“Jesus, the Compassionate One”
March 4, 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bossier City, LA
INI + AMEN
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” Yep, the lawyer’s right. That’s the first 3 Commandments. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer’s right again. The Lord commands it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am YHWH”—Leviticus 19:18. Loving your neighbor as yourself is what commandments 4–10 are all about, and we know that the Law stands firm. The Law is God’s eternal and everlasting will. Jesus doesn’t get rid of the Law. He says, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” What God commands we must do, but thankfully what God commands Jesus fulfills. Yes, it’s true:
WE ARE TO “LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS AS OURSELVES,” AND JESUS DOES EXACTLY THAT TO SAVE US.
(I. The Lord commands it but we don’t fulfill it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”)
The lawyer had heard this command a lot. We have too! We agree with it. I’m sure the lawyer did too. I mean: who wouldn’t? But even though the Lord commands “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we don’t do it. We’re almost as bad as the lawyer from our text. We’ll play word games. “Who’s my neighbor?” Who indeed? “Neighbor” doesn’t just mean the person who lives next door to you. It doesn’t just mean your family: your parents, your kids, your brothers or sisters, your husband or wife. It doesn’t just mean your friends. It doesn’t just mean your co-workers. “Neighbor” means everyone who lives around you, and it’s not just the people you like. “Neighbor” includes even those people we don’t like.
This is why we’ll play word games like the lawyer from our text. It’s all fine good for me to love people I like. It’s easy to love those who love me: who treat me right, who look out for me, who obviously have my best interest at heart. What about the co-worker who rubs you the wrong way? The one who’s too laid back, to pushy, to messy, to rigid, who’s always late, who’s always early, or whatever it may be. And we’ll talk about him with our co-workers around the water-cooler, the coffee pot, or wherever. Isn’t all the more with our friends and family members? We’ll think, “I know he’s my neighbor, but…” There’s no but. And if some of the things we say about our elected officials were said about us or to us, we’d throw a fit. They’re also our neighbors. Fellow drivers on the road are even our neighbors!
Jesus says elsewhere, “Love your enemies.” Jesus says this because your enemies are also your neighbors. The friends who turned their back on you, who ratted you out, the teacher who always gives you a hard time, the boss who’s always on your back, the family member who’s turned against the family, anyone who’s done something against you or someone or something you care about. Whoever they are, they’re your neighbor. You’re to love them—each of them—as yourself. We’re to treat them as we want to be treated, love them in the same way we want to be loved. We’re to forgive them freely. That’s true love for someone: to look past their sins, their shortcomings and forgive them. Jesus says elsewhere, “Pray like this…forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus wants us to “sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” This is all part of what the Lord commands when He says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
No amount of other laws or rituals will make up for the fact that we don’t love those around us, including our enemies. We definitely try to make up for it. First, we’ll try more lawyering: we’ll think that they’ve had too many chances to do or not do, or make up for, or whatever. But wouldn’t you want another chance? Always another chance? We’ll harbor some resentment. We’ll treat them like they’re dead to us. But no amount of caring for your own family, or going to church on a regular basis, or serving in some way at church or out in the community makes up for the fact that when you don’t love your neighbor, when you don’t love your enemy, when you don’t forgive them, you’re not acting like a Christian. Christians love their neighbors as themselves. That’s just what they do. It doesn’t matter who those neighbors are, what they’ve done, or haven’t done, if they’re sorry or not. In his first letter, St. John tells us, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from God: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” That’s what God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
(II. The Lord fulfills and surpasses it: “Love your neighbor as your yourself.”)
This is why we need Jesus. He fulfills the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He doesn’t avoid it, play word games. In fact, He speaks of His compassion and love for sinners, sinners who don’t love their neighbors as themselves—He speaks of this compassion in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We know this from one word in the parable. The Samaritan “had compassion.” This word is only used to talk about Jesus everywhere else in the whole New Testament. This is St. Luke’s clue to tell us that Jesus is speaking about Himself.
You see, Jesus is just like that Samaritan. He’s a foreigner: He’s God in the flesh. The Samaritans were at odds with the Jews—they were enemies. In our sinfulness, in our not loving our neighbors as ourselves, each of us is an enemy of God. But when Jesus sees us, He has compassion. That’s all Jesus can do: have compassion. There’s no other way. He doesn’t say, “They’ve had too many chances,” and then treats us like we’re dead to Him. He doesn’t just pass us by even though that’s exactly what we deserve for not loving our neighbor.
He has compassion. In fact, here we see that Jesus surpasses the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus loves His neighbor more than Himself. The Samaritan gives of his own possessions—two denarii—to get lodging, food, and care for the half-dead man. He gives two days worth. That’s how much two denarii is worth. He will return on the third day to give more if needed. Jesus also gives: He lives His life of love in our place, to do what we can’t. He then gives His life in death on the cross to pay for our lack of love, but then He comes back on the third day—like the Samaritan—and also gives that to us: His Resurrection. Jesus loves His neighbor, you and me, more than His own life.
The Samaritan doesn’t just pass by, but he “went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” Oil and wine were used for healing purposes in those days. Jesus binds us up. He binds us up with the healing balm of Baptism. He gives us strength with His body and blood in the bread and wine of the Supper. He binds up our hearts with His Word. Jesus uses these things, His Baptism and Supper, His Word, His oil and wine to restore us to life, to forgive us. By restoring us to life in Him, He saves us from spiritual death, our lovelessness. which would’ve ended with eternal death. But thanks to Him applying His oil and wine, we are now alive. That’s what Jesus’ gifts do for us. His gifts bind us up and save us. They make us alive. They give us forgiveness.
See what else the Samaritan did: “Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” He then said to the innkeeper, “Take care of him.” Jesus brings us into His Church where His pastors care for us like Jesus has. In fact, it’s how Jesus cares for us now. The Lord’s pastors “do likewise.” They care for us by continually applying the Lord’s healing. The Lord brings us to a place where we can confess our failed love, our lack of love, and receive His innkeeper’s forgiveness. More balm to heal our woes. Just like the innkeeper would’ve told that man, “This Samaritan has bound up your wounds, and I’m to care for you until He returns.”
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves because the Lord commands it. Your neighbor is everyone around you, including those who’ve wronged you, your enemies. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Don’t try and think that there are. But who else your neighbor? Thanks be to God, Jesus is, and He loves each of us the abandoned, beat-up, not-so-loving, and left-for-dead travelers that we were. He still cares for us. He brings us to this place to care for us until we’re with Him forever.
INI + AMEN.