|11 - Good Samaritan, Nov 12, 2017|
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This Gospel of the Good Samaritan is assigned always at or near the beginning of Advent. Its liturgical setting, then, is the Fast of St Philip by which we come to (ad-venimus) Bethlehem “in spirit”. But, the parable is also prominent in Lenten and penitential prayers, by which we are shown the unity of Christmas and Pascha.
Therefore, we might say that when the LORD Jesus Christ was led to the Cross outside the city, He journeyed from Jerusalem down toward Jericho; so, it was on the Cross where, stripped of His garment and crucified between two thieves, He came upon this “certain man,” not in a parable but in the “deep” of the heart, outside the city, beyond all things.
In this Paschal light, we begin to see how deep is the LORD’s visceral compassion when He comes upon this “certain man”– upon each one of us – not in a parable but on the Footstool of His Heavenly Throne, His Cross. That compassion is the abyss of His Uncreated Glory in which He so loved the world that He was born of the Virgin; He emptied, He denied Himself and was obedient to the Father even to death on the Cross (Jn 3:16 & Phil 2:5-11).
In this light, we see how He poured oil and wine on this “certain man” left for dead at the side of the road. Born of the Holy Virgin, He became one with us in our death in order to deliver us from the devil and the fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). And, we see what the oil and wine are; and, if you will, the “vineyard” that produced them. The oil is the Holy Spirit, the “oil” of His Resurrection. The wine is His Blood that came out from His wounds when He was pierced on the Cross, the Blood of God by which our wounds are healed. The vineyard is the mystery of God hidden from the ages, from which came forth the Root of Jesse, the Most Pure Maiden, the “Most Fruitful Garden” (Theotokion for Wed Vespers, Oct 11), “the good soil that brought forth the ‘Vine’ untilled” (Canon to the Theotokos), who blossomed forth the Tree of Life – Christ our LORD, our God, our Savior and Redeemer, who opened Eden to all.
The Vineyard, then, is the Church, the Body of Christ, the Fullness of Him who is all in all. In the Church this morning, we are in that secret, hidden place, the “tomb of our heart”, where the LORD journeyed from Christmas to His Holy Pascha and has come upon us to pour on us His oil and wine; for, we are the “certain man” who fell among thieves. These thieves are not mere parabolic figures. They are spirits of the ruler of the power of the air who worked their disobedience in us, and “stripped us of our garments,” wounding us in soul and body as we walked “down from Jerusalem to Jericho” in the desires of our flesh – in the covetousness of idolatry (Col 3:5), in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life (I Jn 2:16) – doing the will of the flesh and of my mind, and they left us dead in our sins and trespasses by the side of the Way of Christ’s commandments.
It says that a certain lawyer stood up to put Him to the test: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Does the lawyer know that this Jesus is Israel’s inheritance, as He says through Ezekiel: “I am your Inheritance” (Eze 44:28); and who, as He says to Mary and Martha, is the Resurrection and the Life” he hopes to inherit (Jn 11:25)?
The lawyer addresses the LORD as “Teacher”. Does he know that he is looking to the Psalmist’s Teacher, as when he cries out: “O LORD, teach me the Way of Thy Law and I will keep it with my whole heart. Make me to live in Thy Righteousness!” (Ps 118:33-40 LXX) The Holy Orthodox Church, then, if she is the Body of Christ, is the Wisdom of God who would teach us what we must do to inherit eternal life. Now the veil is lifted and the parable begins to reveal its deeper meaning!
The Church teaches me in the WORD of her prayers that to inherit eternal life, I must receive Christ who has come to me on the side of the road, and subject myself to Him as my King and my God, the Physician of my soul and body.
Note that it is the LORD who in turn puts the lawyer to the test when He answers not, “What,” but “How do you read what’s written in the Law?” I take Him to mean: Do you read the Law like the Pharisees or like the Psalmist?
I think the priest and the Levite represent those who read the Law like the Pharisees. They see the ordinances of the Law; they do not see the WORD of God veiled by them as their living substance. They pass by on the other side because they cannot reach the soul of anyone with the bare ordinances of the Law to touch and heal the heart wounded and lying half-dead on the side of the road. The LORD Jesus Christ is the WORD of God who is the living substance in the Law. He it was whom the Psalmist loved and looked to as his teacher, who made the Psalmist to live in the Righteousness of the Law – i.e., in Christ. And, in these last days He was born of the Virgin, and now He stands among us in the veil of His flesh, in the Temple of His Body to ascend the Cross as the Offerer and the Offered, in order to come to where we are at the side of the road, stripped of our garment, wounded, and half-dead in our sins and trespasses, that He may “make us alive” with Him, and “raise us up, and set us together with Him in the Heavens,” i.e., on His donkey, set like a lost sheep on the shoulders of His own Body by which He has destroyed death by His death, by whose wounds the wounds of our souls are healed, that we might become His “creation, created in Him for good works that God prepared beforehand” – even “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) – “that we might walk in them” (Eph 2:5-10). That means, that to inherit eternal life, i.e., Christ Himself, we must walk in the obedience of Christ’s death – the Way of resurrection to eternal life, the Way of Christ God Himself that ascends to the heavenly places – and not in the ways of disobedience that descend to death and corruption.
I ask you to see that the Church’s ascetic disciplines heal and make alive because of the Spirit of Christ, the WORD of God, who works in them as their living substance. They are the Cross – I dare to say that they are the embodiment of the WORD of God Himself – given me by the WORD Himself in His Body, the Church, that would lead me into my soul to where I lie half-dead by the side of the road, even into the tomb of my heart; for, that is where Christ comes to me and makes me live with Him, and raises me up in the Glory of His Ascension to the Heavenly Places as His creation.
The LORD tells His parable, and then asks the lawyer: “Which of the three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?” Does the lawyer really understand the answer he himself gives, or is it hidden to him even as he gives it? For, the Samaritan who was neighbor was God Himself, as the Pharisees bore witness against themselves when they derided Him and said: “Are we not right when we say you are a Samaritan?” (Jn 8:48).
And, what good work did the Savior do that we should do likewise, even “walk in them”, as St Paul says, that we may inherit eternal life? He took the certain man to the Inn. Now, by our baptism, the LORD put us on His donkey, His human nature deified by His death on the Cross, and brought us to the Church, into the mystery of His Body risen from the dead and ascended to the “Heavenly Places” in glory. He poured on us the oil of Chrismation and gave us the wine of His Blood, the medicine of immortality. In the “hospital” of the Inn, if we submit to the Innkeeper – the holy fathers of the Church, the hierarchs and priests who “rightly divide the WORD of Truth” – and walk in Christ’s life-creating death that we receive in the words and mysteries of the Church, His Body, we will be kept safe, even made stronger in the LORD’s salvation until He returns again.
What, then, are the “good works” we are called to do that are like what the Samaritan did? Are they not to “call brother – neighbor – even those who hate us, and in the Resurrection, to forgive all things;” to love our enemy from our heart as God loved us from His Cross? Let us, then, take up the fast of “Advent” that Christ may bring us to the cave of Bethlehem as to the Inn, to find there the joy of Christ in the secret place of our heart, in the Cave of the Church, the Font of our Resurrection. Amen!