Monday, July 15, 2013

Asking the Wrong Questions (Sermon preached July 14 for Proper 10-C)

Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37

 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

In the name of T Jesus.

            When you ask the wrong questions, you will get the wrong answers.  And that is exactly what we see going on, as today’s Holy Gospel begins.  “Behold, a lawyer stood up” and said, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  When you ask the wrong questions, you will get the wrong answers.
            Of course, there’s a number of things that are wrong with this question, not the least of which is the lawyer’s motivation for asking it.  Luke tells us that he stood up to put Jesus to the test.  Like that annoying, and disrespectful, student in class who just waits for the teacher to make a mistake, this lawyer has come to Jesus with the intention of discrediting him.  He wants to trap Jesus in an apparent contradiction so that he might show Him to be a sham.
            You see, the words, he speaks aren’t actually the problem.  The question he asks is almost exactly the same question asked by the crowd who heard Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.  On that day, when Peter had preached Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophesies, the crowd who heard his sermon was cut to the heart, in contrition and repentance, and when Peter had ended, they responded the only way repentance knows how to respond: “Brothers, what shall we do?”  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you.”  But when this lawyer approaches Jesus, repentance and contrition are far from him, even though the words he speaks sound so similar. 
            You see, this lawyer was an expert in Old Testament Law.  And as an expert in Old Testament Law he was convinced that the keeping of the Law was, in fact, the way to inherit eternal life.  But Jesus had come, and Jesus was preaching a kingdom of mercy in which the forgiveness of sins was bestowed to people who had obviously not kept those Old Testament laws of Moses.  And so that lawyer thought Jesus was a sham.  That lawyer thought Jesus was dismissing the Law of Moses, and that lawyer thought he knew better.  And so, with his expertise in the Law of Moses in hand, that lawyer poses his question to Jesus as a test to see if Jesus upheld the Scriptures or not: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  If you ask the wrong questions, you will get the wrong answers.
            So Jesus says to him, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  And the lawyer answers the way Jesus expected him to answer.  He gives the answer that comes right out of the Law: “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”  And even though the lawyer has answered the question rightly, he is about to discover that the rights answer, to the wrong question, will always be unsatisfying.  If you want to inherit eternal life by something you do, then an expert in the Law you must become, because that is your only choice.  If you want to be saved by the Law, then you must keep the Law, and since that lawyer wants to be saved by the Law, Jesus simply gives him the answer he’s been looking for: “Do this, and you will live.”
            “Do this, and you will live.”  Jesus hasn’t abandoned the Law, he’s shown that if you want to be saved by the Law the only possibility is to be damned by the Law.  Because no matter how many years you’ve spent studying the Ten Commandments, and no matter how well you know the answer to every ethical situation that this broken world can through your way, and no matter how high your view of God’s perfect Law might be, if it is the keeping of the Law that you believe will cause you to inherit eternal life, then you are asking the completely wrong question, and any possible answer will simply be insufficient for salvation.
            And the lawyer knows this.  When Jesus gives His answer to the lawyer’s question, and that lawyer is directed to go and keep the demands of the Old Testament Law with all his heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, the lawyer knows that he has one of two choices.  Since Jesus hasn’t minimized the Law, but has cranked it up, and so the lawyer’s first option is to acknowledge the impossibility of keeping God’s Law, and to throw himself at the mercy of God and plead for forgiveness.  But if he were to do that, then his question would have only resulted in confirming the preaching of Jesus’ Gospel.  And that, you see, isn’t an option for a man in whom repentance and contrition remain far off.  If he chooses mercy, then Jesus wins, and Jesus’ preaching has only been confirmed.
For a man in whom contrition and repentance remain far off; for a man who refuses to acknowledge that the demands of the Law of God will only serve to show his sin; for a man who will not admit that the keeping of the Law is an impossibility, that man is left with only one option.  He must minimize the Law so that it no longer applies.  He must interpret the Laws demands in such a way that he might have nothing to confess.  He must deny the Law of Moses, so that he doesn’t have to rely on the mercy of God, for if he can minimize the Law, there might still be a way that he can earn eternal life.  And that, you see, is exactly what that lawyer tries to do with his second question.  Luke even tells us, he was trying to justify himself.  He tries to reinterpret the Law, so that it would no longer declare him guilty.       So tell me, Jesus, “who is my neighbor.”
