Today we hear the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Christ is asked by the Jewish lawyer “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This Jewish lawyer has asked a most significant question, one that each of us needs to ask ourselves. Christ agrees with the lawyer’s answer. “You must love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.” “Do this and you will live” replies Christ. But then the question becomes “Who is my neighbour?” The Fathers hold that the man wounded by robbers (the robbers represent the demons) is representative of broken and wounded humanity. Christ is telling us that all of the “race of Adam” are our neighbours. The chief leaders of Israel, the Priest and Levite, did nothing to help this man, but rather looked the other way. “Not my problem, I’m far too busy.” What they had planned for the day was very important. It simply couldn’t be interrupted by what God had planned for them for the day. Remember, we the Church are called “the new Israel.” In the end the one who helped the suffering man was a Samaritan. The Samaritan’s were despised and cut off from Israel and thought to be heretics. Yet the Fathers hold that the good Samaritan represents Christ in this parable, the bandaging and re-clothing of the wounded man represents baptism, the oil Chrismation, the wine the life-giving Eucharist, and the Inn represents the Church.
The Samaritan’s were a Jewish heretical sect who worshiped God on Mount Gerasim rather than on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, and held there had been no prophets since Moses. Remember the woman at the well, the future St. Photini, to whom Christ offered “living water?” She was also a Samaritan and asked Christ which mountain it was proper to worship at. Christ replied that salvation was truly from the Jews, but we all need to worship God not at a particular mountain but in spirit and truth. So we see that the Jews had the right theology and were truly considered to be the chosen people of God, and that the Samaritan’s were truly heretics. Yet the actions of the good Samaritan demonstrate that he, rather than the theologically correct Jews, had obeyed the law of love and found the answer to obtaining eternal life. He alone recognized this wounded man left half-dead by the demons, to be his neighbour, and acted in a God-pleasing way.
As I said, this parable should give us in the Church, “the new Israel,” pause for some serious self examination. As St. James makes clear in his Epistle “Faith without words is dead.” We need to give ourselves a wake-up reality slap if we are deluded into thinking that because we have understood and accepted that the theology of the Orthodox Church is true and pure, and we have entered her, we have arrived, and our salvation is now accomplished. No, our work is just starting once we come home to the Church, to be in communion with all the saints that have gone before us and those that are now journeying with us here on earth. At the final judgement seat we are told we will be shown that what we did and didn’t do to help the least of our fellow humans, will be what matters. Not just whether we kept our Church membership cards up to date.
In today’s parable it is the despised and heretical Samaritan whom the Fathers all say represent Christ. We hear St. Peter, the chief of the apostles say, (Acts 10:34,35) “…In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation, whosoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” We can’t coast on our privileged position as Baptized and Chrismated members of the Orthodox Church. If anything, more is required of us now than before we came in. How many times did Christ lay out the principle that (Luke 12:47,48) “…for everyone to whom much is given, from him will much be required…”
We have the privilege of worshiping here in the fullness and glory of the Orthodox Church, the very Church which Christ and His apostles established, and the gates of hell shall not be able to withstand. What a privilege! But we need to ask ourselves, what does this mean to us? How do we unite ourselves in gratefulness with Christ and His Church? What is our calling? How can we participate in reaching out and sharing this wonder to the suffering world around us? In demonstrating Christ’s agape love to those around us? How do our actions express our faith?
I discovered a very clear and straightforward passage from St. Theophan the Recluse in my readings this week. I think it wonderfully instructs us in how and when to minister as God-pleasing good Samaritans and servants of God. St. Theophan went into seclusion to write in 1866 and gave us many wonderful clear and inspired spiritual books writing right up until his death in 1894. I highly recommend you read about his life on the OCA website and get to know him.
“You ask, ‘Must one do something?’ Of course one must! And do whatever comes along – in your circle of friends and in your surroundings – and believe that this is and will be your real work. More will not be demanded of you. It is a great misconception to think, whether for the sake of heaven or, as the modernists put it, to ‘make one’s mark on humanity,’ that one must do great reverberating tasks. Not at all. It is necessary only to do everything according to the commandments of God. Just what exactly? Nothing in particular – only those things which present themselves to everyone in the circumstances of life. Those things which are required by the everyday happenings we all require. This is how God is. God arranges the fate of each man, and the whole course of one’s life is also the work of His most gracious foreknowledge, as is therefore, every minute and every encounter. Let’s take an example: a beggar comes up to you; it is God who has brought him. What should you do? You must help him. God has brought the beggar of course, desiring you to act towards this beggar in a manner pleasing to Him, and He watches to see what you will actually do. If you do what is pleasing to God, you will be taking a step towards the ultimate goal, the inheritance of heaven. Generalize this occurrence, and you will find in that in every situation and at every encounter one must do what God wants him to do. And we know truly what He wants from the commandments He has given us. If someone seeks help, then help him. If someone has offended you, forgive him. If you yourself have offended someone, then hasten to ask forgiveness and to make peace. (St. Theophan the Recluse. Letter to a young girl.)
In today’s gospel, Christ is telling us that we need to expand our understanding of whom our neighbour is. The good Samaritan showed through his actions he was following Christ’s teaching and acting in a manner such as we have just heard recommended by St. Theophan. Our faith is demonstrated and grows to maturity through our actions. We start to wake up when we become more aware, that at every encounter we are being presented by God Himself with opportunities to help others, and we choose to act in a manner pleasing to Him. Christ tells us we are so connected in communion with God and His people that (Matt.25:40) “…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it (fed, gave drink, clothed, visited, etc.) to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” We are joined together in Christ. Mother Teresa of Calcutta put it this way “The dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved they are Jesus in disguise.”
Christ has clearly taught that all of us humans are in this together. That we are all family, no matter how we struggle with each other. That the despised Samaritan was most blessed and Christ -like because he responded with love to the opportunity to help the battered and broken stranger/neighbor he encountered. Today He gives the lawyer and us His final word on the subject. “Go and do likewise.” May God open our eyes to see the suffering neighbour God is sending into our lives to help us grow in Christ. What a gift they are; even if we don’t immediately like the wrapping paper containing the priceless present. He is asking us to love them as ourselves, to open our hearts to bind their wounds with oil and wine. Let us all join with God in working towards bringing His kingdom here, “on earth as it is in heaven”…….Glory to Jesus Christ!