|10 - The Good Samaritan, Nov 10, 2019|
Always assigned to this time of the year, this parable of the Good Samaritan announces the ‘coming’ of Advent: that period of six weeks before Christmas when the faithful, through prayer and fasting, prepare for the joy of the Savior’s birth of the Holy Virgin. The parable, then, has to do with the mystery of the Son of God becoming flesh and pitching the tabernacle of His Body among us.
Jesus tells this parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate His answer to a “certain lawyer” or “any” lawyer, anyone who would want to know from the LORD, in so many words: when distilled to its essence, what is the one commandment we should obey so that we can inherit eternal life? And God—the LORD Jesus Christ—answers the lawyer: “You shall love the LORD your God”—that would be the LORD Jesus Christ standing in front of him—“with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The Incarnation, then, has to do with the love of God.
The Samaritan is Christ, as the Jews themselves attest: “Did we not say you are a Samaritan?” (Jn 8:48). The “certain man” going down from Jerusalem to Jericho is “everyman”, you and me. Now, Jerusalem is where the Temple was, where the Son of God dwelt—the LORD Jesus Christ in the Glory of His divinity. In the sanctuary of the Temple, earth opened onto heaven. Here is where God visited His people, where He spoke to them.
So, let us note that when, in the parable, this “certain man” goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho, he goes away from the Temple, away from the presence of God. Going down to Jericho, he goes down to where Israel played the harlot, that is, gave herself to idolatry.
At the heart of this parable, then, is the love of the heart. The heart is the sanctuary of the temple of our body. The heart is the ‘bridal chamber’ where we become one with our beloved. The Spirit of the LORD is the Giver of Life. Going away from Jerusalem, then, this man was going away from Life and down toward the “region and shadow of death.” Note that to love God is to receive eternal life into one’s heart. To love idols is to receive death into one’s heart. If the heart is dead, how will she be made to live?
The robbers that attacked the man and left him for dead, the Church tells us in her liturgical texts, are the spirits dwelling in the idols. These idols are the embodiments of the passions—greed, lust, anger, e.g. Can we not attest from our own experience that when we give ourselves to any of the passions, dark spirits like robbers lurking in the shadows of those passions come out and beat us up in our soul. They rob us of our peace, our happiness, our innocence, our capacity for intimacy. They strangle us with anger, lust, greed; they cover us with shame and remorse. They separate us from loved ones. We find ourselves isolated inside, anxious, confused, angry, dull, listless, frustrated, agitated, bitter. Could we not say we feel like we are half-dead inside?
It says that a priest and a Levite came along, saw him, and passed by him on the other side. Interesting: were they going down from or up to Jerusalem? Actually, it doesn’t matter, for I believe the point is that neither law—whether it is the law of logic, or the natural law or the Mosaic law—nor religiosity is able to touch the heart and heal her.
Something deeper than law is needed to touch the heart. Law judges, convicts and condemns. Whether it convicts or pardons, it leaves us unchanged within; it simply hasn’t the power to heal or give life to our soul half dead by the side of the road. I think we know what that something deeper is that alone can touch the heart and heal her. We might say love, but we need to be more specific, because finally, not even human love can save the soul from death—as we know too well when we watch, helplessly, a dear loved one die. Real death is separation from God. The love that alone can touch the heart where she is dead, and heal her in those depths where she is separated from God, is the love of God Himself.
What we see in this parable, then, is the tender beauty of the Gospel, which we might express like this: “We love God—that is, we are raised from death to life, from separation to union with God—because God first loved us, first became one with us even in our death, even in our separation from Him” (1 Jn 4:19), as we hear when He dies on the Cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
We love because God first loved us: this is the joy of Christmas! In the Church, we are going up not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem because that’s where the Temple of God is, the Temple of the LORD’s incarnate Body. The Cave is the Holy of Holies, because that’s where the Glory of God, Jesus Christ, is found. But the cave, like the Jerusalem Temple, is but the extension into space-time of the mystery of the human heart. Inside the mystery of the cave and the Holy of Holies is the human heart, the “true” sanctuary, the true “Holy of Holies”, and Christ born of the Virgin in the Cave is the Gospel proclamation that God is with us! God has descended through His Incarnation and taken up His dwelling in the sanctuary of the human body, the human heart. The love of God now dwells not in a building of stone but in the heart that before was dead in her sins and trespasses. The WORD of God has descended like a two-edged sword and “pierced” to the division of soul and spirit all the way into the sanctuary of our heart where we are broken and lying beside the road half-dead. The mystery of God hidden from the ages and generations is now with us: Christ in you!
Did it strike you that the Samaritan gives no command to the man lying half-dead by the road? He doesn’t say, for example, take up your bed and walk! He stoops down to Him. He empties Himself and takes on the form of a servant. He pours on Him oil and wine. He is obedient to the Father to the point of death on the Cross that He might destroy the devil—the chief of the robbers—that held us in the power of death. He cleanses the man with His Holy Spirit, the oil, and His own blood, the wine, the “blood of God”, the real blood that is the real life, the blood and water that poured from His side on the Cross when the soldier pierced Him with a spear. He lifts the man up and places him on His mule, His own human nature that He has sanctified and deified, and made strong against the dark spirits, the robbers hiding in the idols. He takes him to the Inn. This is the Church, which is His Body, the True Temple, where earth has been joined to heaven, where death has been swallowed up in the victory of His Resurrection.
We are in the Inn this morning. We are in the mystery of Christ’s Body, the mystery of His death and Resurrection. This is the place not of condemnation but of healing. In and through all the sensual elements of the Church’s sacramental worship, God is with us! Enter the Church and you enter into the arms of the Samaritan stooping down to pick you up. Receive the sacraments of the Church and you receive Resurrection and Life.
Rest in it. Soak in it and watch how you begin to recover deep within yourself, how your heart begins to soften and grow warm and begins to beat with the prayer of the heart, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner,” and see how this prayer gives birth in you to the love of God that raises you to life in the joy and the warm vigor of God that the world cannot take away. Amen! Glory to Jesus Christ!