There are Christians who kiss the crucifix, but I’ve yet to see reverential lips laid on the Ten Commandments. No telltale lipstick markings on Moses’ two tablets of stone. Some hate them, others mock them, most ignore or endure them—present company included. We certainly don’t kiss them in adoration and love. Why not? Because the law always condemns, that’s why.
But it only condemns because it is good. It won’t excuse the bloody corpse of Abel lying at your feet; it refuses to justify your adulterous fling with Bathsheba; it will not pardon your golden calves, your loot from Jericho, your scheming for Naboth’s vineyard. It is too good for that. The law wants what is best for you, and what is best for you is not divinizing money, seducing your secretary, or fixing the books to fatten your wallet. What is best for you—what will make you truly joyful, truly content, truly blest—what will do that, is doing the law.
Doing the law is what the lawyer wanted to do; he simply asked for a clarification on who his neighbor was. So Jesus answers him in a Jesus sort of way, in a parable. The neighbor, it turns out, is the one who stands in need of your mercy. The neighbor is the one whom God places before you so you can do the good of the law in doing good to him. But your neighbor is not just the wounded man left half-dead in the ditch. Your neighbors are the thieves, who stand in need of your prayers and admonition. Your neighbors are the priest and Levite, who stand in need of your example, your patience, your loving rebuke. Your neighbor is the innkeeper, who stands in need of your two denarii, your encouragement, your promise to help even more. Your neighbors are all of these, whomever the Lord places before you to love, even when they are unlovable, to be merciful toward, even when they themselves are merciless.
This you are eager to affirm, at least, when others are commanded to be neighbors to you. You expect your spouse to stomach your bad moods, your short temper, your pettiness and selfishness. And you get all bent out of shape when she doesn’t. You think your boss should wink at your half-baked work, your ninety-minute lunch breaks, your “borrowing” from the office. And how defensive you get when no wink is forthcoming. You are quite upset when visitors aren’t lined up outside your hospital room, when your friends aren’t bubbling over with joy that your kids made the honor roll, when someone sneaks into that close parking spot you were clearly about to pull into. But you demand what you never give. You always expect others to do for you what you rarely, if ever, do for them. And worst of all, you’re hurt, you sulk, you’re downright ticked off when others aren’t the neighbors to you that you have never been to them.
Even though the law is good and holy and wise; even though it has your welfare in mind; and even though keeping it will make you truly joyful, truly content, and truly blest; yet you have puckered your lips before the two tablets—not to kiss them, but to spit into their stony faces. Wipe away the spit, wipe away the smirk, and pray, “God be merciful to me, and wipe away my lack of mercy for my neighbor.”
He is quite willing to do this for you, because the God who gave the law that is good, is Himself also good, and His mercy endures forever. How long? Forever: longer than you have selfishly loved yourself, the Father has selflessly loved you; longer than you have been faithless, Christ has been faithful to you; longer than you have ignored, despised, and laughed at your neighbor, the Spirit has gazed in compassion on you both.
What the law demands—perfect love—and what you have never given: that is precisely who God is and what God gives. He is the God who is love and who does love, who loves each of you. Christ came not only to suffer, die, and rise again, but to keep, in your stead, the law which He Himself gave. He came to trust His Father, to call on His name, to keep His Word. He came to be a sinless Cain for the sinful Cain; a faithful David for the faithless David; a pious Achan, a perfect Ahab, a holy man for you and all unholy men of old, of now, and of the future.
He is the better-than-good Samaritan–the perfect Samaritan. Attacked by sin, robbed by Satan, lacerated by death—there we lay, unable to help ourselves. Yet He helps us who can never help ourselves. He washes away the blood with His own healing blood. He cleanses our wounds from the chalice of life. He strips Himself and wraps us in His own garments of righteous love.
But we are not just the wounded man. For we have attacked those who angered us, we have stolen what we craved, we have lacerated others with our razor-sharp tongues. Yet for us robbers, the perfect Samaritan freely gave all. He has restored what we have stolen from others. The Father looks upon us as those who gave and sees us as those who restored, for what the Son did, He did while wearing our skin.
Likewise, for all those times we have walked away as the priest and Levite, not lifting a finger for those who needed our love, the perfect Samaritan did not turn away, but came, knelt down, and extended mercy. He is the perfect priest, not passing by the other side, but stopping, loving, interceding. He is the good Levite, not just coming up and stealing a quick glance, but coming and seeing and doing.
What will make you truly joyful, truly content, truly blest is doing the law. And that law Jesus has done for you, from A to Z. “All the commandments are kept when what is not kept is forgiven” (St. Augustine).
This meditation is adapted from my book, Christ Alone (see ad below).
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!