All right. So here we are, returning to Luke after a five week break. Which means we had better review a bit:
Starting in Chapter 8 we saw Jesus’ war with Satan begin to escalate toward a crisis point: his miracles became bigger, more powerful. Then, in Chapter 9, we saw Jesus’ send out his twelve disciples with the power to cast out all demons, expanding the war even more. Soon afterward, God the Father met with Jesus on a mountaintop and praised him for a job well done. He confirmed that Jesus really is his Son, the Anointed One, the True King, and that the Kingdom is now his to claim.
So, as tension continued to rise, Jesus turned to make his final march on Jerusalem, the capital of his kingdom. He sent seventy-two disciples into battle ahead of him, armed with nothing except the power to preach forgiveness, heal the sick, and cast out demons. And when they came back to report on how the war was going, Jesus told them he had seen the whole thing already: because of their preaching, Satan had been cast out of heaven. He can no longer accuse God’s people of sin.
So as we pick up the story here in Chapter 10, the turning point of the war has come — and gone. From this point on in Luke’s gospel, we see Satan in retreat, falling back and falling back and falling back to his headquarters in Jerusalem as Jesus marches forward to reclaim his Father’s Kingdom.
So, for the next nine chapters we will be following Jesus on his final victory march. And we’re going to see that Jesus really begins to focus his time on teaching his disciples. He is preparing them to be government ministers in his Kingdom. He has already warned them that it will be a different kind of kingdom — but it is a kingdom nonetheless.
Really, what we have just seen in the 72 disciples’ ministry is the conception of the Church. The rest of Luke’s gospel is sort of like the gestation period, the pregnancy. Then, if we were to go on to Luke’s second book, the Book of Acts, we would see the actual birth of the Church in Chapter 2. So we could think of these next nine chapters as Jesus setting the DNA of the embryonic Church as he prepares his disciples for life outside the womb. And that is us, by the way! So we had better pay attention.
So Luke starts our lessons with three episodes that are designed to give us a firm foundation in God’s Law. Because, if we are going to be citizens of God’s Kingdom, we had better understand the Law of that Kingdom, right?
And what exactly is God’s Law? The Ten Commandments.
So Luke wrote these next three episodes to teach us the Ten Commandments.
And this is where you all say, “really? I don’t see the Ten Commandments here! This is a story about a man who gets robbed, and then a story about two sisters fighting. And the next chapter is about the Lord’s Prayer. So how are these stories about God’s Law?”
Well, in Luke, anytime a lawyer shows up in the story, you can be sure that a conversation about God’s Law is not far behind. And that’s exactly what happens here: the battle has turned. Satan is on the run. Jesus is marching toward his capital city, setting captives free as he goes, and then — boom! — a lawyer confronts Jesus:
 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now I should pause here to point out that an Expert in the Law — a lawyer — in those days meant an Expert in God’s Law. This guy is more than just a Pharisee: Pharisees were like theology professors, but these Experts in God’s Law could actually hear cases and settle disputes between people. And many of them were priests. Priests only served at the temple a few weeks a year; so for the rest of the time many of them would earn their living as lawyers.
So this lawyer stands up and says, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, obviously, he already knows the answer. He is trying to start a conversation with Jesus where, he hopes, Jesus will make a theological mistake. Remember, Jesus has already gotten in trouble with these guys: way back in Chapter 6 he healed a man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day, which was the Jewish Holy Day, the day where no one was supposed to do any work. They tried to pretend that healing someone is actually “work”, and Jesus spanked them pretty hard that time.
Now another guy wants to take a shot. So he says, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”
That’s always a good tactic, right? Ask the lawyer what he thinks, he’ll be happy to tell you!
So the lawyer answers in verse 27: ” ‘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.’ ”
And there we go: that is the Ten Commandments, boiled down to two: “Love the Lord your God with everything you are,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That is the foundation of God’s Kingdom: “Love the Lord your God,” and, “Love your neighbor.” Simple, wat?
