Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost / Eighth Sunday of Luke, November 15, 2015
Ephesians 2:14-22; Luke 10:25-37
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
As we continue our parish meditations on serious giving as a critical element of the spiritual life, we hear today the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. This is probably one of the most beloved and well-known passages in Scripture, and it even enjoys some fame outside of Church life. People know what it means to be a “Good Samaritan.” Today, let’s join our meditations on giving together with the message of this beautiful Gospel.
A lawyer approaches Jesus and wants to know what it takes to have eternal life. Jesus asks him what is written in the Law of Moses. And the lawyer responds: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s a very good answer. Jesus says so when He replies: “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” But it doesn’t end there. The lawyer, “desiring to justify himself,” asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” And that’s when we get the story of the Good Samaritan.
We know the story: A man is beaten by criminals and left half dead on the side of the road. He is spotted by a priest, who avoids him rather than helping him. A Levite also sees him and does the same thing. Both these men are members of the professional clerical class among the Jews. Then a Samaritan—a man from outside the Jewish world, shunned by Jews as a heretic and half-breed—sees the poor man and shows him mercy.
And Jesus says that it was the Samaritan who proved himself a neighbor to the man. And then He tells the lawyer “go and do likewise.”
Now, we could take from this what is perhaps the most obvious interpretation: The lawyer should be like the Good Samaritan, helping those in need. And so should we.
But hidden underneath is something else we need to see, a deeper spiritual meaning. How do we get to it? We tend to read this parable as an allegory, and that is a good way. And when reading parables in terms of our own spiritual lives, we ask, “Which character am I?” or “Which character should I be or not be?” And in our conventional reading, we might answer, “I should be like the Good Samaritan, not like the priest or the Levite.”
But what if we read this differently? What if we put ourselves somewhere else in the story? What if we said, “I am not the priest, the Levite, the Good Samaritan or even the innkeeper—I am the beaten man”?
This interpretation is actually given by some of the Church Fathers, such as St. Theophylact of Ohrid, who largely follows the commentary of St. John Chrysostom. I’d like to talk about what he says about this.
In this model, the beaten man is the human person, who has been beaten by the demons and the cares of this world, because he came down from Jerusalem, the place that signifies a high spiritual life where the spiritual mind rules. But because he left that spiritual Jerusalem, he could be taken by the thieving demons, who rob him of his virtues.
And why is he called “half dead”? It is because he still has an immortal soul but his body has been rendered mortal because of sin. This is what happened to Adam when he sinned and then is passed on to all of us. And we repeat it when we fall into sin ourselves. But it is also only a “half” death because we are not left wholly in despair. There is hope for us.
The priest and the Levite signify the Law and the Prophets, who could not of themselves save us as we lay beaten and half dead in our sins.
And who, then, is the Samaritan? The Samaritan is our Lord Jesus Christ, the stranger Who came to us from the outside and cared for us from His own compassion and His own means, caring for us not at an earthly inn but in a heavenly Church. And the innkeeper is an image of apostles, pastors and teachers, to whom Christ gives the means of caring for us.
I find this interpretation much more compelling.
So how does this connect with our theme of serious giving?
This connects in that it helps us to see what our spiritual state is. If I can see that Christ “came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” as we all confess together before we receive Holy Communion, then I can see that I am really beaten and half dead. I am in need of help. I cannot get up on my own.
I am tempted by what is represented by the priest and the Levite—that is, attempts to get up and get better that fall flat. St. Theophylact says that the law and the prophets represented by these figures desired to make human nature better, but were unable to do so.
I cannot get better on my own, and I cannot get better by just following rules. I need to get better by being embraced by Christ, by being healed by Christ, and by being brought to where He wants to bring me. That is the only way for me to be healed, for both my soul and body to attain to immortality.
And so we therefore see why it is that we give, and why we give seriously. This is part of our healing. Giving, rather than taking, is what the life of the Kingdom of Christ entails. As He showed us, it is a Kingdom of love, not a Kingdom of customer service. We are brought into the Kingdom to be healed, and that healing paradoxically comes when we seek not to be served but to serve (Matt. 20:28).
To love and to serve is to sacrifice, to count it to be more blessed to give rather than to receive (Acts 20:35). When we do that, we become more like Christ. And that is what it means for us to be healed, to become fully alive rather than half dead.
I love the way that Theophylact describes this state of being “half dead,” that it is the state of one whose soul is still immortal but whose body is corrupt and dead. This is not only the fleshly body but all of our earthly life. This half death applies to us and even to our bodies while we still walk the earth, because our bodies are dying and push us toward death. We need to be brought back to life, given the medicine of immortality which the Good Samaritan Christ brings to us as we lie half dead, stripped naked of virtue and spiritual power.
That is why we know that salvation, which is healing, comes not only to our souls but also to our bodies, to our whole bodily life. That is why this healing involves every part of our earthly life, including our possessions. Those possessions are really just the extension of our own bodies, because it is our bodily labor, or someone else’s bodily labor, which enables us to have them.
We want to be found by the Good Samaritan, our Savior Jesus Christ, the stranger in this world. We want to be healed by Him. We want to be brought by Him to the inn, which is the Church, the Kingdom of God. And we want Him to give gifts to the innkeepers—apostles, pastors and teachers who will take care of us in that Kingdom.
And that is why we give. And it is why we give seriously.
To God, the One Who finds us and heals us, be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.