|10 - Good Samaritan, Nov 10, 2013|
We read in the book of Numbers that on the plains of Jericho the Israelites joined with the Canaanites and worshipped their gods. (Num 25:2-3). “They played the harlot with the daughters of Moab,” is how it is described in Numbers (Num 25:1). And there, they were set upon by poisonous serpents – a main emblem of the pagan gods – and by plague, and many of them perished. (Num 26:63-65)
From this, the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho in this morning’s parable is Israel. The thieves are the Canaanite gods Israel worshipped with the daughters of Moab, who then turned on them as poisonous serpents and plague, and destroyed many of them.
But, this morning’s parable also echoes the story of Adam and Eve. They “went down” from “Jerusalem”, the Tree of Life, to “Jericho,” the serpent’s tree; and “played the harlot,” joining themselves to the serpent. And, they found themselves “naked”, stripped of the divine glory that clothed them in their creation, and separated from God, “dead in their sins and trespasses.” (cf. Eph 2:1)
From this, the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho is Everyman, you and me, children of Adam and Eve, going down in our heart from the love of God, Jerusalem, to the love of the world, Jericho, giving ourselves in different ways to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and to the pride of life, so that we are barely distinguishable both in our outer behavior and in what we treasure in our heart, from the world’s “daughters of Moab”. And oh, how beat up we get from the choices we have made!
This morning’s parable is also a theme in the Sunday Lenten Vespers of Great Lent. There, we hear: “Heal the wounds of my heart, inflicted on me by my many sins, O Savior and Physician of our souls and bodies. Finding me naked, stripped of virtues, the enemy wounded me with the arrow of sin. As the man who fell among thieves and was wounded, I too have fallen through my sins and my soul is wounded. To whom shall I flee for refuge, guilty that I am, if not to Thee, the merciful Physician of our souls? Pour on me, O God, the oil of Thy great mercy.” (Lenten Triodion, p. 187).
This brings us to the point I invite you to dwell on this morning: what sin does to us. I think we tend to view sin as something we shouldn’t do that does no more than to make us naughty before God. We say we’re sorry and we hope God forgives us so we can stop feeling naughty and everything will be okay now.
But, this morning’s parable gives us a much different picture of what sin does to us. Our sins beat us up and leave us half dead. They are wounds that disfigure our soul, inflicted by heartless thieves, the dark spirits of disobedience that are active in this world, who entice us with empty promises of pleasure and happiness. By our sins, we “go down from Jerusalem to Jericho” and we fall in with these dark spirits who strip us of the “divinely woven garment” of immortality with which we were clothed in the beginning and at our baptism, when we were re-created in the Image of God. They beat us up and leave our soul beaten, misshapen with wounds and bruises. We may not look beat up outwardly – although one can see it in the face and the eyes. But we feel it in our inner, hidden self where we lie sprawled on the ground, as it were, beaten down by shame, confusion, anxiety, anger, and despair.
We come to this Gospel every year about this time around the beginning of Advent. So, it has a Christmasy feel to it. Indeed, it was on these same plains of Jericho where this morning’s parable takes place that Balaam prophesied the coming of Christ: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Seth.” (Num 24:17) And, so shall we see Him, but very soon and very near: on Christmas Day!
And, the Lenten echo we hear in this morning’s Gospel gives to the Advent season, when we are preparing for Christ’s appearing through increased prayer and fasting, a Lenten, and therefore a Paschal character. In other words, it reveals the crucified and risen Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose birth from the All Holy Virgin we celebrate with such joy on Christmas Day, to be this Samaritan, the Star of Jacob, who is coming to us lying on the side of the road, to pour on us oil and wine and to carry us today on his own beast to the inn, to the Cave of Bethlehem as to the Tomb of His Holy Resurrection, to His Holy Church – the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all – to nurse us back to health!
