|10 - The Good Samaritan, Nov 11, 2012|
[Fr Paul delivered this sermon at St Theodosius Cathedral in Cleveland, at the invitation of the Cathedral Dean]
This morning’s parable takes place outside Jerusalem on the plains of Jericho. Let’s turn to the history of Israel that took place there. Perchance it may reveal a deeper meaning to the parable.
This is where the Israelites joined the Canaanites and worshipped their gods. (Num 25:2-3) “They played the harlot with the daughters of Moab,” is how the book of Numbers describes it. (Num 25:1). So, as the prophet Ezekiel would say, God gave them over to the gods they worshipped and they were set upon by poisonous serpents and plague, and many of them perished. “There was not a man left of them, except Caleb the Son of Jephunneh and Joshua, the son of Nun” it says in Numbers (Num 26:63-65)
In this biblical context, we see the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and was set upon by thieves and left for dead as Israel. But, isn’t the man each one of us, as well? Have we not also played the harlot by giving ourselves to the gods of this world: money, sensual pleasure, vainglory? Have we not yielded to the seduction of the spirit of this world and gone down from Jerusalem to Jericho; from the Church into the temples of the world, the temples of our belly and of the wisdom of our own opinions, where the spirit of disobedience works in us? Have we not been set upon by the dark spirits of anger and hatred, lust, vanity and conceit that have beat us up and left us half dead with worry, fear, depression and even despair?
Hear this morning’s Gospel! It is here outside of Jerusalem, on Golgotha, on the plains of Jericho, if you will, where we are lying in our anger and fear, our worry and despair where Christ comes to us in His body, the Church. St Paul writes this morning in Ephesians: “Because He is rich in mercy, and because of the great love with which He loved us, God made us who were dead in our sins alive together with Christ (when He destroyed death by His death on the Cross, and when He gives us oil and wine, i.e., the sacraments of the Church). He raised us up with Him (in His Holy Resurrection – He set us on His donkey, He united us to His crucified and risen body) and made us to sit in heavenly places with Him (He brought us to the Inn, the Church, which is His crucified and risen body, where even now, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling through our life in the Church, we are united with Him in the glorified body of His Ascension).” (Eph 2:4-6)
We are saved not by our own works but by the grace of God because what we are saved from is the spiritual death that follows from the disobedience of our idolatry. One who is dead cannot make himself alive. It is the grace of God that saves us from death because it is the power of Christ’s resurrection that makes us alive in our baptismal and Eucharistic union with Christ and that works in those who receive Christ, i.e. who work to unite themselves to Christ by giving their love to Him and walking daily in obedience to His commandments.
Something else happened here on the plains of Jericho. This is where Balaam was seized by the Holy Spirit and blessed Israel instead of cursing them as he originally intended. In that blessing, the Spirit made him a prophet of Christmas, of the coming of Christ: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab, and break down all the sons of Seth.” (Num 24:17)
Suddenly we see that this parable of the Good Samaritan holds a hidden message: the Christ of whom Barlaam spoke has come to Israel, but He has come like a Samaritan, i.e. as a son of Israel who is “outside” of Israel; indeed, He comes as a child of the world who is outside the world. That is to say, He is in the world but not of it, for He is the Son of God born of the Virgin. And, because He is God, He is powerful to crush the forehead of Moab and break down the sons of Seth; that is to say, He crushes the head of the serpent even as the serpent bites Him on the heel. By His death on the Cross outside of Jerusalem, on Golgotha, on the plains, if you will, of Jericho, He destroys the devil who held the power of death, and He gives life to those who were in the tombs, to us lying on the side of the road dead in the idolatry, the harlotry and disobedience of our sins and trespasses.
I wonder if this isn’t where we come to a deeper lesson in the priest and Levite who passed by the man lying on the road. I wonder if it’s not that they wouldn’t but that they couldn’t help him, because they were dead in the sin of their harlotry, too. They could only offer up the blood of bulls and goats. But how can the mortal blood of animals give immortal life to the dead? For that matter, how can the speculative ideas of religious philosophy, born from the wisdom of human opinion, give life to the dead? Only the blood of Christ God could raise us who were dead in our sins and trespasses and make us alive, because only the blood of Christ is the grace, the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.
