|11 - Good Samaritan, Nov 13, 2016 (with audio)|
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Jesus tells the lawyer that to inherit eternal life, he must love God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself. He illustrates His point with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which shows that the work of the Law is to show mercy on your enemy. And yet, St Paul says: “Seeing that from works of the Law, man is not made righteous – i.e., does not inherit eternal life – except through faith in Jesus Christ.” Let us attend to Wisdom to solve this “riddle” (cf. Prov 1:6).
St Paul says: “Seeing.” This happens to be the same word used of the centurion guarding Jesus on the cross. “Seeing” everything that happened when Jesus died, he confessed, “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Mt 27:54). I submit that with this, St Paul is directing us to the Cross to “see” that the mercy of God is embodied in the Cross, so that the mercy of God is not “finished” until the death of God on the Cross; and so, doing mercy, the principle work of the Law cannot give us eternal life except through the Cross. Why?
See how St Paul leads us with this “seeing” to Golgotha outside the city; and, it so happens that “outside the city” is where the “Samaritan” – who, of course, is Christ (cf. Jn 8:48) – comes upon the man left for dead by the side of the road. And, at the Jordan which is “outside the city”, Christ comes to us in the baptismal font. The point where Christ comes to this “certain man” or to Adam, to you and me, then, on the road to Jericho is Golgotha.
One might complain that this is nonsense. The font of St Herman’s is not in the Jordan, the Jordan is not on Golgotha, and this man in the parable, going from Jerusalem down to Jericho, was going away from Golgotha. But, Golgotha is where the LORD by His Cross descends into the “region and shadow of death,” the Pit “dark and deep” (Ps 88:6) where we all dwell (Is 9:2) because of our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). It is from His Cross on Golgotha, then, thatHe comes to all of us at that point within us where we lie with this man going down to Jericho in the region and shadow of death. That point is our “heart,” where we are “deep beyond all things” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX), i.e., where we are “outside the city.”
It’s in our heart where we chose each one of us to go our own way, away from Jerusalem down to Jericho. Even the priest and the scribe in the parable are on that road! On the Cross, then, God stands before each of us in the deeps of our heart lying on the side of the road going down to Jericho, outside the city, as “Master of the living and the dead.”
Again, one might complain that this is Christian spin. Jesus died as does everyone else. How can you say He is Master of the living and the dead?
Listen! Death is the very substance of disobedience. Death is itself the separation from God in our heart that follows immediately from disobedience when we choose freely to go our own way. This is why Holy Scripture can say that even before we breathe our last, we are dead; for, we are separated from God. Moreover, in our heart, we have freely chosen to remain in our separation. We are dead and we die, then, because of our freely chosen disobedience.
But the death of the LORD Jesus Christ is the very substance of His freely chosen obedience to the Father. (Phil 2:8). The Gospel proclamation of the Church: Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death, is no spin. How can the death of God the Son, the perfect expression of His freely chosen obedience to the Father, not burst the disobedience of death in two from top to bottom (Mat 27:51), like old wineskins receiving new wine? (Lk 5:37. Cf. Ps 106:14-16 LXX)
Now, the Inn where the LORD entrusts the wounded man to the innkeeper in this morning’s parable is the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, says St Paul. Which Body? The Body that was crucified and risen from the dead. And so, Metropolitan Nicholas Hatzinikoloau of Mesogaias says nothing contrary, but is rather illumining that mystery when he calls the Church the tomb that gives birth to our resurrection.
But, beyond the obvious treatment needed to heal the man’s body from the wounds sustained from the assault, would it not have been necessary also to heal his will by which he freely chose to go his own way away from Jerusalem, i.e., the LORD, down to Jericho, i.e., the world?
Dear brothers and sisters, look closely at yourself. The Law commands me not to covet; it commands me to be merciful. The Law may change my actions, but can it change my heart? If I choose to follow the Law, do I not immediately come upon a stubborn self-will I’m always having to suppress to keep it from showing itself? But modern psychology tells us that if we don’t give expression to what we’re suppressing, it will express itself in other, less healthy ways. So, one way or another, I will find myself sooner or later going down to Jericho – whether I “want to” or not. In the Church, we express it through confession by which, together with the cross of the ascetic disciplines, we crucify it with Christ. This, I think we could say, is how we can the LORD’s word: “Go and do likewise.”
Experience teaches me that this willfulness is imbedded in me as though it were part of me. St Paul calls it a law of sin that exists in my members;” i.e., it has become incarnate in me. And because of it, I am not at peace; I am at war, one part of me fighting the other part of me, making me a captive to this law of sin that always makes me do what I don’t want to do (Rom 7). Suddenly we see that the thieves in this morning’s parable are not other people; they are my own impulses, cravings and desires that have become part of me because I freely chose to fall in with them in that moment when I chose deep within myself to turn away from the LORD and to go my own way down to Jericho.
It’s not my actions that need to be healed. They’re but the symptoms. It’s my heart and my self-will by which I choose the path of disobedience that goes down to Jericho that needs to be healed. And, it is not healed simply by obeying the Law of mercy except that obedience is joined, in faith, to the Cross of Christ. This is the treatment the innkeepers of the Church – the holy fathers – give us to “go and do likewise”, viz., to crucify ourselves with Christ in order to put to death what is earthly in me, this willfulness, not just suppress it and keep it under wraps, but to crucify it. By choosing freely to take up the Cross given me by the Church in her ascetic disciplines, I unite my willful disobedience to the willful obedience of Christ. A great struggle ensues within me. The LORD Himself leads me from the Font into the wilderness of my soul. He goes with me even into the tomb of my heart and into hell. He takes me to the Inn, and through the guidance of the innkeepers to whom He entrusts me, I take up the work of faith, the work of confronting myself and my self-will, and as I freely choose to crucify myself with Christ, my willful disobedience is joined to His obedience and put to death, and I am delivered from its bonds, healed of my separation from God in the life-creating power of His Resurrection.
The Inn is the Church. So, it is the Body of Christ, which He took from His Holy Mother. That means that I am united to His Holy Mother, the Theotokos in the Inn. So, in the Church, I am embraced in the tender love of Christ for His Mother and of the Theotokos for her Son, the very essence of the Church. That’s why the Church is a place of healing. Even the chastening of the LORD and His Mother is therapeutic. It is such that those who have tasted it would pray they could be chastened by the LORD and His Mother 24/7. When we begin to taste the love of Christ and His Holy Mother in the Inn, we don’t want to go down to Jericho anymore. We want to take up the cross and put to death what is earthly in us. When we wakeup and get serious about crucifying ourselves with Christ, we come to know not as a religious idea but from inner experience the therapeutic and life-creating power of the Savior’s Cross, and how His death puts to death this law of sin that is in us and changes our heart so that in the Resurrection, we are able to forgive and to call brother even those who hate us. Glory to Jesus Christ! Most holy Theotokos, save us! Amen.