|11 - The Good Samaritan, Nov 15, 2009|
The Orthodox Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that was born from the blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ when he was pierced with a spear on the Cross. This we believe firmly without a doubt. The attraction of the Orthodox Church is the Spiritual beauty and freshness of its theological vision and the depth of its spirituality. But when one receives the Orthodox Faith as one’s own faith, one comes upon a power to heal in soul and body those who abide in its precepts and walk in the way of its ascetic life of prayer and fasting and charity. The power of the Church is the love of God. It heals the wounds of soul and body that have been inflicted on her by hatred, by greed by selfishness with the love of Him who is the only Lover of mankind, the very Love and Wisdom of God, Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior.
In this morning’s Gospel, it’s easy to see the Church as Jerusalem; for the Psalmist says that the Lord dwells in Jerusalem. It’s also easy to see the Church as the inn in this morning’s Gospel. But I think we could also say that the Church is the Lord’s “own beast” in this morning’s Gospel; for the Lord’s “own beast” would be His human nature of body and soul, and the Church, St Paul tells us, is the body of Christ.
As the body of Christ, the Church is Christ’s human nature that He made His own when He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Panagia. When He made it His own, He healed it because He united it to Himself in the love of God for which and in which we were made. So when Christ placed the wounded man on His “own beast”, it means that He placed the wounded man on the support of Christ’s own deified body and soul so that the wounded man was supported and carried now by the Church, the body, of the living God, the bulwark and pillar of the truth; the truth being not only the truth of God but also the truth of our own nature, which was created in the Image and likeness of God and restored fully to health when it was united to God the Word in the mystery of His Incarnation, His death and resurrection.
Where do we find in the Church this beautiful icon of Christ placing the wounded man on His “own beast”, His “own humanity”? I believe we find it in the sacrament of confession. For, in sincere confession, we lay aside the masks, and we let ourselves lie, as it were, on the side of the road as we really are, stripped of our defenses, wounded in our souls by the thieves of greed, anger and vanity, that have assailed us and left us in despair, feeling alone and rejected, in other words, left on the side of the road for dead. As the priest enfolds us in the epitrachelion, the stole, it is the visible sign of Christ stooping down in His compassion to bind our wounds. In Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist, He pours on us the oil of His Holy Spirit and the precious wine of His Holy body and blood, the medicine of immortality, so that we are strong enough to be lifted up and placed on His “own beast”, His “own humanity,” which is the mystery of His Church, the pillar and bulwark of truth. But note that it doesn’t end here. The man’s wounds, our wounds are treated in the sacrament of confession. He receives, we receive Christ’s Heavenly Spirit in the mystery of Holy Eucharist, and Christ carries him back to the Inn in Jerusalem, He carries us back to the inn, and gives him, He gives us over to the innkeeper. That would be the holy apostles of the Church and their successors, the bishops and holy hierarchs. He gives to the innkeeper, to the bishops and priests of the Church, two denarii and says: “Take care of him until I come back.” What might these two denarii represent?
I believe we can take the two denarii to represent Christ’s Cross in the form of the Church’s ascetic life and Christ’s holy commandments, which are the very shape of the divine light and life that we receive in the oil and wine of Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Eucharist. So, when Christ gives two denarii to the innkeeper and says, “Take care of the man and whatever more you spend I will repay you when I come back,” He is showing how the bishops and priests and teachers of the Church take care of us and continue nursing us back to health until He returns. They take care of us and continue nursing us back to health by teaching us how to take up our cross and how to follow Christ’s holy commandments.
Teaching us the deep spiritual healing of Christ is the business of the Church. The Church is the hospital for the sick, and the rehabilitation center for those who are being nursed back to health. Her medicine is Christ’s Holy Spirit, given to us in her sacred mysteries, the sacraments of the Church, and in the love the faithful show to one another in the love of God. And her regimen of rehabilitation for nursing us back to full health is the Cross of Christ, given us in the Church’s ascetic disciplines and in the commandments of Christ.
We read St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this morning: “God in His great mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses – even when we were lying on the side of the road, naked, wounded and left for dead – He made us alive together with Christ and raised us up together and made us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
God shows His love for us by stooping down in His Incarnation to where we are lying on the side of the road, binding our wounds in the sacrament of confession, and then pouring on us the oil of His Holy Spirit and the wine of His own precious body and blood, the medicine of immortality, in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. But then, He raises us up and places us on His “own beast”, on His own humanity in His body, the Church, and carries us to His inn in Jerusalem, the Church, and gives us over to his holy apostles and their successors, so that we can learn from them how to take up our cross and follow His holy commandments so that we can experience the deep healing of the Church and be nursed back to full health to walk in good works, in the love of God, in which and for which we were created.
So, when we hear Christ Jesus our Lord and our God saying to us here in the Church, “Go and do likewise,” we take this as one of His holy commandments we are to follow as part of our rehabilitation back to health. How do we “do likewise”? By giving to our neighbor the love of God in the love of Christ our Savior.
It is clear, then, that if we are to do likewise, we must dwell with the Lord in Jerusalem, in the inn of His Holy Church. We must live in the Word of God and in the mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church every day, every hour, every minute. We dwell with the Lord in Jerusalem as we take up our Cross and live the ascetic life of prayer and fasting and charity in humility, in the spirit of repentance. To be nursed back to full health, we must keep our mind and our heart, our hands and our feet, our eyes and our ears and all our senses in the Inn in Jerusalem, in the Church and not go again down to Jericho (although, as many times as we do go down to Jericho, as many times Christ will come looking for us to carry us back to the inn, His Holy Church). We must keep ourselves in the Church because that’s where we receive the Church’s deep healing of our soul and body. It is in Jerusalem, not in Jericho, that our inner man is transfigured in the love of God. It is in the Church, not in the world that we receive the oil of the Holy Spirit’s deep healing and the medicine of immortality. It is in the true religion of the Church, not in the philosophies of the world, that we are nurtured in the grace of God and strengthened in the love of God so that we are able to rise up and walk in the Image and likeness of God in which we were made to do the good works of divine love for which we were created in Christ Jesus.
The purpose of the Church in this life is to heal us in the inner man and make us able to “go and do likewise”; but to go and do likewise we must keep our mind and heart in the Church if we are to be nursed back to health. The medicine of the Church and her ascetic life are of the Spirit of God; they carry the Word of God and that’s why the spirituality of the Church is of such depth and power. It carries the Word of God that penetrates to the division of soul and spirit, to the secret thoughts and intentions of the heart and it reshapes us in the life and love of God. And it’s because the Faith and ascetic life of the Church are the very shape of divine life that the theological vision they reveal is of such beauty and freshness. When we receive the Faith of the Orthodox Church and practice her spirituality as she directs us, our hearts open onto the love of God. And, in the healing that comes from that experience, love for our neighbor becomes more and more natural to us, because we were made in love, we were made for love: and when we are fully healthy, we love our neighbor in the good works for which we were created in Christ Jesus as the most natural expression of our love for God. Amen.