|11 - The Good Samaritan, November 13, 2011|
The question put to the Savior by a scribe, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” reminds us that our life ends in death. The question also sets before us another life, different from this life. It is an eternal life. It is not the life of the body or the soul. It is the very life of God Himself. If we could rouse ourselves to confront squarely the fact of our death, we might become sober enough to begin the effort to redeem the time we have in the flesh and set out to find the eternal life Christ speaks of.
Drawing from the holy fathers of the Church, we can say that Jerusalem represents in this parable of the Good Samaritan the Tree of Life that is in the Garden of Eden. Jericho is the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which is obviously the tree of death since it is opposite the Tree of Life. The “certain man” who goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho is “Everyman”, i.e., you and me. We have each one reached out in disobedience of God’s command to eat not the fruit of the Tree of Life, which is the sweetness of Christ, but the fruit of the forbidden tree which is the bitterness harvested from indulging in the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Jericho, moreover, was a walled city given to the worship of idols. It looks, therefore, like the world of men that has walled itself up in the citadels of its own scientific, religious and philosophical wisdom and setting man up as its idol, worshipping the wisdom of his own opinions and of his speculative and even scientific reasonings as the measure of all things: man who is but a breath, who is but dust of the earth that will shortly return to the earth. What nonsense! What hubris!
The thieves are the serpent and all his host and all his pride who draw us out by the enticements of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. By falling in with them, we have sold them our birthright as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, and they have stripped us of the Robe of Light with which God clothed us in the Garden. They have left us half-dead, indifferent to and ignorant of the biblical God. And if the Church did not proclaim to us the Gospel, would we ever remember the warning of God: “On the day you eat the fruit of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, on that day you will surely die!” Too late to discover that the world and its pleasures gives us only the life of the flesh and such pleasures that we can extract from the flesh. And, whether our flesh is sleek or not, able to give us much or little pleasure, in the end, it gives no pleasure to anyone because it becomes old and ugly and finally disintegrates back into the dust.
The priest and the Levite who pass by represent the religion of the OT; and, for that matter they represent any of the world’s religions. They cannot give eternal life, because their spiritual life is drawn from the blood of bulls and goats, or from the wisdom of human reasoning. Nor can they clothe us in a Robe of Light, only in the wool and leather of sheep and goats or in the theories of human science and religious and political philosophy. These eventually fade and get old and moldy until they disintegrate back into the dust or they become passé. Therefore, they can only look on man’s plight helplessly and pass him by on their way to the next lecture or symposium to discuss more of their lifeless ideas, leaving man and his soul lying in the road half-dead.
The Good Samaritan, of course, is Christ, God the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. He appears as a Samaritan, i.e. as one who is outside our cultural and ethnic prejudices because Israel, and mankind in general – God’s own because they were made by Him – did not receive Him. In the end, they rejected Him for Caesar; i.e. for the wisdom of their own opinions and speculations, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. And, as Cain did to his brother, Abel, by whose murder world history began, so they did to their own brother, Christ their God, and so they brought the history of the world to its climax with the murder of God.
All of us, each one, have gone down from Jerusalem to Jericho; we have each one spurned the fruit of the Tree of Life for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And so we have each one been set upon by thieves and fallen under the subsequent bitterness of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. We are stripped of the Robe of Light. We are in darkness, yet we think we are enlightened; we are in ignorance, yet we think we are wise; we are spiritually dead, yet we think we are alive.
Christ, the Good Samaritan, comes to us as the light shining in the darkness. He comes to us on an ass, in our own human nature that He received from the Blessed Virgin Panagia that He might clothe us again in a Robe of Light. He ascended the Cross freely, of His own will in His loving obedience to the Father and out of His great compassion for us. He ascended the Cross not in defeat but in victory. For, He slayed hell with the splendor of His Godhead. He shattered the iron doors of hell. He destroyed death by His death and now He comes to each of us lying half-dead on the side of the road to raise us up in His mystical goodness and to give us His own eternal life, if we want it. We know this is true through faith, i.e. through a knowledge that is higher than the dialectic of ratiocination because it is born from the love of God in His goodness. In faith, we experience the joy and light of Christ descending on our soul from above when we receive Him and give ourselves to His Holy Church.
In the parable, the inn is Christ’s Holy Church. The oil and the wine with which Christ treats the man lying on the road, and the denarri that He gives to the innkeeper are the sacraments of the Church, the “medicine of immortality” by which Christ’s Holy Church nurses us back to health. The ascetic disciplines of the Church are the cross of Christ that Christ gives us to take up as our own weapon of victory by which we are made able to slay hell in the splendor of Christ’s own Godhead, and to make our death into the death of the old man and the beginning of our resurrection in the New Man which is Christ.
The pure in heart shall see God; yet, long before we become pure enough even to see God, we know Him because we experience Him. His uncreated light sends out invisible rays of joy that touch the soul as soon as she turns to Him. She does not see the light of God, but she feels it in the lightness of the soul that the joy of God brings.
“Go and do likewise,” Christ says to those who have received Him in Baptism and Holy Chrismation, who have experienced His goodness in the joy and light with which He anoints the soul. As did Christ, submit yourself in obedience to the Father and take up the Cross of repentance. As St Peter says in his second epistle, “flee” from the corruption that is in the world in the desires of lust and pride, and run to Christ in answer to His call to become partakers of His own glory and virtue, even His own divine nature in the fruit of the Tree of Life that is before you in the middle of the Garden of Christ’s Holy Church. Let Christ clothe you in His Holy Church with the Robe of Light, the uncreated light of His glory, as you were clothed by the priest in your baptism. Rise up in your mind and soul out of the darkness of the world and stand in the radiant company of the saints and learn the love of God that is full of light and life, that heals and makes whole and raises up those who were dead into the warm light of His own eternal life. And, in the love of Christ that has given you, go and give the love of Christ to your neighbor, even to your enemy. Keep your heart and mind in the inn of the Church, and let the love of God, cleansing you and filling your heart with spiritual joy, transfigure your life into a joyful ministration of Christ’s goodness to those lying on the road around you half dead, sharing with them the death-destroying and life-creating love of Christ’s Holy Pascha that has made you alive in joy and that is now nursing you back to health in light. May God help us to “go and do likewise” in the joy and love of His beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the prayers of His saints and His All-Holy Mother, the Theotokos. Amen.