–By Deaconess Elizabeth Ahlman
The Old Adam loves the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Old Adams loves, like the lawyer, to try to find a way to justify himself using the parable of the Good Samaritan. Even though Old Adam has a whiff of the fact that he cannot keep the law to love God with his whole heart, mind, strength and his neighbor as himself, he wants to see if he can get around that fact. If he could just limit it a bit, then that would do it. So the Old Adam, like the lawyer, asks for marching orders. Who is my neighbor? If Jesus would just give us a list of 5-10 people, that we could do. We read this parable, we hear “go and do likewise,” and off we run, searching to and fro for just who is our neighbor.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And 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 answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 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. 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37 ESV).
And then we run ourselves ragged trying to figure it out. Is it just those closest to us in our vocations? Our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children, co-workers, friends? Is it also the grocery store clerk we see every Wednesday and the homeless person we walk by on the way to work? How does that extend out? What about the other homeless people in our city, the people hit by that tsunami or the asylum-seekers crossing borders or those under totalitarian murderous regimes…or…or…? Soon enough, our Old Adam’s plan to justify himself by defining the neighbor and setting to work in fulfilling the law by serving him is falling to pieces. The more we try and the harder we work, the more we realize we cannot do it. The sheer number of people in need is overwhelming. The sheer lack of our love for all of them is convicting. Our motives are suspect. Our sheer inability to “go and do likewise” is crushing.
We have placed ourselves under the law, and the law does its deed. It beats us to a bloody pulp, strips us naked and leaves us half-dead by the side of the road. It makes us enemies of God, rather than justified before Him.
And then Jesus turns our question on its head. The question is not “who is my neighbor?” The question is: “Who was the neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” And the answer is not “the one who fulfilled the letter of the law.” The answer is, “the one who had mercy.” Let me say that again: The answer is the One who had mercy. The answer is, in fact, Jesus, who though we are enemies of God beaten and bloodied by His holy and perfect law, shows us mercy. He binds our wounds and washes away the blood. He clothes us and picks us up out of the ditch and takes us to where we are served. Then, He turns around and places Himself into the hands of the thieves and robbers — into the hands of the law of God — is beaten, bloodied and left for dead. He dies the death that belonged to us. We live in the care of the church where we are continuously shown God’s mercy in Word and Sacrament.
Now, when we ask “who is my neighbor,” we are asking something to which there is already an answer. Our Neighbor is Jesus, who has shown us mercy. As those who have been shown mercy, we “go and do likewise.” Not under the law or by our own power, but only because the Merciful One is merciful to us and through us. He has made us to be the mercy-d and the merciful.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Merciful Neighbor, continue to bind our wounds, even those brought about by ourselves, and work in us and through us to serve a world in need; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.