But, I see yet another message hiding in this parable. The city of Jericho is where the two spies sent by Joshua (Jesus) were housed by Rahab, the harlot. Because she showed hospitality to them, she was saved when Joshua (Jesus) conquered Jericho. Rahab ended up marrying Salmon and gave birth to Boaz, who married Ruth. Ruth gave birth to Obed, who was the father of Jesse from whose root came the stem of the Theotokos who, like the rod of Aaron, blossomed and brought forth in the Cave the Christ. (Mat 1:5) Rahab, that is to say, is the grandmother of Christ.
Now you see why I have been emphasizing Israel’s harlotry and ours. Through our baptism by which we are united with Christ, Rahab is our grandmother. Like her, we have played the harlot. But in her salvation at the hands of Joshua we see the prophetic prefiguring of our salvation through the grace, the power of Christ’s Cross. Even though we have played the harlot, if we show “hospitality” to Christ as Rahab showed hospitality to the messengers of Joshua, if we receive Christ, then we who were dead in the sins of our harlotry become by the grace of Christ, through the wealth of His great love for us, mothers of Christ – Christ-bearers, cristoforoi – even as did Rahab the harlot. For, He brings us to the Inn, His Holy Church, and grants us to receive from the innkeeper, His Holy Priesthood, His own precious body and blood and so to hold Him in our souls and bodies like His own Mother, the Theotokos, holding Him close to her heart. As we give ourselves in repentance and confession to the grace of Christ that begins to work in us, the seed of His Holy Spirit begins to destroy the spirits of disobedience in us. It grows and begins to bring forth the fruits of obedience to Christ – love, joy and peace and we walk in the light as He is the Light.
This brings me finally to reflect on the Savior’s closing words: “Go and do likewise.” From what we have said, this would seem to mean: “Go and raise others from the dead as the Good Samaritan raised this man, as He raised you, from the dead.”
With the coming of the Good Samaritan, this man’s journey from Jerusalem to Jericho was changed into a journey to the inn where he was nursed back to health. So also the Word of God comes to us to change our journey through the days of this life into a journey to His Heavenly Kingdom. In the Church’s mystery of Christ, it becomes a journey to the Cave of Bethlehem that opens onto Eden, because there the New Eve gives birth to the New Adam, Christ, who is the Fruit of the Tree of Life, which is His Cross, in the mystery of His Holy Pascha.
Jerusalem, the Inn, the Cave of Bethlehem, the Tomb of Christ’s Pascha: they all open onto the spiritual mystery of our heart that has become a tomb because of our harlotry. In the Church’s sacramental mysteries of “oil and wine”, the Word of God, Christ, the Good Samaritan comes to us and begins to work on us.
If we let Him, the Word of God will penetrate all the way into the tomb of our heart to illumine our secret thoughts and intentions (Heb 4:12) that are captive to the spirit of disobedience that works in us and generates in us “this body of death” that makes us “wretched” men and women (Rom 7:24) and governs our words and deeds. As we confess what we are able to see in the light of God that shines in our heart, the Good Samaritan touches us where we hurt with the wealth of His love, and in the power of His grace He begins to heal us and to raise us up onto His donkey, and to unite us to His own glorified humanity in the Eucharistic gifts of His precious body and blood – the two denarii He gives to the innkeeper? As we engage this mystery of the Church in the fear of God, with faith and love, we begin to die in Christ to the death that enslaves us and our heart begins to come alive in the love of Christ. In that love, our life becomes a sacrifice of praise offered in Christ to God the Father on behalf of all and for all. This offering of love becomes the secret inner work of our heart as we are knit more and more to Christ. And there radiates from this inner work living words and deeds because they rise up from our hearts that have been raised to life in the wealth of love with which Christ loved us. The harlots who have been saved from the death of their harlotry and become Christ-bearers become theophanies of the Good Samaritan who loved us and raised us from the dead. This is how we begin to “go and do likewise,” to raise others from the dead as did the Good Samaritan. In our love for Christ, we go about in the grace of God that is working in us and making us alive in Christ. It is the love of Christ that anoints all our words, our deeds, our inner prayers with the grace, the life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection that touches others and raises those who are dead in their sins and trespasses to life in the love of Christ. May God grant that this would be so in us. Amen.