|11 - The Good Samaritan, Nov 14, 2010|
This Gospel of the Good Samaritan figures prominently in the penitential prayers of Great Lent, when the Church is preparing us to follow Christ to His Holy Passion on the Cross. This tells us that the Gospel of the Good Samaritan has to do with the spiritual work of exposing the old Adam in us in order to nail it to Christ’s Cross so that we may die to the world and live in Christ. This Gospel of the Good Samaritan is always read about this time of the liturgical year, right around the beginning of the Advent fast, when the Church prepares us to follow the Theotokos into the temple and then to the Cave of Bethlehem, in order to behold with the shepherds and wise men the beauty of the Virgin Mother and the Christ Child in the mystery of Christmas. The Gospel of the Good Samaritan, then, because of its connection to both the Lenten and Advent fasts of the Church, shows the inner theological unity between Christmas and Pascha. There is a unity of theological meaning between the Christ newly born of the Virgin, and the Christ raised from the dead in His Holy Resurrection as the first born of the dead, the Second Adam raised from the tomb to re-create and make alive in Himself the first Adam who was raised from the dust, and who returned to the dust in death because of his transgression.
We are alerted by this inner unity between Christmas and Pascha indicated by the Gospel of the Good Samaritan to approach Christmas in a way similar to the way we would approach Pascha: in brokenness and contrition of heart. It alerts us to the spiritual fact that as we make our approach through the Advent fast to the sweet beauty of the Cave of Bethlehem we are also approaching the terrible glory of the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha. In the sweet joy of Christmas, beneath the many frivolous, secular customs of Christmas – which our culture has developed almost as if to shield itself from the terror of the terrible majesty and holy glory of the Christmas Feast – there hides the sacred pathos of Pascha. So, when we gather round to adore the sweet baby Christ Child, we are worshipping also the terrible Lord of Glory, the creator of heaven and earth who has destroyed death by His death. We receive the holy infant “meek and mild” and we receive the crucified God who throws the demons into terror by His Cross. In our pious imagination, we hold the “sweet baby Jesus” close to our heart and we hold ourselves close to His Cross. We cannot adore the “sweet baby Jesus” if we do not also take up our cross to follow Him and to unite ourselves with Him in the likeness of His death. In other words, let’s not be deluded by the sweet appearance of the “sweet baby Jesus”. He is the terrible Lord of Glory who touches the mountains and they smoke. To worship the “sweet baby Jesus” means to submit to His command to take up our cross and follow Him to Golgotha, to crucify the old Adam in us with Him on His Cross.
The Gospel of the Good Samaritan, in revealing the inner spiritual unity of Christmas with Pascha, reveals also the tragic story of mankind, which each of us plays out in our own individual lives. And, it proclaims to us the ineffable compassion of the Savior who comes to us from the Virgin in His Holy Nativity at Christmas, and as the first-born of the dead in His Holy Resurrection at Holy Pascha.
Jerusalem has a spiritual meaning. It is the image and likeness of God in each one of us, the true self that we truly are in the center of our heart, where God wants to dwell as in a holy temple. This man that went down from Jerusalem to Jericho is the old Adam in each of us that turns his back on God. Instead of ascending God’s Holy Mountain, instead of submitting to the will of God in the yes of the Theotokos to enter into the sanctuary of the heart and there to wait for the coming of the Holy One to follow Him through the gates of the heart that open onto God and onto the eternal, we have chosen to go down to Jericho, to give our love and our desire to the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.
When we leave Jerusalem, when we leave the inner sanctuary of the heart, we grow forgetful of God. That grows into indifference toward God. Our hearts grow hard and cold, covered over with the stone of self-centeredness and indifference to God like the stone that was rolled over the Lord’s tomb. Our heart becomes closed to us; and, the image of God that we are lies within the tomb of our heart as a corpse. We become our own masters, separate from ourselves in a profound spiritual schizophrenia. We become ingrown, insulated, alienated from others, indifferent to if not contemptuous of our fellow human beings who are not like us. The old Adam, spiritually dead now, sets out for Jericho, for the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, and it is immediately set upon by robbers, the passions: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy, vanity, pride, sloth. They steal the robe of light that we were clothed with at our creation. They beat us with fear, anger, worry and anxiety, frustration, grief and sorrow, and they leave us lying on the road half dead, in the darkness of spiritual ignorance of God. Is not this man who went down to Jericho, lying half-dead on the side of the road, us in our innermost soul where we process and brood over the fortunes and misfortunes of our life?
Perhaps the Levite and the Scribe who walk by the man lying on the side of the road, who walk by us, represent the customs and traditions of our family, the ways of the world, the wisdom of the world’s philosophers, the sages of the world’s religions, the politicians, the scientists that we take refuge in to make sense of life, to figure out who we are and where we fit in, in our effort to protect ourselves from the hard, bitter knocks of life that threaten to breach the walls of our self-made security as we keep going down to Jericho. But like the Scribe and the Levite, the wisdom and ways of the world cannot help us; they won’t help us. They are indifferent to us because, finally, their ways are of this world. They lack inner feeling. They care only for ideas and causes and principles. They have no care for individual people, the poor, the needy who have fallen through the cracks of worldly society. They have no care for us when have been beaten up by life and are lying on the road half dead. They pass us by to move on to the next appointment with the next cause, the next idea.
The Good Samaritan is the God who comes to us as the Holy Infant of Christmas, born of the Virgin. He is the Creator who clothes Himself with Light as with a Garment, eternal, immortal, incorrupt and incorruptible, who out of His great goodness and love for mankind, sets out for Jericho from His Holy Temple in the Heavenly Jerusalem to come looking for us lying on the side of the road half dead. This is the glory, the ineffable glory of Christmas that irradiates the tender pathos of the beauty that covers the Christmas Feast with a soft, holy radiance. God the Good Samaritan takes off His garment of Light in His birth from the Virgin so that in His Holy Resurrection as the first-born of the dead, He can wrap His garment of immortal and uncreated Light around us lying on the road half-dead, to raise us up onto His own crucified and risen humanity, and carry us to His Holy Church, the Inn that He has established on this earth as the way station for His disciples who have clothed themselves in Him and become sojourners, pilgrims in this world as they make their way back to the Heavenly Jerusalem and to Christ’s Holy Temple. Here in the Inn, His Holy Church, His crucified and risen body, Christ gives to the innkeeper, to the hierarchs and priests, the holy fathers and mothers and saints of the Church, two denarii. He gives them His commandments and His sacramental mysteries to apply to all those who have been beset upon by the thieves of this dark world, and left for half dead on the side of the road, so that through His Holy Church and in His Holy Spirit, mediated to us in the doctrine of His Word and in the Mysteries of His Body and Blood, Christ Himself can nurse us back to health and make us ready to enter with Him into His Heavenly Kingdom.
When life strips away our vanity and arrogance, we can either become bitter and resentful, or we can turn around to see that in our own brokenness beneath the masks we wear we share in the same brokenness of those around us. If we would meditate on the beauty of this Gospel story that opens to us the beauty and majestic glory of Christmas and of Holy Pascha and of the Life of the Church that is in Christ, we would fall in love with the Lord Jesus Christ; and in that love, we would see the light of divine hope that raises us out of ourselves and into the love of God; and in that hope and love, we would begin to see our neighbor not as our enemy but as our fellow sojourner; and in the love of Christ, we would offer ourselves to God on behalf of all and for all.
O Most Holy Lady Theotokos, save us! Amen.