            He doesn’t elaborate on his question, but he doesn’t need to.  Jesus knows what he’s up to.  And so do you.  In fact, you know his question so well, you’ve almost become an expert in it.  Redefine what it means to be your neighbor, and you are no longer bound the love and serve that person.  For this lawyer, Jesus knew that it would be a Samaritan.  But who is it for you?  Who is it that you refuse to see as your neighbor so that you can be free of the Law’s demands to love and serve him, or her?  Who is it that you hate, or that makes you uncomfortable?  Who is it that you can’t seem to find any good in, or who is always pushing your buttons?  Who is it that has disrespected you, intentionally or not, or has even purposefully tried to harm you, so that you attempt to justify yourself and free yourself of the Law’s demands to love, and serve, and pray even for those who would be called your enemies?
“Who is my neighbor?” This isn’t just the lawyer’s question, it’s our own.  And like the lawyer, we usually ask it of ourselves in an attempt to justify ourselves so that we might have the appearance of keeping the Law of God.  Like the lawyer, we try to redefine the Law of God so that we might be able to lump certain people into a category that would make them no longer our neighbors, so that we might be free to hate them, or even to harm them.  “Who is my neighbor?”  The lawyer tries to limit the definition, but all that does is limit the love he would give., and we have done the same.
Deny it, and you will end up like the lawyer, with contrition and repentance being far from you.  Refusing to see certain people as the neighbors you’ve been called to love and to serve will not lighten the burden of the Law, but will make you guilty of it.  Remaining in the blindness of trying to be justify yourselves by reducing the number of neighbors you have been called to love will not make you any less guilty, but will only result in reducing the love your neighbors end up receiving from you.  And in the end, if there is anyone in your life who is unworthy of being the recipient of God’s love and compassion, it is not the one who you struggle to love, but the one with the struggle to love.
And so the Parable of the Good Samaritan isn’t told so that you might be given a method of serving your neighbor that might earn you eternal life.  On the contrary, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is told to the lawyer, and to those like you and me, who like him, have failed to see the love of Jesus for all that it is.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan is about Jesus, who will not limit the Law of God but will fulfill it.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan will show us the love of Jesus, who refuses to limit any definition of who His neighbor might be, but who has come to serve and to save those who nobody else would love.
Just as the Good Samaritan got off the back of his animal, and went to that helpless man who had been left to die—Jesus has taken on flesh, and come down to a helpless human race.  Just as the Samaritan bound up the wounds of that man, and treated them with ointment, Jesus has taken our foolish attempts to minimize God’s Word, and our failure in loving our neighbor, and he has bound them up on the cross where they were crucified along with Him.  And even as we daily struggle to look at those who are different from us with the eyes of Christ, the Samaritan promised to pay for anything that was needed to bring that man back from health, and Jesus has done the same for you and for me.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is the Good Samaritan who sees the one in need, and whose gut aches with the compassion of Jesus.  It is the Good Samaritan whose compassionate deeds show us the compassionate deeds of Jesus, who would lay down his life, and pay whatever price was necessary in order to cover your sins, and to heal you with the forgiveness that is freely given even to you who have failed to love our neighbors.  It is the Good Samaritan in this parable that shows us the compassion of Jesus, which shows itself in the love, and service to those who would not qualify to be his neighbors.  It is the Good Samaritan who loves those who have been broken by the world, and who Satan continues to accuse, and who have been left by sin to die.  For it is Jesus who sees those who are unrighteous, and guilty, and who cannot do anything to inherit eternal life, as the neighbors he has been called to serve.
And so, you see, that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is not about you, and it’s not about what you must do.  With that view, we’ll be left only to ask the wrong questions.  And any answers we get will be less than satisfying.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is about Jesus.  It’s all about Jesus; for it is Jesus who fulfills the Law.  It is Jesus who loves his neighbor as himself.  And it is Jesus whose love and compassion is given to all, no matter what they’ve done to disqualify themselves from mankind’s definition of what it means to be a neighbor.  It is Jesus, who refuses to discriminate, but whose love is given to all.  It is Jesus who even loves you, and who calls you His neighbor, so that you might no longer try to earn eternal life, or to minimize the Law in an attempt to justify yourselves.

You see, in the end, it is true, that the Law demands that we love and serve our neighbors.  And it doesn’t allow us to limit who will receive that love and service.  The Church is called to be merciful, and to show compassion to those who cannot help themselves.  And it will.  Because the true Church of God is made up of everyone who in contrition and repentance, has confessed that it has failed to keep the laws demands, and could never earn eternal life.  And because they’ve been blessed to be loved by Jesus, and served by Jesus, and even forgiven by the wok of Jesus, who is the Good Samaritan, they will learn to ask the right question, and begin to let Jesus show them, who, in fact, they might go and love.  And when this happens, the love of Jesus will not be limited, but will be extended to many who would otherwise be left to die.  In the name of T Jesus.  Amen.

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