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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Jesus told this story: “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?” (Luke 10:30-36).
A remarkable act of kindness! Especially when the hero was so different from the victim he saved. Samaritans were descended from intermarriages between Israelites and foreigners. They reminded the Jews of the conquerors who had brought these foreigners to their land centuries before, and they followed a mixed, corrupted religion, combining elements of Israel’s true worship with practices of their own pagan rites. As a result, the Jews deeply resented the Samaritans, and the feeling was mutual.
How might we fit into the same story?
A young couple was going down to the hospital to have their first baby when tragedy struck. The doctor had terrible news. The baby’s umbilical cord had twisted around her neck, depriving her of oxygen, and leaving her alive but with severe and permanent brain damage. “What can we do?” the parents pleaded.
“I hate to even suggest this,” the doctor began, “but you could choose to do nothing.”
“What do you mean?” they asked.
“The damage is irreversible,” he went on. “Your daughter will be profoundly handicapped as long as she lives. If we do nothing now, she’ll die. You have to decide, of course, but that might be better for everyone.”
Not sure what to do, but wisely realizing it was a decision they did not want to make on their own, the young couple called their pastor and asked him to come over to offer them some scriptural guidance in seeking God’s will.
Several hours later, a social worker stopped in. After gently expressing her sympathies, she came to the point. “I admire your decision to save your daughter’s life. Let’s talk now about what comes next. You realize, I’m sure, that she’ll have to be institutionalized. There’s nothing you’ll be able to do with her at home. It will just be too overwhelming for you.”
The little girl’s parents knew that it might be necessary to find help. But first, they thought, they would try to care for their child themselves. “Dear Lord,” they prayed, “be with our Angela. Give her a life that glorifies You and give us the patience and strength to love her and give her whatever she needs.”
They knew Angela already belonged to Jesus, for she had been baptized in the hospital the moment the crisis had been discovered. In the water and Word, God had adopted Angela as one of His own dear children. Now, her mother and father counted on our Savior to continue to provide for His tiny sister.
It was more difficult than they could have imagined. More than once they wished they had taken the social worker’s advice—or even the doctor’s advice. Special equipment, training, and countless trips to therapists were expensive and exhausting. And Angela was always different from other children. But they got help—their family was behind them, their congregation supplied financial and spiritual support, and an endless stream of volunteers and fund-raisers. And their pastor prayed with them often.
In answer to their prayers, Angela did live to glorify God. Each day of her life was a precious witness to God’s grace. Oh, she would never be on her own, get a job, or raise a family. But she exuded joy and a special zest for life. She smiled, sang, chatted endlessly about Jesus… and those close to her knew that someday she would also enjoy endless health and wholeness in heaven.
Let’s try this story another way.
A young boy was going to school in the United States for the first time. He had been a good student in Mexico, but now his father had come to work in the States, and the boy knew almost no English, leaving him anxious and feeling very much alone. Ruben wondered how he’d know where to go, what to do. Even more, he wondered if anyone would talk to him or invite him to play with them.
The morning was all right. He sat in his desk with all sorts of things happening in front of him. He didn’t really understand most of what was going on, but then no one actually expected him to. Not yet. He’d catch on eventually, his father said before he left the house that morning.
Then came recess. Now everyone was running, playing, laughing, having fun—with their friends. Not Ruben. He wished someone would be playing soccer. He could do that without talking, probably better than most of these kids. These boys played American football, and they didn’t invite him to join them. He realized he didn’t know how to play, but it still would have been nice to be asked. So, Ruben sat on a swing all by himself.
Lunch was worse. Ruben’s class went through the line together, but as soon as they got to their assigned table, Ruben felt alone again. Nobody seemed to notice as he looked for an empty seat. Everyone was having a great time.
Someone must have said something funny, because everybody laughed, and one boy’s milk came out his nose—but Ruben couldn’t get the joke. So he sat at the very end of the table and just ate his lunch, wishing he could have had one of his mother’s home-cooked meals instead.
The afternoon dragged on. He spent most of the time daydreaming he was back with his friends in Mexico. Finally, it was three o’clock. A teacher led all the children to the front curb. Students piled into waiting buses and cars. What? There was no bus diez, the one Ruben had ridden to school in the morning!
“Diez! Diez!” he shouted. The teacher didn’t understand. In a panic, Ruben wondered how he would ever get home.
“Ruben,” came a voice behind him. “I know where you wanna go. You were on my bus this morning.” Ruben didn’t understand, but he went along as Joshua took him by the hand. “Bus 10 doesn’t go in the afternoon for some reason,” he tried to explain. “We take bus 32.” Ruben shrugged, but grinned, and took the seat by Joshua.
They went a few blocks and the bus pulled over to the side of the road. “That’s my stop,” Joshua said as the bus pulled out again. “I’ll stay on with you this time and get off on the way back. He makes a loop.”
