July 18, 2010: The Impossible Parable

Let us pray: Dear Savior, instill in us today a sense of mercy and compassion. Move us to look upon other hurting souls and actively try to assist them just as we would You. Forgive our failings when it comes to assisting others in need, while also blessing our successes. And above all, prevent us from getting a big head and thinking that our help to others somehow earns us Your favor. Instead, keep us focused on grace, or Your help to us, which makes our actions acceptable in Your sight. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SAVIOR WHO HELPS THE HELPLESS

TEXT: Luke 10: 25-37

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

“Man looks at the outward appearance, while God looks at the heart.” That is an inescapable truth taught in Scripture. Even the unbeliever has to admit that it is true. In fact, that’s why they like to throw the “hypocrite” label at Christians who have failings.

To avoid such labels, Christians often let the fear of a guilty conscience motivate them. For example, they might well think: “I’m busy and don’t really have time to get actively involved helping another in need. But, God expects me to “love my neighbor.” So, instead of being “hands on” I’ll simply donate a little food to the local pantry, or write a check out. Thereby I’ll assuage my conscience, avoid the hypocrite label, and I’ll also feel good about myself.” The world applauds such seemingly benevolent people. Occasionally, when they donate large amounts of money like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, the media applauds them as well. But, is that exactly what Christ had in mind when He said at the end of this parable: “Go and do likewise.”?

Today we have before us the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. Over the centuries it has been used to beat self-centered people into outward submission by laying guilt trips upon them. It has also been employed by many believers to burnish their heavenly credentials before God—at least in their own minds. Both approaches really miss the point of it all. And that’s why I’ve dubbed this:

THE IMPOSSIBLE PARABLE

I

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: ‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’”

Remember when Satan tempted Christ and told Him to hurl Himself off the temple’s pinnacle because “the angels will catch His fall.”? Recall Christ’s words to Satan: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The same applies to this theological “expert.” He answers Jesus’ question with biblical facts, but misuses them in order to stroke his own ego and feel quite superior. Now, this fellow shows his heart even more, as Luke tells us: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor.’” And then comes the impossible parable.

II

By his own words, this man shows that he really knows nothing of God, even though he can correctly quote the words which summarize the 10 commandments. The fact of the matter is: Loving God perfectly is impossible for sinful humans to do. The fact is: loving your fellow humans perfectly is also impossible for humans to do. Yes, God demands it from us. But we cannot deliver. That seed of sin within, our prideful arrogance, our self-love, prevents us from giving our all to Him and to others. As the Bible says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Therefore, we cannot inherit eternal life by our actions. The whole Law of God is designed to drive us into acknowledging that fact. And when it does, when our hearts are truly humbled, only then will we look at Christ with new eyes, see the Godly forgiveness He won for us on the cross, and also be given the perfect, loving, eternal inheritance He won for us! So, this fellow has totally missed the point, hasn’t he?

Well, our all-knowing Lord knows that. In fact, that’s exactly why He goes on to lay out the impossibility of attaining such perfection by our actions.—He lays out the parable of the Good Samaritan.

You all know this parable. The images Jesus uses underscore the depth of human inhumanity and hypocrisy. For example, the Jericho road was well-known as a very dangerous place, akin to perhaps rural Afghanistan today. Also, the robbers weren’t just robbers, but they also engaged in felonious assault and attempted murder—murder by leaving this man in the hot sun to die slowly. By employing the image of the priest and the Levite, or temple worker, passing by and refusing to get involved out of fear for their own safety, or perhaps just uncaring nature; Christ was zeroing in how humans who know better, still sin. By employing a hated Samaritan as the hero in the tale, Jesus was belittling the organized religious class of the day for their uncaring inhumanity. And by having that Samaritan businessman go above and beyond any sense of duty, Jesus was also revealing to his hearers that even non-believers can act more civilized and more loving than those who profess allegiance to God.—Thereby revealing that rightness before God and eternal life can never be procured by any human—even those who believe in His existence.

III

Jesus ends this parable by asking: “Which of these three (men) do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus then told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
Obviously this “expert” knows he’s being put in his place. Note well that his self-righteousness is still so strong that he cannot say: “the Samaritan” but instead, “the one who had mercy.” And then by commanding him to “Go and do likewise” Jesus was not only shaming his attitude, but also pointing out how hard, how impossible this is to do on an ongoing, daily basis. There is no “do it now and then.” There is no “do it when it’s convenient.” There are no escape hatches when Christ issues this command. Just “do it!”

Luke ends the story there. And that tells a terribly sad tale. Upon hearing Jesus say such words, this man should have screamed: “Well, I can’t go and do likewise all the time! I’m a sinner. My attitude towards loving my neighbor wavers daily! I’m incapable of showing perfect mercy! What You’re telling me is impossible for humans to achieve!”—That’s what this man should have said, but obviously he didn’t because Luke didn’t record any answer. But, but, if he had said those words, what would Christ have said in response? I can hear Him now.—“Yes, it’s impossible for you to achieve, but nothing is impossible with God! And that’s why I, the Son of God have come to earth. I came to offer eternal mercy to all lost sinners. I came to seek out and to save the lost. I came to earn perfection before the Almighty for you and to bestow it upon you through My gift of faith. Perfect altruism is impossible for any human to achieve. But I am not any human. I am the Savior, God made flesh, Who has earned a heavenly inheritance for you. Here, take it. I offer it to you. Admit your failings and be filled with My love which never fails.”

Folks, Jesus says those words to you this morning. And armed with them, His active love now moves us to seek out ways to “Go and do likewise.”—Not because it honors us, but because it’s a way for us to try to honor Him! Let His mercy always cover your actions in life for thereby the impossible parable becomes possible. Amen