with one of the most famous stories in the Bible, the Good Samaritan. The story is simple. A man was overtaken, stripped, beaten, robbed, and left for dead. A priest happened by but didn’t stop to help him. He even passed by on the other side. Why would, of all people, a priest do this? A priest was commanded by God in the Old Testament to be ritually clean in order to carry out his service to God. Touching or even being near a dead person would make him unclean. He didn’t know if the man was dead, but why take the chance. Likewise with the Levite who came along and passed by on the other side.
These were presumably good men, like the Pharisee, like the expert in the Law, like many other priests and Levites. In other words, they knew God’s Law and they kept it. Jesus is showing in His parable that you can know God’s Law and even observe it by your actions and yet not truly understand it and not truly keep it.
By contrast, Jesus tells us that another man came along and he was a person who was despised by the Jews. The Samaritans likewise despised the Jews. The Jews would in no way think that the Samaritans kept God’s Law and the Samaritans likewise would think the same of Jews. And yet here is this man who sees the man lying on the road and he has compassion on him. He gives no thought to anything but helping the man, treating his wounds, taking him to a place where he can rest, and then taking care of him. When he leaves the next day he gives money to the innkeeper so that the man can continue to be cared for and then he’s going to return to check up on him and repay the innkeeper if he had to spend more money than he was given.
This is the end of Jesus’ story. He now has a question for the expert in the Law. The logical question would be to address the man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus doesn’t do that. He asks the man, “Of the three, who was the neighbor to the man left for dead?” Jesus turns the thinking of the expert in the Law on its head. He’s thinking, Ok, who is my neighbor? Which people to I have to love? Jesus instead is showing the man the true essence of the Law of God, the heart of the matter. It is not in keeping the Law to a tee, but in being a neighbor.
Jesus asks him, “Who was the neighbor to the man?” and he answers, “The one who showed mercy to him.” There it is. You keep the Law by showing mercy to others. You don’t love them because you have to but because your heart goes out to them, you are moved with compassion toward them and help them in their need. Thus, Jesus says to the man, “Go and do likewise.”
There it ends and there we are left with our original question. What is Jesus teaching you and me? Quite the opposite of salvation by works, He is teaching salvation by grace. Before this expert in the Law came to Jesus to test Him Jesus had sent out the Seventy-Two and they came back excited about the ministry they had carried out. Jesus said, “Do not rejoice in this but in your names being written in the Book of Life.” Then, as we heard at the beginning of the Gospel reading, “He turned to His disciples and said, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see, and the ears that hear what you heard, for the prophets longed to see what you see and hear what you hear.’” They prophesied of Christ and pointed to Him but never got to see Him. The disciples saw Him in the flesh.
Immediately after this passage of Jesus’ interaction with the expert in the Law we are shown by Luke the instance where Martha invited Jesus into her home and her sister Mary sat and listened to Him while Martha slaved away in the kitchen. Jesus said that she was anxious about many things but Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.
So here is the sermon. Go and do likewise. Rejoice, your name is written in the Book of Life. This is by grace, God has saved you before you ever had a chance to do any good works. Rejoice that unlike the prophets of old who longed to see Jesus in the flesh you behold Him in the flesh in His Supper. Rejoice that you get to sit at Jesus’ feet and be taught by Him and receive His gifts of forgiveness and life and salvation. Rejoice that as you have received mercy you may also be a neighbor to those God places in your life and be merciful to them. After all, the Law of God was not given by Him to tell you what to do, but to point you to Christ who has fulfilled the Law on your behalf and who has suffered on the cross for all of your sins and gives you eternal life. Amen.