Here we see what the salvation of the Lord really is. It is much more than forgiving us our naughtiness. Would that not be, in effect, to pass us by, like the priest and the Levite, as though we were not beat up, lying by the side of the road half dead? He pours on us oil and wine, as though He is closing the wounds of our soul as He clothes us in the glory of His Holy Spirit and in His own divine life. He raises us up and puts us on His own beast, as though He is creating in us a clean heart and putting in us a new and right spirit. He is restoring our soul and reshaping us in His own image. He is raising us from death to life. He is translating us from darkness to light, restoring us to our “original beauty” – as it says in the hymns for the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross – so that we feel strong and healthy again in the love, the joy and the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding.
His own beast! Let’s not overlook this beast, for it in fact reveals the glory of Christmas. The beast is an image of our humanity that Christ received from the All-Holy Virgin to become flesh and dwell among us. This is what the holy fathers tell us. Very clearly, the humanity represented by the beast is very different from the humanity of the man left for dead by the robbers on the side of the road. His humanity is beat up, wounded, half dead. But the humanity represented by the beast is healthy, strong, and wholly submissive to the Samaritan, doing everything the Samaritan tells it to do, even to the point of carrying this man to the inn: i.e., even to the point of dying on the Cross in order to share fully in our flesh and blood so that by uniting Himself to us in the likeness of our death, He can unite us to Him in the likeness of His Holy Resurrection.
The humanity of the Savior represented by the Samaritan’s own beast is the new humanity that was born of the Virgin on Christmas Day, because it was sired not by the seed of Adam, infected with the bitter venom of the sin that has been passed onto all of us like a dread disease. It was sired by the sinless, divine Seed of God, so that death has no power over it; it is pure, sinless, subject neither to death nor to corruption. He ascends the Cross and dies not out of necessity, as we do, but voluntarily, remember! And He says to His disciples that the devil has no power over Him, because the devil has nothing on Him, because His was a seedless conception; or rather, He was sired in the womb of the Virgin not from the seed of Adam but from the Seed of God. That is why Gabriel tells the Virgin that the Child who would be born of her is holy; for, He is the Son of the Most High.
And so, when the Samaritan comes to this man lying half dead by the side of the road with compassion, stooping over him, pouring on him oil and wine, and placing him on his own beast, we see the Lord God coming to us and healing us in soul and body, not in whimsical theory but in the concrete reality of the Church’s sacramental mysteries: confession, Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation, whereby we are united to Christ’s own holy and glorified humanity that was born of the Virgin, and that has destroyed death by His death and given life to those in the tombs. This means that the salvation of the Church is real, experienced in the healing of our soul, and even, as has happened many times in the Church, of our body.
The two denarii that Christ gives the innkeeper, i.e., to the bishops of the Church, with the command to take care of the man till He should return: what are they? They are the Holy Eucharist, the precious and all holy body and blood of the Savior that was fashioned from the divinity of Christ, the one denarius, and the pure substance of the Virgin, the other denarius, to bring into the world the only new thing it has ever seen: the medicine of immortality, the gift of the Lord’s own Heavenly Spirit. Let us therefore not draw near the Chalice casually but with all the reverence and fear of God that we can muster, but also with faith and love; for in receiving from the Chalice, the new humanity of the Savior, born of the All Holy Virgin on Christmas Day, you receive into your wounded soul and body the life-giving power of the Lord’s Heavenly Spirit, that begins to work in you, soul and body, nursing you back to health, cleansing you, illumining you, and infusing you with the power of Christ that transforms our illness into healthfulness, our death into the death of death and the beginning of our eternal life in Christ our God.
“Go and do likewise,” the Savior commands. Go and raise your neighbor from the dead! Go, heal your neighbor in the power of the Lord that you have received. What is that power? It is the compassion and the love of the Virgin’s son, the crucified, risen and glorified Lord that has set you on His own beast His own new humanity that is now working in you, nursing you back to health, carrying you to Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom of Light. Go and do likewise. Go, and show the compassion of Christmas to your neighbor as it has been shown to you in the Inn of Christ’s Holy Church. Amen!