|10 - Parable of the Good Samaritan, Nov 16, 2014|
This morning’s parable of the Good Samaritan is told to answer the question, “Who precisely is my neighbor that I should love as myself so that I might fulfill the Law of God and inherit eternal life?” The force of the parable lies in the fact that it is a Samaritan who shows mercy on a Jew – i.e., on his enemy. So, when the LORD says to the certain lawyer at the end, “Go and do likewise,” He is giving a hard word: “Show mercy on your enemy as this Samaritan showed mercy on his enemy.” Your enemy is the neighbor on whom you must show mercy to fulfill the Law of God and inherit eternal life.
But the word of the LORD’s parable becomes even harder. It says that when the Samaritan saw this man lying half dead on the side of the road, He had compassion – from splagchna, a word we came upon a few Sundays ago. The LORD had compassion for the mother, a widow, who had just lost her only son to death. (Luke 7:12ff.). It is a compassion that goes down to the “guts”. We translated it as visceral compassion in an effort to convey how profound such compassion is; it moves us in the pit of our being.
Moreover, the Savior surely identified with the widow and her dead son. Surely, she reminded Him of His own mother whom He dearly loved (cf. Ps 45:11&17; and Song of Songs 4:1), and of the grief that would pierce her heart when she would stand at the foot of His Cross. This visceral compassion that the LORD felt for the widow, then, came from identifying with her – and this is the kind of compassion that this Samaritan had when He saw His enemy, the Jew, lying on the road half dead.
But, the Samaritan is Christ Himself, as even the Jews, His own who rejected Him, called Him: “Are we not right to say that you are a Samaritan and that you have a demon?” (Jn 8:48)
“Go and do likewise,” now is shown to mean: “Feel visceral compassion for your enemy. Identify with him and have mercy on him.” In other words, “Become merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful.” Created in the image of God, attain to the likeness of God by having compassion on your enemy even to the point of identifying with him. This is how you will inherit eternal life.
But, who of us can say that we have visceral compassion on our enemy? I am far, far away from feeling such compassion. This is a hard, hard word; but, perhaps showing me this is the purpose of the parable’s hard word. It serves to crack the hardness of self-righteousness that deadens my heart; and I see, by the measure of this parable’s hard word, that I am not alive in God. I am alive to the world and dead in my sins and trespasses. I am this certain man lying half dead by the side of the road.
For, have I not gone down from Jerusalem to Jericho? Have I not gone away from the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, from my ‘deep heart’, and gone down to the idolatry of Jericho? Having looked on impure images and dwelt on impure thoughts, have I not offered sacrifices to Aphrodite? Having given myself to anger, have I not offered sacrifices to Ares? I have been covetous and greedy, and so I have offered sacrifices to the god, Pluto. Like Israel – whom this certain man represents – I have played the harlot, giving my heart not to the God who created me and who died on the Cross to save me, but to the idols, even as Isaiah the prophet said: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” (Isa 53:6)
In these terms, my “neighbor” with whom I must identify to inherit eternal life and have compassion for is the idolater: the publican, the tax collector, the prodigal, the prostitute because, with them, I have gone down from Jerusalem to Jericho; like them, I have made God my enemy.
This is a very, very hard word, a very troubling word. It is, shall we say, a viscerally deep word, far beyond my understanding and certainly beyond my ability to practice. But, ironically, it is also the word of the Gospel that shows mercy on me. It helps me to deny myself and to lose my life for the sake of Christ that I may follow Him, in terms of this morning’s parable, to the inn. What I mean is this: this hard word shows me that even though I cannot feel compassion for my enemy, I must not act out of my hatred for my enemy. Instead, I must strive to show mercy on him – not because I want to or feel compassion, but for the sake of the Gospel. This is what the Gospel commands me to do and when, for the sake of the Gospel, I do it, I deny myself. I do not do what I want to do but I do what the Gospel tells me to do.
When I do this, I am confessing my sin and conforming my life to that confession because I am acting on that confession in repentance. And when I do this, I am submitting myself to the healing touch of the LORD. Now, the prayers of the Church become nourishing. They touch my soul and begin gently to heal her in the humility and compassion of the LORD: “LORD, I cry unto Thee, hear me!” (Great Vespers) “Have compassion on me! Cleanse me who was conceived in sin! Teach me who am worthless! Enlighten my darkness! Purify me who am unclean! Restore me, a prodigal! Son of God, have mercy on me!” (Akathist to the Savior, Oikos 3)
In the mystery of His Holy Church, the Savior comes to us lying half dead by the side of the road, bruised and wounded by the spirits hiding in the idols we have served. He comes to us as a Samaritan, and we hear the first word of the Gospel: The LORD saw this certain man, He saw you and me lying on the side of the road dead in our sins and trespasses, and He felt visceral compassion on us! Why? St Paul tells us: because He “is rich in mercy”.
It says that the LORD bandaged the man’s wounds. He cleansed them. He poured on the man’s wounds oil and wine. These are the holy sacraments of the Church that flow from His Holy Cross. It says that He set the man on His own beast. The beast is the LORD’s humanity in the mystery of His Incarnation. He emptied Himself and became flesh and identified with us. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. He made us members of His own Body, so that by His stripes suffered for us, He could heal us. (Isa 53)
It says that He brought the man to the inn. That is His Holy Church. The Church is the Body of Christ which He received from the Holy Virgin; and so, the Church comprehends the mystery of the Theotokos. When we are brought to the inn from the baptismal font, the LORD is commending us to His Holy Mother (cf. Jn 19:27).
The two denarii represent, let’s say, the visceral compassion Christ feels for His Holy Mother and the visceral compassion the Theotokos feels for her Son. This love of Christ and His Holy Mother are the living substance of the Church. When we receive the Faith of the Church, we receive this visceral compassion of Christ and His Holy Mother. By taking up the ascetic disciplines of the Church as our cross, we are permitting the LORD to lift us up and place us on His own beast and take us to the Church’s loving care. Through the Church’s ascetic disciplines, the life-creating and healing grace of the LORD’s Cross is poured onto our soul like oil and wine, and our healing in soul and body begins. We begin to marvel that Christ died for us even while we were sinners, i.e., enemies of God. That vision of the Church can soften our hearts and open to us the visceral depths of our own heart to see and to feel how deeply we love our loved ones, far beneath the misunderstandings and disagreements that estrange us. We become kinder, softer, gentler. Our healing has begun. As we take up our cross in the healing care of the Church’s visceral compassion, we know we are growing in the love of God and attaining to eternal life as we begin to feel compassion even for our enemy.
Go and do likewise now becomes another way of saying: “He who would be My disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me,” that he might be raised from death to life, wholly transfigured in the rich mercy and visceral compassion of our LORD Jesus Christ. Amen!