Pastor Eric Schroeder - Epiphany - Sunday, January 2, 2022

Text: Luke 10:25-37

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On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered: “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Whom do you think of first when you hear the word “neighbor?” I can think of a few possibilities for the first answers that popped into your heads. Number 1 would be the person or family that lives closest to you, either to the right or left of your house, or maybe your backyard and theirs meet up with one another. Or it might be someone that lives a few houses away, but they are in your neighborhood, so they are your neighbor…of course. Number 2 possibility (with a different connection made in our brains…): Jake from State Farm. You can picture the red polo and khakis from the commercials, and in your head the jingle is playing in the background…”Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” And if we haven’t nailed down your response yet, there is one more possibility—the flashback, but you have to be a little older to remember…Mr. Rogers. From 1968-2001, long before kids had their own iPads and YouTube, Mr. Rogers greeted us the same way every Monday to Friday on PBS. “Would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor? Hi neighbor.”

Long before Mr. Rogers, however, Jesus speaks to an expert in the law and answers the question of who and what we ought to think of when we hear the word “neighbor.” We all know the lesson as the parable of the Good Samaritan, but it’s good for us to remember the context before we get to the story itself. That’s where we’ll find the right questions to ask ourselves as we strive to live A God-lived life; particularly a life lived for others. The opening verses again: 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered: “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So far, so good. And actually, about as good of an answer as anyone could have come up with. The man comes to Jesus to test him, and Jesus turns around and questions the lawyer. And again, it’s a good answer. Instead of listing off the ten commandments as we’ve learned, he boils God’s will down to just two commands (which are really one command directed two ways). God is love, so to do God’s will the right way involves loving God and loving our neighbor. On the one hand, it’s a simple concept, easy to remember. Love God, Love your neighbor. Got it, right?

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Just like the expert, we have all the right information, but there’s the catch. Do this—and in the Greek it’s an ongoing present tense command—in other words, keep doing this (continually, all the time!), and you will live. And what’s implied is that the flip side is true; if we don’t keep doing this—if we don’t continually love God and love our neighbor—then we will not live; we deserve to die for our sin according to God’s holy standards. And this correct interpretation of God’s law condemns us all. We might be able to say that we are generally kind people, and we love a lot of people a lot of the time. We certainly love God some, or we wouldn’t be here right now. But halfway love won’t do it. Part-time love isn’t good enough to fulfill God’s law. That means that we are full-time sinners in complete need of God’s forgiveness.

But the lawyer in Luke 10 is a proud man, and so he’s still feeling pretty good. In his mind there’s still a chance. 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” It’s hard for a man like him to escape it; this expert in the law is still focused on the law, not realizing that it condemns him, too. He still thinks he has a chance at earning eternal life. So, Jesus tells this story of the Good Samaritan. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” Scary start, but it gets worse. In turn, a priest and a Levite come along the same road, and they’d be the type of people who might claim to love God, and maybe they usually love people most of the time, but here is this big opportunity to show some love and kindness and…they both have their reasons, or excuses, or somewhere to be, so they pass by on the other side.

And we’ve all done the same. To be sure, the circumstances are certainly different, but we probably don’t have to think too hard to come up with a time recently when we could have helped someone, we could have shared with someone, we could have defended someone, we could have encouraged someone, we could have shown love to someone, we could have lived a moment for others…but we didn’t. It might have been a family member, a coworker, or a complete stranger, but the result is the same, no matter what our reasons or excuses might have been at the time. When it comes to our sins, maybe we are more aware of the sins we commit than the sins where we omit... In other words, we have a better idea of the things we’ve done that we weren’t supposed to do. But this parable in particular exposes our many failures to love our neighbor as God commands.

Jesus gives us a good example, however, in the Good Samaritan. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ What do we see? A Godly neighbor doesn’t hesitate. A Godly neighbor doesn’t make excuses. A Godly neighbor doesn’t worry about what it’s going to cost or how long it’s going to take. Godly love is put on display in a life lived for others. And here’s the best part: We have a reason even better than the law to live for others as we love God and love our neighbor. Our reason, our motivation, our power to live for others can all be found in the Gospel message that Jesus lived for us.

You see, God’s love didn’t hesitate. God’s love didn’t make excuses. God’s love didn’t worry about what it would cost or how long it would take. God put his love on display when he sent Jesus to be the Savior not just of one nation, but of all nations. It’s fitting to hear the parable of the Good Samaritan on Epiphany Sunday because it reminds us that God loved a world full of sinners and wants us all to know it. Some people are going to know God’s love by the love that we show as we live a life for others. So even if someone looks different or dresses differently or talks differently or votes differently, or even worships differently, or (God-forbid!) they have a different opinion on something, our job isn’t to judge them; our job is to love them, because God loves them, and sent his Son to be their Savior, too. Now we see them as our neighbor, and we aim to Love your neighbor as yourself.

You don’t have to do it to justify yourself. You can’t. But God justified you for Jesus’ sake. Jesus lived for us, died for us, and rose again—all perfectly, with a continual, ongoing, complete love in our place. He is worthy of all the love we can give, and now he calls us to love our neighbor and live a life for others. Go and do likewise, because you are loved and forgiven in Christ, now and forever. AMEN.