Notes for a Sermon on the 13th Sunday after Trinity, September 14, 2014
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett
The Epistle, Galatians 5:16-24 – The Gospel, St. Luke 10:23-37
A. The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the lawyer’s question.
1. The parable of the Good Samaritan was prompted by the question asked by the lawyer, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He asked the question to test Jesus. He wanted Jesus to give the wrong answer in order to discredit Jesus as a teacher.
2. Jesus’ answer serves two purposes; first, Jesus has some fun at the lawyer’s expense. He gets the lawyer to acknowledge that a despised Samaritan might be closer to eternal life than two observant Jews. Second, it highlights the futility of trying to “do” something to inherit eternal life.
3. The question asked by lawyer was also asked by the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18f.). This man had done his best to observe the Torah. Jesus told him, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor and follow me and you will have treasure in heaven.” He went away sad. It wasn’t the answer he was looking for.
4. In both cases Jesus told the person to do the one the person could not “do.” The lawyer could be religious, but he could not love someone that hated him—or love someone he hated. The rich young man could also be religious and even kind, but he could not give up his wealth. This highlights the central point. There is nothing you can “do” to inherit eternal life. Eternal life is gift that is received through faith. As Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29).
B. The paradox of faith and work
1. Of course, the answers Jesus gave to the lawyer and the rich young ruler did not suggest that either would inherit eternal life by doing nothing but having faith. The point is this. If we go about looking for some action we can perform that will guarantee our place in the resurrection and life in the world to come, we won’t find it. No action of ours can fulfill the righteous demands of the Torah.
2. When we look for something to “do” to justify ourselves, we end up searching for loopholes. We define “neighbor” to exclude those we don’t like. We avoid the implications of our stewardship and the sacrificial ways God might call us to give. We become comfortable being nice, religious people who feel superior to those who are not so nice and religious—and we close our ears to the voice of the Spirit.
3. Jesus fulfilled the Torah on our behalf. There is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life but put our faith in him. However, once we have put our faith in Jesus and received the gift of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit will lead us to do new, risky and holy things. The good works that God had prepared for us to walk in are the evidence that our faith in Jesus is real. Good works born of love distinguish true faith from mere religion.
C. The missionary vocation of all Christians.
1. Our behavior is sacramental. Our outward and visible actions reveal our inward and spiritual faith. Through faith and the gift of the Spirit we become like Christ. We are restored to the image of God that we lost through sin. Our new behavior comes to reflect our new identity.
2. Being like Christ means becoming a missionary. We were the wounded. Our enemies—the world, the flesh and the devil—attacked us, leaving us half dead by the side of the road. Jesus left his heavenly throne to become man to save us. He called each of us to faith. He brought to his inn, the church, where we convalesced until we got well. If we have experienced grace in this way, we will naturally want share the experience with others.
D. The distinction between religion and love.
1. The priest and Levite in the parable are caricatures of religious people who are concerned with proper religious conduct at the expense of love. If either of them had actually helped the half dead man—and half-death became death—they would have been ritually unclean and unable to function in the temple. They had a religious justification for not reaching out.
2. We are all religious. We have fixed patterns of behavior and do certain things repeatedly in the same way. This is not a bad thing. Man is a liturgical creature, and life would be more difficult if we did everything in a new way every day. However, as with the priest and the Levite, there is a danger that our devotion to pattern and routine will get in the way of our duty to love.
3. Our liturgy of life may always have us running so hurriedly from one place to another that we neglect the people we encounter along the way. Thus, performance of my routine, or the urgency I have created from myself—my religious orthodoxy—gets in the way of my love for neighbor. But I can justify my failure to love because I have these things I need to do. If I stop my routine to help the half dead person I encounter on the margins of life, I won’t get my stuff done.
E. Who are the wounded and how do we help them?
1. Now, this tyranny can also work in the other direction. We can develop a “savior complex” and come to feel that it is our duty to save everyone. This need to be needed is not love. It is our need, not the need of another person. This need quickly morphs into guilt and leads us to give money to people who are sitting by the entrance to the store or on the freeway off ramp because we will feel guilty if we don’t. Of course, that is why they are in that particular place. They know we will feel guilty and will be more likely to give them money when they are in that place—especially if there is a child with them.
2. If we want to imitate the Good Samaritan, if we want to love and care for others in a way that mirrors Christ’s love for us, we need to take one huge principal to heart; the relational need is greater than the monetary need. Monetary giving often mitigates against real love because it creates dependencies, inequalities and resentment.
3. This is why it doesn’t work. When we try to solve a relational need merely by giving money, we end up with more of the need. This is the lesson of most of our overseas charities and of the welfare state. This is what wise practitioners are saying to us in books we’ve encouraged people to read like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity.
4. Most chronic material needs result from broken relationships. A person does not know God and has a false sense of his or her own value as a result. People were raised in broken families where they were estranged from genuine community and a sense of place. Consequently, they have no ability to engage the world in an effective way.
F. The church’s role in our healing
1. We can only answer broken relationships by developing new, healthy relationships in their place. This is why the church is so important. The Good Samaritan brought the wounded man to the inn, which represents the church. The church is the hospital for sinners. It is the place where people are reconciled with God and other people. It is the place where they learn a new sense of their own worth and learn how to function more effectively in the world.
2. I used to think that the church was incidental to love or charity. The church could give without calling people to join the church. I now believe just the opposite. We cannot really help the wounded without developing relationships with them. This requires a place where people can learn about God and begin to develop a network of stable and healthy relationships with God’s people. This requires the church.
3. Giving always costs money, but if that is all it costs we are not really giving. The truth is that we often give money to avoid the relationships. We give to the man on the corner because we don’t want to deal with him. Money is the easy way, but it will not answer the real need apart from a relationship.
4. The Good Samaritan committed himself to the wounded man, but he did not do everything. He brought him to the church, where the gifts of other people could minister to his needs. This shows that the church needs both external missionaries who go out and bring others to the people of God and internal missionaries, who minister to those who are brought to church. Your challenge is to discern where your gifts fit into this mission.
G. To be an heir of eternal life is to be concerned for others outside of the body.
1. We cannot “do” anything to inherit eternal life. But if we are, in fact, heirs of eternal life through the gift of the Spirit, we will have a natural impulse to share the gift. As we travel along the road, as live out our daily liturgy, we will make room in our lives to connect with the wounded we see by the roadside. We will get to know them and listen to their stories, and we will share with them the new story of redemption that we experience in Christ. And we will bring them to the church, the new family of God, because this is the only place where people can be fully healed.
2. Don’t ask what you can “do” to inherit eternal life. Instead, show that you belong to Christ, reveal that the kingdom of God in within you through the Spirit by being a neighbor to those you seeing lying half dead by the road.