And, even better, the lawyer is actually quoting two verses from the Old Testament. The first part comes from Deuteronomy 6:5. The second part about loving your neighbor comes from Leviticus 19:18. This was a common way for Jews to summarize the law in those days.
So Jesus says, “You have answered correctly.”
Then he says, “Do this and you will live.”
“So, Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Oh, you know, all you have to do is love God and your neighbor perfectly.”
Riiiiiight. Simple, but impossible.
And the lawyer knows it.
See, really, he screwed up. If he had stuck to talking about the Sabbath, and halal food, and who you’re not supposed to eat with, then he could have had a good argument with Jesus. They could have quibbled over the details all day long, like theologians do.
Instead, he summarized, using scripture, and brought “love” into the conversation. That was a mistake. Because no doubt this lawyer could prove just how good he was at keeping the Sabbath, eating halal, not touching unclean people — but how does a man prove that he loves God with all his heart, all his soul, all his strength, all his mind?
Can’t be done.
Now, no doubt this lawyer thought they would start with the summary, and then move on to arguing over the details. And he probably thought he was going to catch Jesus going soft on God’s Law. After all, Jesus has already gone soft on the Sabbath, soft on the halal diet, soft on who he touches and who touches him. The lawyer probably expected Jesus to lower the standards of God’s Law — and then the lawyer was going to pounce and prove that Jesus is an apostate. Ta da!
Instead, Jesus raised the standards of God’s Law so high that even the lawyer couldn’t reach!
In effect, Jesus has just told this guy, “It’s great that you know all the right answers and everything, but you are actually not good enough to inherit eternal life…and you never will be.”
Which is quite a hard spanking, you have to admit. A public one, too.
Now at this point the lawyer should have given up. He should have said, “oh no. I’m screwed. I’m not going to inherit eternal life if those are the conditions.” And then, if he had asked his question again — but with a repentant attitude this time — “Lord, what should I do to be saved?” then no doubt Jesus would have told him, “I have the authority to forgive your sins! I can make sure you inherit eternal life! Put your faith in me!”
But does the lawyer give up? No he does not. (And the disciples are probably like, “Stay down, man! Stay down! We’ve seen this before, it never ends well for you guys!”) Realizing how bad he looks in front of everyone, the lawyer tries to bring the standards of God’s Law back down to a reasonable level. So he says, “c’mon Jesus, I’m not so bad! I do pretty good at loving my neighbor! — when I can tell who is my neighbor, of course.”
And this is a pretty clever response, actually. See, the lawyer is still trying to bend the conversation back around to the details of the law: who he should eat with, who he should not eat with, that sort of thing. He wants to say, “It’s okay for me to invite a Jew into my home for dinner, but it would be against God’s Law for me to eat with a pagan, right?” And then he thinks Jesus will say, “Yes, you should eat with pagans too!” And then the lawyer will say, “Ah ha! See I knew you didn’t care about holiness!”
So he is still trying to trap Jesus and make himself look good in verse 29: “And who, exactly, is my neighbor?”
 In reply Jesus said: “Once upon a time, a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.
And by the way, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was famous for robbers.
They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
So this guy is in deep trouble: badly wounded, helpless, on a lonely mountain road, no one around to help him.
But then, luckily:  A priest happened to be going down the same road!
— the man is saved! Help has arrived! —
But…when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
Mmmmm-kay. Now maybe the lawyer would try to suggest that the priest was worried about defiling himself by touching a dead body, but a). the man wasn’t dead, and b). even if he looked dead, the law allowed priests to help bury dead bodies if there was no one else around to do it. It was considered a virtuous act, actually.
So the priest in the story is being an insensitive jerk, even by local standards.
Jesus goes on:  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Now Levites were not priests, but they did serve at the temple, so getting defiled was a concern for them: it could keep them from doing their job for at least seven days. But still: it was considered virtuous to help bury the dead.
