Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning, beloved, we stand betwixt and between the two comings of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. His first coming as our Saviour in the flesh procured from the Blessed Virgin Theotokos and offered up for our sins on the Altar of the Cross and His second when He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (Hb. 9:27-28; Nicene Creed). The first as our Brother and Redeemer; the second as our great and terrible Judge. Every time the priest passes through the Royal Doors betwixt and between the icon of our Lady the Queen of Heaven and the icon of her dearly beloved Son, the Church magnifies His two comings. As we make our way into the Kingdom liturgically, we live our lives in the light of His two great advents.
And so, on this first day of Advent – the Nativity Fast – we enter into a holy time of preparation. We will be encouraged to meditate upon and to think often about “the last things,” which is to say, to keep Heaven and Hell, Death and Judgment, ever before us. This spiritual practice of keeping our end before our eyes is not as macabre as our “avoidance culture” wants it to be. The Fathers teach us that there is great spiritual benefit to us if we do and that such a practice will keep us humble and ready for we do not know the day nor the hour when our Master will come (Mt. 24:32-44; Mk. 13:28-37; Lk. 21:29-36; Ac. 1:7).
Today, the Church hears the most familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. It is not a parable intended per se that speaks to us of the end, but there are elements of the end in it. A man, presumably a Jewish man, leaves his home in Jerusalem on a normal day and makes his way to Jericho where he falls victim to the “cancel culture” who target him (and others like him) on the road, beat and rob him, and then toss him aside into the ditch leaving him half dead or barely alive. Indeed, no one knows the day nor the hour.
Now, this parable is told by our Lord in response to a query put to Him by an expert in Scriptural exegesis and interpretation. The query, as we know, is not an innocent one – a question of a true inquirer – but is rather designed to trip Jesus up, to test Him, to cause Him to stumble and to be exposed as a false teacher or, at least, inept. A lawyer approaches Jesus asking a “fundamental human question” (Pope Benedict VXI): “’Master, what shall I do to inherit Eternal Life?’” And, in good teaching fashion, Jesus turns the question back on His tester, asking him how he reads the Law. The lawyer answers with the correct answer gleaned from the Law’s Torah (Dt. 6:5; Lv. 19:18): “’Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.’” “’[D]o this,’” Jesus tells him, “’and you will live.’”
But, of course, not content, like so many of us, the lawyer bested wants to “justify himself.” Why it is we are rarely ever satisfied with receiving and living the plain sense of God’s Word is beyond me. For no sooner does our Lord God and Saviour say to us thus-and-so than we immediately set out to “justify” ourselves, to rationalize and seek exceptions to the rule. Forgive, Jesus says to us, and we ask just how often or under what conditions. This is all part and parcel of our broken and sinful condition, and it started in the Garden, if you recall, with the subtle “interpretation” and “innocent” question of God’s Word by the crafty serpent – another Scriptural expert and exegete (Gn. 3:1-7). Whenever we hear “Thus says the Lord . . . . .” we seek to justify our actions or inaction, our decisions, our prejudices, our thoughts, or our words. We become indignant and defensive. We rationalize, argue, and sulk. Of course, we know the root cause. The root cause is pride, and the cure is humility. If we take the time to deeply ponder this parable we would see that, ultimately, it is one that urges us “to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” For “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good” and what the Lord requires (Mc. 6:8).
So, Jesus answers the lawyer’s self-justification question, “And who, pray tell, is my neighbor?,” by telling the parable we have come to know as the Good Samaritan. Implicit, however, in the lawyer’s question is an assumption: that there are those who are not my neighbor which is, again, a shot at self-justification. In answer to the lawyer’s question, jumping ahead, Jesus asks him at the end of the parabolic scenario not “who is my neighbor” but who was a neighbor in the parable, that is to say, who acted neighborly to the profoundly injured and hapless man? Unfortunately, we are so distant from this parable and its time and place that we are obtuse to its punchline. But, when Jesus makes the Samaritan the hero and model of neighbor to be imitated, it would be akin to a black man standing betwixt and between a violent mob of thugs masquerading as social justice warriors bent on destruction and defending his white neighbor’s property, saying to them, “I am not going to let you do this!” Who knows? It could cost him his life.
