|11 - TO GO AND DO LIKEWISE [The Good Samaritan] Nov 13 2022|
A certain lawyer rose up, it says, to test Jesus. He was a lawyer, it says. That means he was versed in the Law of Moses. He rose up to test Jesus. The verb means he rose up to test Him thoroughly. I believe the lawyer’s intention was to determine if Jesus was of God or just another false prophet. So, he stands in the place of Moses; as Moses, he bears witness to Jesus not just as a true prophet, but even as the LORD Himself who gave the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai (Ex 24-25), for he addresses Jesus as, ‘Teacher’.
The lawyer’s question shows a mind that penetrates beyond the letter to the spiritual substance of the Law. For he does not say, what must I do to inherit the land; he says, what must I do to inherit eternal life? The question shows spiritual insight because the land God showed Abraham was not Canaan; it was a heavenly country, a heavenly city; St Paul makes that OT teaching explicit [in, e.g., Heb 11.10-16]. It was the Garden of Eden to the East; it was the Land of Resurrection, as clearly indicated, e.g., in Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones (Eze 37.1-14).
So, the lawyer’s question means: what must I do to inherit the Land of the Resurrection?
But now the LORD, in turn, tests the lawyer. He asks him how he reads the Law of Moses. The lawyer answers: ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.’ The LORD says, ‘You have answered rightly. Do this and you will live.’
But now, it says that the lawyer wanted to justify himself, and so he asks: ‘And who is my neighbor?’ I have shared with you that I believe that in the NT, to be justified is to be raised from death to life. I take the lawyer’s question to mean that he was sincere. He wanted to know precisely who his neighbor was so that he could begin doing what the LORD was telling him to do if he wanted to inherit eternal life; that is, so that he could be ‘justified’. Now the LORD’s parable becomes the test to determine who is the true student of Moses; that is to say, who it is that truly ‘gets’ the Law and follows the ‘finger’ of the Law – the finger of God that wrote the Law on the stone tablets on Mt Sinai (Ex 24.12) – that is pointing to Jesus Christ as the telos of the Law, the only-begotten God, ‘He Who Is’ in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18, Ex 3.14), who is Himself the ‘Resurrection and the Life’ (Jn 11.25), the ‘Heavenly Pattern’ of which the Law of Moses was but the ‘copy’ (Ex 25.9&40, Heb 8.5) and the shadow (Heb 10.1).
Study the parable closely. What is it that the LORD, the Samaritan in the parable, does that those who want to live in His Resurrection are to ‘go and do likewise’? Go beyond the letter; get into the spirit of the parable. The man lying beside the side of the road near death is the ‘hidden man of the heart’ that is dead because of her sins and trespasses (Eph 2.1). The man is our heart going down from Jerusalem, from the Temple, to Jericho – that’s where the Israelites played the harlot with the daughters of Moab, i.e., sacrificed, gave themselves to the idols of the Moabites. The man is our heart that has turned away from the Law of Moses, which commands us to love God and our neighbor with all our heart, and has given itself to the ‘lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life.’ (1 Jn 2.16). The man is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; he is going the wrong way. He is going away from God and toward idolatry; he is going away from eternal life toward eternal death. He is our heart that is near death because we have gone away from the Temple of God in Jerusalem to the altars of the passions in Jericho and to the demons who are active in those passions: lust, greed, anger, hatred and the rest.
The Samaritan coming to him at the side of the road, then, is Christ as the Living and active WORD of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Is this what we’re supposed to go and do likewise if we want to live? Penetrate our neighbor’s heart in order to raise it up and bring it to the Church, the inn, to be healed? I believe it is; and the lives of the saints confirm it, for that’s exactly what they do. But how on earth can we do that when we ourselves are the man lying near death by the side of the road? How is it that so many of the great saints are able to do this? For they, too, began as this man lying beside the road near death.
A priest and a Levite, it says, came by – were they going to the temple of Jerusalem or to Jericho? But they passed by on the other side. The priest and Levite represent the letter, the ritual forms of the Law of Moses, whereas the Samaritan, Christ, is the telos of the Law (Rm 10.4), its inner substance, its spiritual perfection and completion. I think the LORD means to say not that the letter of the Law of Moses would not, but could not get to the man near death by the side of the road because the letter of the Law in the OT is embodied in the blood of bulls and goats that are creatures themselves enslaved by death, or in letters engraved in stone which in themselves are lifeless, and so the Law of Moses in its external forms is unable to raise the heart that is near death on the side of the road [to Jerusalem] to life.
No one, then, can go and do like the Samaritan, no one can reach someone’s heart if they themselves are caught up in the letter of the Law, in the letter of rubrics and canons, or in the external forms of the Church’s liturgical rites. For they mistake the outside for the inside, the letter for the spiritual substance, and so they remain outside the heart; they never enter the Tomb of the LORD’s death where the heart that was dead is suffused with the living waters of the Holy Spirit and raised from death to life. They succeed only in modifying outward behavior, but they touch no one’s heart because they have not touched their own inside the LORD’s Tomb. Beneath the observance of the letter, their heart is cold and lifeless. There is no love for God or for the neighbor; they live not in the Spirit of joy and freedom, but in the spirit of bondage, caught fast in an angry and fearful enslavement to the letter, to the externals. Remaining outside the Tomb of the LORD’s Resurrection, they remain themselves but whitewashed tombs, pretty and correct on the outside, but inside full of dead bones and stench.
So, how can we go and do like the Samaritan? How did the LORD Jesus get to this man near death on the side of the road? Was it not by ascending the Cross and being placed in the Tomb? For God so loved the world that He emptied Himself and was obedient even to the point of death on the Cross, and so He became a partaker of our flesh and blood, even sharing in our death. In His death, He pierced through the division of soul and spirit all the way to our heart where we lay near the side of the road dead in our sins and trespasses.
How, then, can any of us go and do like this if we ourselves do not penetrate beneath the external façade of our civility and sophistication to become one with our own heart and acknowledge our sins and transgressions that have made us so broken, so that we can be buried with Christ through baptism and be united to His death? How can we go and do like the Samaritan if we are not continuing to live in Christ’s death? If we are not striving to be conformed to the likeness of His death? If we are not crucifying our old man with Christ so that it is not the body of sin and death that continues to rule over us, but it is the God who shines in our hearts with the Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 4.6) who is ruling over us?
The mercy of God is more than being ‘kind’ and ‘nice’. It proceeds from the mystery of the LORD’s death in our flesh by which He penetrated to our root and cleansed our root from death and healed our whole being, heart, soul, strength and mind, restoring us not just to eternal life but to our original beauty. To administer this ‘mercy of God’ to my neighbor, I must descend with my mind into my heart in prayer and find myself lying near death on the side of the road and there, let go my own wisdom, my own efforts to fix myself, and entrust myself to Christ. Only by uniting myself to Christ in the love of my heart can I become merciful as God is merciful and touch the heart of others with the healing of Christ’s Resurrection. Amen!