And at this point in the story, Jesus’ listeners are starting to see the pattern, right? Priest, works at the temple, turns out to be a jerk. Levite, works at the temple, turns out to be a jerk. So this is starting to look like a story about how the temple is corrupt and religious guys are all jerks.
So who is going to be the next character to come along? Well, probably just an ordinary Jew. Not a “holier than thou” judgemental religious type: just a regular guy. And then Jesus will finish by saying that regular people are okay too, and you lawyers need to stop being so uptight.
That’s what the listeners are probably expecting.
Instead: …a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
What? A Samaritan is the hero?
If you recall from last chapter, Chapter 9, the Samaritans were half-Jews, who believed that they worshiped God more correctly than the Jews. So the Jews hated them on racial and religious grounds, and the Samaritans hated them back. Does this remind anyone of conditions in a certain unnamed country? I’ll give you a clue: the country’s name begins with “M” and ends with “alaysia”. For Jesus to throw this twist into his story would be like going to a temple and telling a story where the Chinese are the bad guys and the hero is a Malay. Or making a movie with local actors where the bad guys are all Muslims and the good guys are all Buddhists.
It’s even more unusual when we remember that, back in Chapter 9, when the Samaritans were first introduced, they insulted Jesus and refused to give him a hotel room because he was a Jew. So we would expect Jesus to make the Samaritans the bad guys in his stories, not the good guys!
But anyway, verse 34: He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine —
— which was medicine in those days —
Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins —
— which would have paid for about twenty-four days of hotel room back then —
and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
Now that is actually a shocking level of generosity for a stranger. Not only was it expensive, it was risky too! Remember, this was a road famous for robbers. And a common trick was to set out some bait — a damsel in distress, or a sick man — and then ambush whoever stopped to help. It happens even today. When I was a truck driver in America, driving coast-to-coast, our company policy stated that no driver was allowed to stop and help a car broken down in the desert at night, because that is how trucks get hijacked: damsel in distress, broken-down car, and the rest of the gang hiding in the ditch.
One night I did stop for a car, broken down in the desert. Jesus was definitely with me that night…but I’ll tell you that story another time.
So this Samaritan took a personal risk and a financial risk when he helped this man. And we have to ask, “Why? What motivated him?”
Well, Jesus told us what motivated him, back in verse 33: “when he saw him, he took pity on him.” This word “pity” is the same word translated “compassion” back in Chapter 7, when Jesus saw the widow with her dead son. At that time Jesus was gut-wrenched with compassion for the widow. Now, in this story, the Samaritan is gut-wrenched with compassion for this stranger.
The hero in Jesus’ story doesn’t care if the half-dead man is a Jew, or a pagan, or a Chinese, or Malay or Indian: he sees a human being in trouble, and he acts.
The Samaritan resembles Jesus, doesn’t he?
In fact, since Jesus is making up this story, we could say that this Samaritan is Jesus’ idea of a perfect disciple. This Samaritan is Jesus’ picture of what it looks like to act out God’s Law.
Because remember, Luke is teaching us God’s Law with these episodes. This is not just a cute little story about how we should be nice to strangers. Jesus, through this story, is re-writing the code of God’s Law. Actually I should say Jesus is restoring the code of God’s Law, taking it back to what it originally meant when Moses’ wrote it down.
Jesus is showing us that God’s Law is not about legalistic details: it is about the heart. It is about Love. He is telling us that if we do not have compassion on those who are in need, then it doesn’t matter how many details of the Law we fulfill: we are not loving our neighbor, nor are we loving God.
So Jesus finishes with a pop-quiz:  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
But that wasn’t the question the lawyer asked, was it? He wanted to know, “Who is my neighbor? Who deserves for me to love them?”
Jesus has turned it around. He’s saying, “It doesn’t matter who the other person is. What matters is who you are.”
Jesus is asking, “Which character in my story acted out God’s love? Which character in my story fulfilled the true compassionate spirit of God’s Law?”
