Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “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 he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)


Recently I was talking with someone about theology and the the conversation went to the essential role that feeling God’s delights plays in forming mature Christians. I recalled a child psychology course I took in college that pointed out that infants learn their first social cues by noticing that they can cause delight in their parents. 

When a baby does something cute and we smile and then repeats it and we smile or laugh again, the child learns on several deep levels that they can affect the big people who are essentially their whole world. All future social interactions between children and caregivers stem from this most basic lesson: a child can cause delight. If infants, toddlers and children don’t see delight in the faces of those who care for them, forming bonds becomes incredibly difficult.


In this week’s Deuteronomy passage, God promises to be the delighted parent. God will rejoice over the Israelites as God rejoiced over their parents. And just as a laugh, coo or funny face comes naturally to a baby and causes delight to parents, God wants delightful obedience to come naturally to the holy community.

God also insists that obedience to the law is not out of the people’s grasp. The law isn’t in heaven or under the sea but in the mouths and hearts of the community that God has created and brought together. The commandments aren’t too difficult for people!

Of course, everybody falls short and misses the mark from time to time. That doesn’t surprise God. Accordingly, God designed the sacrificial system as part of the law. Even before Christian sanctification, there is this notion that most folks can follow most of God’s law most of the time without too much difficulty. In a couple weeks, we’ll hear Jesus say that even evil people know how to be good when they choose to be. I would argue that Martin Luther shared this understanding, with his first use of the law to curb violence. Humans have power to curb (some/most of) their own violence once instructed in the law. Even before the work of sanctification, a basic obedience to the law is possible and desirable, both for minimizing injustice and for pleasing God.

It’s precisely this context, in which obedience to the law is thought to be both possible and desirable, that shapes Jesus’ conversation with an expert on the law. The lawyer asked Jesus a question to trap him: What must I do to have eternal life? Jesus, knowing that this person was an expert in the law, turned the question back to him. The lawyer, no slouch, quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart …,” and Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This was a suitable answer for Jesus, who said, “Do this and you will live.”

When Jesus introduces him to the story you should think of a villain with long mustache, top hat and cape, or the cowboy in the black hat and silver trimmed back vest—the stereotypical villain that the crowd boos and hisses when he comes on the screen.

That’s how the Israelis felt about Samaritans. And this hated, evil, despised person is the hero of Jesus’ story. Instead of telling the lawyer whom he had to help, Jesus shook things up by telling him that his true neighbor, the one who would help him, could be the person he least expected.

When the lawyer asked Jesus who his neighbor was, he was trying to define, to negotiate, the limits of his own love toward others, Jesus turned this backwards by establishing a love ethic that has no limits, and that does not play by our rules of who’s in and who’s out. 

This story goes beyond our relationships with each other, beyond who we are to help and from whom we can expect help. It moves past all that into our relationship with God.


Think about this for a moment the man in the ditch had acted foolishly by traveling alone on a dangerous road. He did not deserve help. If he could have chosen his helper, he would have chosen either the priest or the Levite, people who had a duty to help him. But no, he was helped by a Samaritan, who helped him willingly, freely, graciously, lovingly, without judgment or any expectation of pay back.

Instead of always wanting to identify with the Good Samaritan could it be that you and I are the person in the ditch, and God is the Good Samaritan. Deep down, most of us don’t want God’s hand-out of love, we don’t want God’s generous offer of grace. We want to deserve it, we want to earn it; but the truth is, we can’t. We really can’t. We are the one in the ditch. We are the wounded and foolish ones, those who are helpless and in need of help and healing.

The question, “Who is my neighbor?” is the second question the lawyer posed in this lesson and that’s when the lawyer fell in the ditch. See, he didn’t blink an eye at the monumental idea of devoting his entire existence to loving God. Isn’t that what “all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind,” implies? Total and complete commitment. If you give all that over to God, there isn’t much room left for TV, or sports, or gardening, or dating or whatever. But, apparently, the lawyer was okay with that demand.

It’s the neighbor business that bothers the lawyer. Perhaps this is because it is easier to get caught not loving your neighbor than it is to get caught not loving God. It’s pretty obvious to everyone if you fail to feed the hungry or clothe the naked; but who’s going to notice if you don’t pray or read your Bible enough? The man is guilty of the companion sins of pride and ingratitude. 

He pridefully believes he is capable of pleasing God through his own actions and he is therefore not grateful to God for God’s love and grace. He does not admit either his own need or God’s action to save, and so he has the audacity to raise the question, “About whom am I required to care?”

If you get part one: that God has loved us so much and so freely that all we can do is love him in return; then part two: the way to show our love to God is to love everybody else the way God has loved us; comes naturally. So, what is the answer to the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Nothing, absolutely nothing. God has already given eternal life to you. But our calling today is to live in that love, to reach out to others with that love, to be that love in the world for the sake of Jesus the Christ who gave himself for us.


The lawyer was hoping to trap Jesus—instead they ended up agreeing with one another. Jesus didn’t tell this story in order to tell the lawyer that Samaritans were good or that priests were bad. Instead, he told the story specifically to answer the lawyer’s question: Who is my neighbor? To make sure that the lawyer understood his point, Jesus asked, “Who was a neighbor to the man?” The expert in the law couldn’t even bear to say the word “Samaritan.” Instead he choked out: “The one who showed him compassion.” Jesus told the lawyer to go and do likewise—love your neighbor, whoever is in your path.

Friends, we don’t know if the lawyer followed Jesus or not, but he was invited to. We don’t know if the Spirit changed his heart and life, but was invited to. But we do know that Jesus told him to love his neighbor, even—maybe especially—the neighbors who made him uncomfortable. That is just the basic requirement for being human.

Being a Christian, empowered with the love of Jesus to help bring the kingdom of God to earth, is hard work. We, as humans, are insufficient to that task without the Spirit. But you know what, loving your neighbor, being a decent human being, should be as natural as a baby making sounds or funny faces. And loving our neighbor causes God delight. We have hard work to do in realizing the fullness of the kingdom of God, to be sure. So let’s not get hung up on the basic stuff. Loving your neighbor shouldn’t be that hard.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says as he leads the way. We go with him to help one person at a time. We are all in and he is too.