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The Law, Your Excuse for No Mercy? (Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity)

[Luke 10:29-37] But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The Law, Your Excuse for No Mercy?

Who is my neighbor? And who is that Good Samaritan? Am I being a neighbor? Jesus said, “Go, and do likewise.” But have I used the Law as my excuse for showing no mercy?

God’s command is to love your neighbor as yourself. Two men in our Lord’s parable, the priest and the Levite, however, used another Law as their excuse to show no mercy. They therefore proved not to be a neighbor to the injured man who had fallen prey to robbers.

The man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was overrun by robbers, stripped, beaten, and left half dead. Perhaps motionless and unconscious, to a passerby it may have been uncertain whether he was dead or living.

The priest and the Levite, traveling the same road up to Jerusalem, we would assume were on their way to serve in the Temple. They saw the wounded man. But they had a Law to keep. And they had responsibilities. They must not touch any unclean thing.

The man in the ditch is wounded, bleeding, perhaps dead, and would therefore make the priest and the Levite ceremonially unclean if they were to touch him. If they become unclean, they cannot fulfill the duties of their priestly service. The priest and the Levite therefore keep this one law and pass by the wounded man on the others side of the street.

Others in the Scriptures also use God’s Law as their excuse for no mercy. In obedience to the Sabbath law, the Pharisees forbade healing on the Sabbath. Having no pity for human hunger, they also condemned the disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath.

Others used their sense of justice as an excuse to have no mercy. In our Old Testament lesson today, God’s children in the northern kingdom of Israel, in retaliation for wrongs done, brutally defeated God’s children in the southern kingdom, Judah, and even intended to take the Judahites captive as slaves. But a prophet of God from Samaria said to the Israelites, “Have you not sins of your own against the Lord your God?” If they would be so brutal against wrongdoers, would not God therefore be brutal to them for their wrongdoings?

The priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable use the letter of God’s Law as their excuse to show no mercy, and, therefore, they miss the spirit of God’s Law which is to love your neighbor as yourself. When the Law becomes your reason to lack in compassion toward another, you have in fact morphed the Law into something foreign to God. Compassion and mercy are the weightier matters of the Law that should not be violated.

There was a man, however, in this parable who understood the true nature of God’s Law. He was a foreigner, a Samaritan, a natural enemy in the eyes of the Judahite who fell among robbers. This Samaritan has compassion on the wounded man. Binds his wounds. Pours on wine and oil, his own expense, to heal.

This Samaritan carries the weight of the wounded man on his own animal. He pays for the wounded man to stay in an inn. He tells the innkeeper to charge him with any additional cost.

The Samaritan made himself a neighbor to the wounded man. The Samaritan kept God’s Law in its fullest truth – he made himself a neighbor by loving someone who was a foreigner to him. He loved at his own cost for someone who could not pay back.

Brothers and sisters, you may have given to charity, but to whom have you truly made yourself a neighbor in deed and in heart? Or, toward whom have you failed to make yourself a neighbor? Toward whom have you not had compassion? Toward whom have you used the Law or your sense of justice as an excuse to show no mercy?

“Beggars are homeless by their own doing, their drinking or drugs.” “Poor people, welfare recipients, are poor because they are lazy. So I don’t need to help.” God commanded me to give, but I’ve found a way around it - I assume the worst about others so I can assume the best about my desire not to help. My law and justice say I don’t need to help those who aren’t helping themselves.

But God says to you what that Samaritan prophet said to the Israelites, “Have you not sins of your own against the Lord your God?” Don’t you fear God’s justice against your excuses? Jesus our Lord has said it: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” [Matthew 7:2]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a crowd, a group of people, in your nation that is in need of mercy and compassion. A crowd that is in need of good treatment – to be treated like humans and families. People in fear for their future and for the wellbeing of their children. People who are foreigners. Dads and moms who are trying to save their children from evil, but who are foreigners and immigrants.

But you have your excuse: They have broken the law. “It’s not a concern of mine how they are treated, they have broken the law.” “What happens to their two-and-three-year-olds doesn’t matter to me, their families have broken the law.”

Your supposedly noble belief in upholding the law is nothing more than an excuse, brothers and sisters. It is your excuse to justify your lack of compassion. You know it’s wrong to lack in compassion, but you say, “Aha! They broke the law! Now I have my good reason.” You can say what you want, but your God and Creator sees through your excuses and looks upon your hard heart and is ashamed.

Repent. You’ve failed to keep the weightier matters of God’s Law. You’ve given greater weight to national, civil law than to God’s command. Your motive is your desire not to love certain people. And I’m not talking about political policy. Drug and human trafficking are serious issues. Sealing off our border might very well be the right answer. But to lack in compassion, to fail to sympathize with a true heart, to fail to desire and seek the good treatment of another, is sin.

After Jesus told his parable, he asked the man to whom he told it, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The man knew the answer: “The one who showed him mercy”, he said. And Jesus said, “You go, and do likewise.”

Is there anyone or any class of people to whom we have failed to be a neighbor? Let us be ashamed, and let us repent and go and do likewise – do what this Good Samaritan did – as Christ has instructed.

In fact, let us do for others what Jesus, our Savior, has done for us. We ourselves do each have sins against the Lord our God. Just as the wounded man fell to robbers, we fall wounded by our own sins. We become unclean. We get left half dead by our own sins in thought, word, and deed. We have made ourselves unclean. But Jesus has not passed us by.

Instead, Jesus has become the Good Samaritan for us. By His wounds on the cross, He has healed the wounds of our sins. He cleans us, mends us, and has paid the price for us. Jesus, at the expense of His life, came and saved sinners - of whom we might be the worst -yet He has saved us.

So again, we who have sins and who deserve death and hell Jesus came to save – and has saved - and has given life. Let us forgive and love as we have been forgiven and loved. Let us thank our Savior, our Forgiver, our Helper. And let us go and do likewise. Amen.

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