The bus ride went fast, even though neither one of the boys could catch much the other said. Then Ruben recognized his street. “Gracias!” he said as he got off. “See you tomorrow!” said Joshua. Ruben didn’t understand those words, either, but he understood the smile. Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day.
Let’s try the story another way.
Trudy planned to celebrate her 83rd birthday on Tuesday, but she had nowhere to go. Age had robbed her of her strength and was slowly stripping away her mental capacity too, leaving her helpless in a nursing home. As she sat in her wheelchair, an attendant read a card aloud: “To My Mother: A Son Can Never Choose His Mom and Perhaps That’s Just as Well. ‘Cause If Each Son Could Choose, I Know You’d Be One Busy Gal! Have a great day, Mom! You’re the best! Love, Dean.”
“That’s so sweet,” the attendant said as she put down the card. “Be nice if he stopped by once in a while,” she thought to herself.
“My Dean travels,” Trudy said. “Travels aaaaaall around.”
The telephone rang. The attendant picked it up. A voice on the other end said: “Hi, this is Diane Wilson, Trudy Vessey’s daughter.” The woman on the phone was in a hurry. “Could you wish my mom a happy birthday for me? We told her we were going to come by tomorrow, but it turns out we can’t. She probably won’t remember anyway, but if you could tell her. Thanks. We’ll send flowers or something. Thanks so much. Bye.”
“Diane just called to wish you a happy birthday, Trudy,” the attendant said.
“Diane’s coming over tomorrow. Tomorrow’s my birthday, you know. I’m going to be 83,” Trudy said.
Perhaps by the next day Trudy didn’t remember. Maybe she wasn’t disappointed that no one came. But when the noon meal was over and the other residents had all been wheeled back down the hall, she asked to stay in the dining room. The room was empty, quiet. For a long time, Trudy sat alone.
Then, bouncing into the room came a pretty girl, about 13 years old, with enough energy for both of them. “Hi!” she said. “I’m Tara. I just started today as a volunteer. Are you Trudy?”
“I hear it’s your birthday!” Tara chirped.
Trudy brightened up. “I’m 83.” But suddenly Trudy was 13 again, telling stories about that birthday, telling stories about her children’s birthdays. And as she spoke, you could almost see candles glowing in her eyes.
“Heh, just a second!” Tara said as she jumped up from the table. In a minute she was back, carrying a little dish of banana pudding topped with one flickering candle. “I think we need to have a party! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Trudy, happy birthday to you…”
Tara didn’t ask what Trudy had wished for when she blew out the candle.
Now let’s try the story one more way:
I was going downhill fast and didn’t even know it. Even before I was born, I’d fallen into the clutches of sin. My enemies—the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh—beat me down mercilessly, leaving me spiritually dead. I was just lying there, helpless. Nothing I could do could save me. Neither could anybody else, because everyone who passed by me had been beaten by the same enemies. Each one was wrapped in the same selfishness, the same sin, as I was. Unless someone had done something fast, I’d have perished forever in hell.
But then along came my Good Samaritan, who took pity on me, picked me up in His arms, and delivered me to safety. He even paid for my care Himself and promised to come back for me. Now, I’m bandaged, healed, and loving life.
Whose story is this? Who do you think was the Neighbor to the one who was spiritually dead?
The story of the Good Samaritan is actually every person’s story, with Jesus always the hero. But the story is not, first of all, about anything we are to do. That’s secondary. It’s really about what Jesus has done to save us in our need.
All of us by nature were dead in our sin and thus helpless to save ourselves. Seeing our great need, Jesus took pity on us, and came down to us to bind our wounds and touch us with His healing power. Throughout His life, Jesus carried our burden of sin. In His passion, He was spit upon, mocked, stripped, whipped, and beaten mercilessly. Half dead, He was forced to carry His own cross to Calvary.
On the cross, He paid the penalty for all of the sin of all the people of the world in full. The price He paid, of course, was His own life which He willingly gave up of His own accord. Jesus purchased us and redeemed us, not with silver or gold, but with His own holy and precious blood.
In our Baptism, Jesus picked us up in His arms and delivered us from death and the devil into eternal life. Then Jesus left us in the care of His Church, promising that one day He would return for all of His own. Until that day, Jesus left us to care for one another, to bear one another’s burdens. To comfort one another with the oil of joy and wine of gladness. To love our neighbor as ourselves.
As members of His body, the Church, we look after one another in love. We continue to pick up fellow travelers who have robbed and beaten by sin. And Jesus continues to “come back” in His Word and Sacraments. Through His means of grace, our Good Samaritan lavishes us with forgiveness and daily care until, finally, He will return to take us to heaven.
That, finally, is your story. Amen.
Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.