 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
— see how the lawyer couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan”? —
So then, Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
“So, Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Oh, you know, all you have to do is have a deep, gut-wrenching compassion for everyone, regardless of race or religion or anything else.”
Riiiiiight. Simple, but impossible!
So Jesus didn’t actually soften God’s Law at all, did he? Actually, the standard is still…up there where I can’t reach it. Can you?
Oooh. That’s sends a little chill down your spine, doesn’t it? Jesus has just told this lawyer — and all of us — “You are not actually ‘good enough’ to inherit eternal life…and you never will be.”
Friends, you and I will never be compassionate enough to inherit eternal life. Even if, one day, you have the great fortune to help someone who is desperately ill, and pay for twenty-four days of hospital care at great personal risk to yourself — well, guess what? That won’t be enough! God’s Law is uncompromising and unattainable, no matter what form it takes! “Love the Lord your God with all your heart”? “Love your neighbor as yourself”? I have trouble loving my own wife and kids as much as I love myself! and I know you all have the same trouble too.
Still, that impossible standard is the standard. Many people today, just like the lawyer, try to get around this by bringing “love” into the conversation. They say things like, “Oh, I don’t believe in a God of Law and Judgement! I believe in a God of Love!” They don’t realize that that actually makes things worse!
For instance, if we betray a harsh and unreasonable God, well then: he deserved it anyway, right? But if we betray a God who loves us with an all-consuming compassion…? Well, then we deserve what’s coming!
It’s like this: if a man has a wife who is harsh and abusive and really unattractive and then he goes off and has an affair, well…we may not approve of that, but we can all understand it. But if a man has the most beautiful, compassionate, considerate, fulfilling, interesting, challenging, loving wife in the world, and then he goes off and has an affair? Let’s be honest, friends: nobody on this planet would cut that guy a break!
So it does no good to say “God is Love, man!” as if that somehow lowers the standards. It doesn’t. This is the Law of God: ” ‘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.’ ”
God is Love, yes! But because we are sinful — because we cannot love him perfectly in return, as he deserves — well, we deserve the judgement that is coming upon us.
Now, if we stopped here, friends, we would have no hope. If this was the only story we read from Luke, we’d be in trouble.
But if you have been travelling with us through Luke, you already know where our hope lies. This is the point where we are supposed to say, “oh no. We’re screwed. We’re not going to inherit eternal life if those are the conditions!” And then, we ask the lawyer’s question again — but with a repentant attitude — “Lord, what can we do to be saved?” And that is when Jesus tells us, “Nothing. Your faith has already healed you. Your faith has already saved you. Go in peace!”
Which is great. Forgiveness by Christ’s Grace Alone is such a beautiful thing!
But these three episodes are not about forgiveness, are they? This part of Luke is about God’s Law, isn’t it? It’s about how we’re supposed to live as Christians. Right?
Right. Generally speaking. But see, forgiveness and the life that follows can’t actually be separated. As John the Baptist used to say, “It’s like a tree and its fruit.” You can’t have fruit without the fruit tree; and a fruit tree without fruit…is not actually a fruit tree. Yes, the first half of Luke focused strongly on repentance and forgiveness and freedom for the captives; but it also talked about the fruit that follows freedom. The second half of Luke is going to focus strongly on the fruit of repentance — but the concepts of repentance and forgiveness and freedom are going to keep coming up. Because the concepts depend on each other.
So, practically speaking, then: how are we supposed to live as forgiven Christians? Does forgiveness mean we don’t have to worry about God’s Law, since it is an impossible standard anyway? No! We are called to love God and love our neighbors. We are called to show compassion. Forgiveness does not set us free to not bother. It’s the opposite: forgiveness sets us free to produce fruit. It sets us free to try, to fail, to be forgiven, and try again without fear of punishment. We dare to try and fail because we know, we have experienced, that God actually is Love.
