Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Galatians 3:16-22 *  Luke 10:23-37
The parable we have heard today is called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. However, the Lord Jesus simply called the man "a certain Samaritan." Christ also taught us, "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do." (Luke 17:10) The Lord did not, therefore, assign the title "good" to the Samaritan for doing what was, in the story, simply the man's duty to his neighbor as revealed in the Law of God.

The Samaritan is not held up as an extraordinary example, but merely as a proper example. If there is anything praiseworthy about the Samaritan, it is his mercy and humility. For, the Samaritan was chosen to be an exemplary character in the story, quite deliberately, to make a simple point: You must love your neighbor without regard for how he has treated you, or how you expect him to treat you later.

The Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and they returned the resentment with no love lost. Jesus, however, reached out to the Samaritans. On one occasion the Samaritans of one village refused to receive him (Luke 9:52); but earlier another Samaritan village did receive him (John 4:1-42). Even there, however, the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well reminded him, "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans."

It is highly significant, therefore, that the man in the story is a Samaritan. Of all the men who came by, and saw the wounded Jewish victim of a criminal attack lying on the side of the road, the Samaritan was the least likely to want to help him. Why should he help a man who, no doubt, was entirely prejudiced against him? Perhaps, if the victim were awake and alert in his helpless condition, he would fear the Samaritan's approach. Perhaps, despite his need for help from somebody -- anybody -- he might nonetheless say something like, "don't touch me with your Samaritan hands!" 

But the Samaritan was set on one purpose, and that was to love his neighbor as himself, and therefore to act according to the man's need. He may never gain a friend for doing so; maybe not the man himself, and maybe no one back home who might disapprove of helping a Jew. He may have been afraid to tell the folks back home. But, at that moment he was "moved with compassion," and he obeyed the Law of God; he acted out of charity. 

The lawyer, in this case the student of the Torah, who asked Jesus about the commandments, no doubt had heard the Lord teach. He already knew what were, in the teaching of Jesus, the two greatest commandments of the Law: "'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 neighbour as thyself.' And [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.'"

Of course, Jesus did not teach these things only. He demonstrated them as well. The Prophet Isaiah foretold the day when God would commend "his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," (see Rom. 5:8) in the famous Suffering Servant passage. The prophet foresaw the day when the crowds would be turned against Jesus, rewarding the man "who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10:38) with hatred and rejection for all the good he had done. So wrote the prophet, roughly 700 years ahead of that day, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3) In that context, wherein the Lord was treated worse than a Samaritan by his Jewish brethren, and worse still by the Romans who perpetrated the violence and cruelty that he endured, we are told of how much he acted with love, according to the needs of each and everyone of us.

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." (vs. 4-6)

He had said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) He defined for us, by his actions, that a friend may not be one who loves you; but, he is someone you love as your neighbor. Jesus called even Judas, "friend" as he betrayed the Lord (Matt. 26:50 "And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?"). From his perspective, as he was hanging on the cross and pouring out his soul unto death for you, and for me, Jesus Christ did not have an enemy in the world. Yes, he saw that they poured forth their hatred against him:

"Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." (Psalm 22:12-18)

Yes, they saw him as an enemy, and treated him as a conquered enemy, exhibiting glee from the spectacle of his torments, triumphing with cruel merriment. But, from his Divine and human perspective, he was laying down his life for them, and that made them his friends, as it makes you his friend.

"And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' And they parted his raiment, and cast lots." (Luke 23:33,34)

So, Jesus not only taught us to treat everyone, including those who regard us as enemies, as we would treat friends; he did so himself.

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:43-48)

This is not to be treated lightly. As God on his throne in heaven, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son could not be harmed by man's malice. But, as a man, we see Jesus demonstrating the love of God through his human nature, actually suffering injustice, cruelty and pain; and he responded by forgiving and praying for his persecutors. This was Divine forgiveness from the Man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 25)

Getting back to the parable, look at the men who "passed by on the other side." They saw their brother, a man of the same people and the same faith, stripped of his raiment, wounded and half-dead. The first man who saw him was a priest of the temple. No doubt, he had his religious duties to attend to. Perhaps, from all he could tell, the man was dead, and therefore the priest did not want to be made unclean. So too the Levite. He also served in the temple, and if this man was dead, he, like the priest, did not want the inconvenience of being made ceremonially unclean. Their religious duties, awaiting them in Jerusalem, must have seemed too important to be interrupted by the need, even the desperate need, of this their neighbor. 

I would think the Lord was using irony in the parable. Here are two men who know the Law, who belong to the temple, who do sacred work, passing by the man, passing by on the far side of the road. But, a Samaritan, despised and rejected wherever his business took him in Israel, is the one man who obeys the Law. Yes, I would think the Lord was using irony, if not for my many years of seeing some religious people, the kind who are very correct about every little detail all the time, who know the rubrics better than God does, but who behave, nonetheless, the same way that the priest and the Levite do in the parable.

Someone who serves in the temple might pass by on the other side. However, one who serves God would not, even if he is only a Samaritan. 

The Samaritan in the story did not do a great thing, but merely did his duty. The priest and the Levite did a great thing, for they committed a very grave sin. When news came to Tobit that a man of Israel had died, he rose from his dinner and buried him, even though the king had ordered that the corpses of Jews were to be left to rot, so that the crowds could belittle and insult them even in death.

And in the time of Enemessar I gave many alms to my brethren, and gave my bread to the hungry, and my clothes to the naked: and if I saw any of my nation dead, or cast about the walls of Nineve, I buried him. And if the king Sennacherib had slain any, when he was come, and fled from Judea, I buried them privily; for in his wrath he killed many. (Tobit 1:16-18, see also Tobit 2:3-8)

Acts of charity are always in accord with the Law of God. If the rare occasion arises wherein charity appears to conflict with a religious duty, God has commanded us to see charity as the higher priority. The Priest and Levite should have risked ceremonial uncleanness, a mere concern of the "Kosher Laws," to love their neighbor in his time of need. Someone else could serve in the temple during the time in which they might have become lo tahor, or "unclean." It would not have been the end of the world. If ever your sensitivities, and not merely but especially your religious sensitivities, incline you to place ceremony or rubrics ahead of charity, be certain that God will not hear your prayers. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." (Prov. 28:9)

And, concerning that Law, the second great commandment is this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Jesus has taught us the way, and in showing us the way has redeemed us from sin and death on his cross.
"'Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?' And he said, 'He that shewed mercy on him.' Then said Jesus unto him, 'Go, and do thou likewise.'"

1 comment:

Auriel Ragmon said...

In Eastern Orthodox exegesis, the Good Samaritan is sometimes seen and Christ Himself, rescuing us from our wounded nature.
After all, He was rejected by His own people, yet He rescued all of us lying by the wayside, wounded by sin, subject to robbers (demons) and brought us to the inn of healing, and gave His pence (His Passion and Rresurrection) to ransome us from Hell.

That works for me.

Rdr. james Morgan