Our liturgy preserves those ancient Greek words
because they are the most salutary expression of faith.
“Lord, have mercy.”
It becomes clear only when there’s nothing else you can do.
You need God’s mercy.
But as long as you think you have the strength or power in yourself,
you will try to use it.
Who wants to rely completely upon someone else,
to be at their mercy?
Especially when that person has strict and demanding rules
about who is deserving and who is not.
God’s commandments are good, right, and even beneficial,
but mankind does not love them, because we cannot keep them.
Yet we can have a vain hope of keeping God’s commandments.
That alone prevents many from uttering that prayer of repentance:
Kyrie eleison: Lord, have mercy.
How you take Jesus shows how you view yourself.
He has mercy as you were expected to do.
He has the mercy you need for eternal life.
Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
How you take Jesus shows how you view yourself.
Two weeks ago, we heard a parable in our sermon text:
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
They viewed themselves quite differently,
the Pharisee giving thanks for being such a great person;
the tax collector asking only for God’s mercy.
This week we hear about mercy again,
and if God grants it, we will hear the word next week too.
In today’s text, the person speaking with Jesus is a lawyer.
That means he was an expert in teaching the Scriptures.
To us, a “lawyer” is an expert in the many layers of law:
criminal, civil, prior court decisions, bureaucratic regulations.
The Romans probably had lawyers like that too,
but for the Jews, the only important Law was God’s law.
Remember that they called Moses’ books the Torah,
a word which means “Law,” but more generally than we use it.
So this lawyer spent his time studying and teaching from the Bible.
Who would you say this lawyer was more like:
the Pharisee from two weeks ago, or the tax collector?
The Pharisee thought himself already justified before God.
The tax collector believed he needed God’s mercy.
Well, the lawyer asked Jesus,
Doing what will I inherit eternal life?
He did not mention mercy at all.
He had asked what must be done, so that’s what Jesus told him.
Just as Moses wrote, that’s what you must do:
Have a perfect, all-consuming love for God,
and utterly selfless love for your neighbor.
And now there was a difference between the lawyer and the Pharisee.
The Lawyer felt the need to vindicate himself,
asking, And who is my neighbor?
It’s in Jesus’ answer that our text brings us back to mercy.
His parable is about a man who needed mercy,
and no doubt about it.
But the shining example of mercy was a Good Samaritan.
Not the priest who passed by, nor the Levite who passed by.
It was the outsider, the despised and slighted one,
and he showed such mercy that it became his hallmark.
Which of these three do you think was neighbor
to him who fell among the thieves?
He who showed mercy on him.
And then came Jesus’ answer to the Lawyer’s question:
Go and do likewise.
An impossible task,
to have such self-sacrificing mercy upon another,
especially when that person would despise you for it.
For the Samaritans were all despised by the Jews,
since Jewish Samaritan ancestors had intermarried with Gentiles,
and they had lost regard for most of the Scriptures.
Yet it was a Samaritan who showed such mercy,
without any hope of a favor or benefit in return.
Impossible for us, but nevertheless expected under God’s Law.
That was Jesus’ point to the Lawyer.
Do this, and you will live.
The unspoken objection rings in your ears, doesn’t it?
“But who can do that?”
The assumed answer is “Nobody!”
But that answer is wrong. Someone has done that.
The Good Samaritan is Jesus,
who kept even the smallest details of the Law, perfectly.
He had perfect, all-consuming love for God,
and utterly selfless love for all His neighbors.
Jesus came to Earth in obedience to His Father,
on a mission to sacrifice His perfect life for rebellious man.
Knowing all along that man would despise Him for it.
That’s the standard set for the Lawyer,
and for all who ask the same question.
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
If you take Jesus as a master Lawyer, or even your role model,
then you have your answer, and your work cut out for you.
But don’t overestimate your strength or your power,
because this standard is too high for a sinner like you.
Instead of hoping to be merciful like Jesus,
let Him show His mercy to you. Pray Kyrie eleison.
This parable perfectly describes the mercy we should show,
but at the same time, the mercy Jesus does show.
Like the Samaritan, Jesus is a perfect example of mercy.
He’s the example that sinners like you cannot reach,
and yet all who fail are under the judgment of God.
But like the Samaritan, Jesus’ mercy has an object, a beneficiary.
He shows mercy to those travelers through life
who have been left for dead by God’s commandments.
When you ask, What must I do to inherit eternal life?
you are asking to hear God’s commandments.
That question views Jesus as a great expert in the Law:
a lawyer who can guide you in what you should do.
And it views you as someone who can and should do it.
But when God answers that question for you,
and says Go and do likewise, you can’t.
The reality of the commandments strips away your clothing,
leaving you defenseless against the elements.
They pummel you with impossible requirements,
then leave you condemned to die for your utter failure.
Do you have a perfect, all-consuming love for God?
Do you selflessly love all your neighbors? I didn’t think so.
Priests can’t help you. Levites can’t help you.
That is, neither ministers nor Christians can save you.
After all, we are each only sinful humans like yourself.
It may appear that we’re doing better than you under the Law,
but no, the day comes for us all to be left for dead.
Only someone else can help, a foreigner,
someone who cannot be condemned by God’s law.
The Samaritan is that foreigner in the parable:
someone from outside Jewish culture and society,
yet still with lips to speak words of comfort
and with two hands to show mercy.
So Jesus is the only one who can help you.
He’s not from here, not from this world at all.
The Law cannot threaten the perfect Son of God.
Yet He’s also human,
able to bind your wounds and bring you to safety;
able to stretch out His hands and die for you.
Jesus comes with God’s own message of forgiveness to you.
He washes away your sins with the oil and wine of Baptism.
He restores your strength with the food of Holy Communion.
He binds your wounds with the gift of His righteousness,
and God’s official pronouncement of absolution.
Where you have been unloving toward God and your neighbor,
God’s Son became your neighbor to supply what you lacked.
God’s love in Jesus alone is enough to save you,
by substituting His life in place of yours.
As the Law could not condemn Him,
so now it can no longer condemn you.
You are clothed in His perfect, righteous garments.
And He has taken away your tattered rags forever.
But He’s not done with helping you.
The Good Samaritan brought his patient to an inn,
and with a promise to return, left him in the innkeeper’s care.
So now Jesus has also brought you into His Church,
which is much like a hospital full of rescued patients.
It’s an odd hospital, where the patients help each other,
by administering the same healing medicine to each other,
and where the staff themselves are patients too,
and we all await our deliverance to eternal life.
So you who were condemned by your lack of love and mercy,
have now been rescued by the very mercy you lacked,
given to you by the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Instead of approaching Jesus as a mere master lawyer,
we now approach Him as our Savior.
But that means we are no longer keepers of God’s Law;
instead, recipients of His mercy.
Jesus has done what was needed for your eternal life.
Now, you simply receive it as God’s gift to you,
provided in the forgiveness of your sins.
You possess eternal life even now,
as you believe this message, and trust in God’s promise.
May we ever remember that blessed expression of faith:
Lord, have mercy. Kyrie eleison.
Soli Deo Gloria