Now, in Luke’s second episode here, we meet two sisters. They both love Jesus, but one of them…well: she still thinks that fulfilling God’s Law is all about the details.
Verse 38: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way —
— still on the way to Jerusalem to claim his Kingdom —
he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.
Now the name “Martha” is the feminine form of the word “Master”. So her name means “mistress”: she owns her own house. That’s why she opens her home to Jesus; she doesn’t have a husband or a father. Maybe she’s a widow, maybe she never got married, we don’t know — but we know she is a woman of property.
In fact, she might be quite wealthy, because remember: Jesus is not travelling alone. He’s got at least twelve and maybe up to seventy-two people travelling with him, so Martha might have quite a large house. We don’t know for sure.
Anyway,  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
Now we already know from Chapter 8 that Jesus accepts women as disciples, which was very unusual for that time. So Mary has seized the opportunity to become a disciple too.
 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
We can tell Martha is a woman of property because she is clearly used to ordering people around, and now she thinks she can order Jesus too.
But Jesus says,  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many little details,  but only one detail matters to me. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Now, to be clear, this is not a story about how the contemplative life is better than the working life. That is not the point. Remember, these episodes are meant to teach us how we ought to live in light of God’s Law. The first episode, about the good Samaritan, showed us what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This episode shows us what it means to love God with all your heart.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” means showing compassion to everyone, regardless of race or religion.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart” means…?
Well, it does not mean worrying about the details. See, the lawyer and Martha have at least one thing in common: they both seem to think they can impress God with their command of the details. The lawyer thinks he can fulfill God’s Law, and earn eternal life. Martha thinks she can be a great hostess, and earn Jesus’ approval.
But Jesus said, “Martha, Martha!” In that culture, the doubling of the name like that was a gesture of affection and love. By saying, “Martha, Martha!” like that, Jesus is telling her, “Darling! Sayang! I love you a’eady! So you don’t need to impress me with a big fancy meal! If you want to show your love for me, do what your sister is doing: just come, sit with me, listen to me, learn from me!”
So, according to Jesus, what does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart? Listen to Jesus’ words.
And, of course, Jesus isn’t finished! We love God by listening to his Son — that’s where living by God’s Law starts. But it doesn’t end there. In the third episode — next week — we’re going to find out that loving God with all your heart doesn’t just mean listening to his Son. It also means speaking directly to God…as our Father.
And that is actually a pretty radical concept. Which is why we’re going to save it for next week.
It is a radical concept; it is also the key to understanding these two episodes today. It’s actually the key to understanding God’s Law, and what it requires of us. Without this concept of God as our loving Father, the Law quickly becomes a crushing, detail-oriented burden.
And Luke does not want that to happen! He does not want us to walk away from today’s two episodes thinking, “Right! If I want to inherit eternal life I’ve got to show compassion and listen to Jesus! Show compassion, listen to Jesus!”
Luke does not want us to fall into that trap. So, right at the beginning of the first episode today, he gave us a clue to what he is going to reveal in the third episode. The clue is in the phrase, “inherit eternal life”. The lawyer said it, but he didn’t think through the implications of what he said. Because, listen: what does a person have to do to inherit the family fortune?
They have to be born into the family, don’t they? — or adopted. And being born, or adopted, is not something you do, is it? No, it’s done to you. And then, one day, when you get old enough, you look around and realize, “hey! This is my family! That’s my Dad! My Dad can beat up your dad. My Dad is smarter than your dad. My Dad is more compassionate than all the other dads combined. When I grow up, I’m gonna be just like my Dad. I’m gonna start practicing now. And one day his fortune will be my fortune.”
So, what must we do to inherit our Father’s fortune: eternal life? If you have accepted Jesus’ promise of forgiveness, then you have already been adopted into the family. So…keep breathing. Stay in the family! Worship your Dad. Listen to him. Try to be just like him.
And next week, Jesus is going to teach us how to talk to him.