Jesus doesn’t tell the lawyer nor us who our neighbor is or may be, He tells us instead, “You are the neighbor. In answer to your question, you are the neighbor.” And, if we are the neighbor, brethren, then everyone we come into contact with – especially those in need – is our neighbor. Our Lord’s parable addresses perhaps some other issues such as the purity laws of the Torah that may have discouraged the priest and Levite from coming to his aid and how the Law of God is really made for man and not man for the Law – issues that continue to arise even today in the Church when we forget that fasting is for our spiritual benefit and not vice-versa (Mt. 12:1-14; Mk. 2:27; Lk. 6:1-11).
You are neighbor, our Lord says to us. We no longer need to speculate or wonder or devise a list. The plain and simple answer is: you are the neighbor. How will you act? Which of the three characters in the parable, Jesus asks, was neighbor to the helpless man in the ditch? “And [the lawyer] said, ‘He that showed mercy on him.’ Then said Jesus unto him, ‘Go and do thou likewise.’” Mercy is always appropriate to those in need. They may or may not deserve it, but, then, here we go again justifying ourselves by trying to play judge and jury. Maybe the injured man in the parable orchestrated his robbery? Maybe he knew there was a certain part of the road he should avoid but chose not to? The long and short of it is for us in the Church as the baptized faithful: God calls us to imitate Him, and in the end, when we all stand before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ God, He will administer true justice according to what we have done or left undone because only God Who is omniscient and All-merciful can judge rightly (Jn. 5:24-30; Ac. 10:42; Rm. 12:17-21; 14:10-12; 2 Cr. 5:10; 1 Pe. 4:5).
Do we wish to be ready for that day and hour unknown to us? Then, “’Go and do thou likewise.’” That’s what our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ calls us to do and be. Go and be like God, imitate Him, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became Man” (Ep. 5:1; Co. 3:13; Nicene Creed). God would have been well justified to walk away from us in our self-imposed plight when we ignored His Word out of unbelief. He would have been well within His divine rights to say to us sinners, “I told you so. I said, didn’t I, that the day you eat of the fruit of the Tree you will die? What didn’t you get about that? You’ve made your bed, now you have to lie in it.”
But, what does He do? From the get-go He promises us redemption and a Redeemer Who will crush the head of the beguiling serpent though the serpent strike His heel (Gn. 3:15). And that salvation involves and necessitates the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ according to the Flesh. He Who is God Almighty stoops to our broken condition. Though He was despised by us ungrateful creatures (Is. 52:13-53:12; WS 2:1-24), He nonetheless lays aside His glory, so to speak, and willingly takes on our flesh and our lot, except without sin (Pp. 2:5-11; Hb. 4:15; 1 Pe. 2:21-25). He wraps Himself in the swaddling cloths of our frail and feeble humanity so that we might be wrapped with His divinity and partake of His divine nature by grace (2 Pe. 1:4). He lives and moves among us for a period of time healing our sicknesses, curing our ailments, opening our blind eyes, restoring our dead to life, and we repay Him by crucifying Him Who is pure and utter love upon the Cross. We cry out, thirsty for His blood, perhaps thinking we can circumvent things like we did in the Garden. Our Maker and our Redeemer suffers the blows of our hatred at fever pitch, a mob of thugs seeking to cancel Him. He dies, just as we wanted, but the Spirit of holiness raised Him up from the dead on the third day, never to die again, defeating once and for all death’s terrible dominion and sin, the slave of death (Rm. 1:3-4; 6:1-11)! Trampling down death by Death, He grants us who are by nature children of wrath and deader than dead in our sins, great mercy and Life Everlasting (Ep. 2:1-10; Paschal Troparion)! And, then, He picks us up and commends us to the saving and sanctifying care – the ministry – of His pure and spotless Bride, the Church. His divine Inn, if you will, and He says to the Church, “’Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.’”
“’Go and do thou likewise.’” And, “’when I come again, I will repay you.’”
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!