Saturday, May 9, 2009

Homily on the Good Samaritan

Vincent van Gogh, "The Good Samaritan," 1890

What shall you do to inherit eternal life? This is not just a lofty transcendentalist question for the lawyer in Luke’s Gospel. It is not just for society’s elite who have overcome more fundamental needs, and only then may pursue thoughts of acquiring the riches of heaven. No, “what shall I do” is the most elementary and natural phenomenon in every man’s heart. This question is universal for all of humanity, in all places, and in all times. Seeking self-justification, “what must I do,” is a physiological craving shared by all creatures. With our appetites we hunger and thirst for it – to feast on the fat of self-fulfillment - to drink from the chalice of spiritual conquest.

In fact all of world history is an interplay – a battle of “what must I do.” Every human heart when faced with the inevitable confrontation with death seeks out a feverish movement of action and panic. That nation rises against nation, household against household, and neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother arises out deep distress of “what must I do?” The history of humanity is an endless succession of passing each other by in an endless obsession of self-preservation – seeking justification – vindication – retribution – claims – grievances - payments - profits – and settlements.

Man has always wanted to do it alone, cast God off, reconcile his perceived discrepancies, and seek his own self preservation. When we perceive and face the approaching fog of death man naturally gazes inward, asking “what must I do?” In our state of incurvatus est, no statement from our Lord is more terrifying than this, "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.”

This is devastating law for the man of action – man as “doer” – man as “knower” – man as “thinker” – man as self-justifying agent. He cannot think away the bloody corpse of Abel at his feet. We cannot undo our sexual exploits with Bathsheba. We cannot quiet our lying lips, which for years have slandered and mercilessly lacerated hundreds of our neighbors. We cannot rationalize away all the times we have passed our neighbor by who was desperately in need for the mercy of friendship, the mercy of affection and bodily need. We were busy! – occupied with our work – occupied with the law – occupied with a demonic dialogue with our Lord asking, “What must I do to reap heaven.” And asking, “Who is my neighbor?” We were walking along our own road toward greener pastures.

Dearest Christians, please rest from your performance. The curtain has come down in the final act, the final scene. Humanities great theatre of action has ended in each persons personal quest for mutual recognition and great glory. Histories great tribunal of retributions and vindications has ceased in a heavenly message, from another court.

What must I do and who is my neighbor are not questions spoken to God in the courts of heaven. They are the questions of sinners. They are our questions. Questions by sinners who have been beaten, robbed, and left for dead by sin, death, and the devil.

Dearest Christians, repent. As we have sought the law we have despised it. And in our seeking for justification we have hid ourselves from the justified one. The law was not given for your individual performance on the stage of world history.The great commandment that “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" is not to your condemnation. Before we consider what we are to do, we must first believe in what is given. This great commandment is the most precious, pure, and Holy Gospel. It is the promise of our Lord that is descriptive of the promised land, the promised relationship and new testament. This promise is descriptive of your God – descriptive of the faith and action of the good samaritan. In the name of Jesus you love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all mind. And because God has promised it you may love neighbor as yourself.

In the giveness of all creation, God comes first to fall among robbers, to be brutally stripped and beaten. To be left for dead – as a worm of men – to be passed by by the religious establishment – the spiritual questers – the self-justifiers – the self proclaimed divine actors of the kingdom. Our Lord comes as this good and lovely Samaritan – the foreigner and enemy of natural man’s religion - to snatch man from the jaws of death and defeat. Our Lord’s bowels are twisted in deep pity and compassion by our cruel treatment of one another. Our Lord is deeply grieved by the worst sinners and jealously seeks them out. Our Lord does not find those who are pleasing to him but creates those who are pleasing to him. For he comes for the worst sinners. He comes for the priest who fears the spiritual defilement of the bloody man and he comes for the Levite who in the depth of sin, withholds his mercy, fearing the compromising of his political and social capital.

Our Lord is unmercifully beaten and stripped that he may show us mercy. He attends to the cries of creation by coming in the flesh. He journeys across Calvary to where you are. He sees you and desires to meet you. He is grieved in his very body by your sin. He loves stooping down to meet you. And he does not love you in a generic sort of way. Your beaten body on the side of the road was not for God just another sinner to be saved.

No you are a distinct pearl in His creation. To your heavenly Father, you have a name, a face, a distinct personality. You have a peculiarity that he completely delights in, for God poured you out as milk, clothed you with flesh, and knit you together, bone by bone, numbering each hair on your head. God, coming in flesh – this Samaritan – this stranger – risks life and limb – pouring himself out to take you to safety. For you, He journeys to hostile territory. He journeys to Jerusalem.

Do not misunderstand this good and lovely Samaritan. Though he descends to His church with the gentleness of a lover and anoints you with the cleansing oil of forgiveness and heavenly drink, He rises violently against you oppressor – Satan and all the devils of the world. He bashes them against the rock of Peter’s confession – against your confession – that Christ and the power of God is on your lips. If you doubt it simply ask your brother to speak it from his own – and God will give His angels charge over you that you may believe.

What must you do? Nothing. Christ binds you into his heavenly body and gives you heavenly drink. He anoints you with His Holy Name and seals you in His Holy church. He forgives all sins, settles all debts, only asking you to rest in his Inn.Only in Christ’s Sabbath rest, may our work begin. Work begins because there is no work left to do. We encounter all of creation, with the wisdom of the incarnation – that God has made himself known in the man left for dead – known in the broken hearted and the captive – known in the outpouring of mercy for the passers-by – the priest – the Levite – for sinners – for us.

Because the temple curtain has come down our Lord gives us a new place to worship – the very body of our neighbor. Here we are free to offer our worship and praise – joyfully pouring out our sacrifice before God. For we no longer have to pass our neighbor by to get where we need to go. We have reached a dead end in heaven. We are free to be the broken and beaten man – free to be the Samaritan – free to be both Lord and servant – free to be sinner and saint – and free from the deadly disease of self-justifying thinking and self-justifying acting.In Christ’s mercy we are free to be merciful – to receive it and lovingly pass it on. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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