But the Scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to
faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
(Gal. iii. 22)
In our Scriptural readings appointed to be read this morning we are blessed to discover both knowledge and virtue. First, we are brought to certain knowledge of who and what we are, and the limitations of human nature. Next, we are offered the opportunity to make that knowledge into virtue. This virtue will find its deepest expression in both the love of God and the love of neighbor.
But first, let us study knowledge. In today’s Old Testament Lesson, we learn about our human condition from Joshua, the Son of Sirach, who lived some two hundred years before the birth of Christ. From him we learn that man’s life is created by God, that it is limited to the time between birth and death, that all of creation is subject to God’s rule and governance, and that man has received the use of the five operations of the Lord, and in the sixth place he [has been given] understanding, and in the seventh speech, [the interpretation] of the cogitations thereof. Counsel, and a tongue, and eyes, ears, and a heart, gave he them to understand. (Ecclus. xvii. 5,6) Man is given five senses, a sixth operation – understanding, and then a seventh – the interpretation of knowledge. In addition, man can glory in the magnificence of the wondrous works of God’s creation. But he is also given God’s judgment and Law to guide him into knowledge and understanding. So, it would seem that as far as knowledge and understanding go, man is well equipped to live a life under the rule of God in a beautiful creation.
Yet, as man’s knowledge isn’t strong enough to resist the evil and cleave to the good, it turns out that created man has no easy time in applying the good that he knows to his own life. All nations compassed me round about… They kept me in on every side, they kept me in, I say, on every side… They came about me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns… I was pushed hard so that I was falling…. (Ps. cxviii. 10-13) His predicament is desperate and dire. And yet he knows that God’s mercy and compassion are essential. Yea, let them now that fear the LORD confess, that his mercy endureth forever. (Ibid, 4) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Prov. ix. 10) Healthy spiritual fear alone opens a man to the healing presence and power of God’s work and labor in the human soul. To will the good we must implore God’s strength and might, that His mercy and Grace might banish evil from our inner and outer lives. What we learn and understand, we must embrace and endure as we courageously sing, The LORD is my strength, and my song; and is become my salvation. (Ibid, 14)
The application of the law involves always the work of God's grace and an autonomous, responsive act of will on our part. The Law reveals man’s problem or predicament – his alienation and separation from God. For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness [and salvation] would have come through the law. (Gal. iii. 21) In other words, if knowledge of the Law was all that was necessary for salvation, the Law would have saved man. But the Law is a summary statement of the problem and not the solution. This the Psalmist not only knows but experiences as he reaches out into the future for God’s salvation and deliverance, as he yearns and longs for the Grace and mercy that alone can redeem and sanctify him.
Our Gospel lesson this morning both accentuates the problem and offers a solution. It is prefaced by Jesus with these words, BLESSED are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (St. Luke x. 23, 24) Jesus is speaking to His disciples, who have just returned from a trial-flight mission into the world to spread the news that He has come. They had performed miracles and cast out devils in His Name but were told not to rejoice that the spirits were subject unto them, but that their names were written in heaven. (St. Luke x. 20) Jesus reminds them that their success was due to God’s Grace alone. But next, we read that, …a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Ibid, 25) Lawyers know the Law, but mostly apply or misapply in relation to othes…for their own profit! Jesus had said at another time, Woe unto… ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. (St. Luke xi. 46) Jesus asks him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? (Ibid, 26) The lawyer answers with the Summary 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. (Ibid, 27) Jesus responds, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. (Ibid, 29) But crafty lawyer wonders. So, he willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? (Ibid, 30) Origen of Alexandria tells us that the lawyer wishes to justify himself, or his own way of living because no one is his neighbor. (Sermon cccxxxiii) All men to him are potential sources of income. He cannot imagine what it means to love his neighbor. No one is his neighbor because his relation to all men involves not love but profit.
Resorting to a parable, Jesus teaches the lawyer about the name and nature of his true neighbor. He says: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (St. Luke x. 30) Jesus continues: And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. (Idem, 31) Origen says that the priest stands for the Law and the Levite for the prophets. (Idem) Law regulates human life and Prophesy promises a better future. Neither can save a man from sin, death, or Hell. The Law reminds all men that they are sold under sin. Prophesy looks forward to the solution that has not yet come. Neither the Law nor prophesy can save a man. So, neither Priest nor Levite can ever be the true friend or neighbour to the man fallen into the ditch of the fallen condition, nor teach others what it means to be a neighbor. Jesus goes on: But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Idem, 34) What does the Samaritan represent? To the Jews the Samaritan was a sinful, polluted alien and outcast. But Origen tells us that Samaritan means Guardian. (Idem) A Guardian cares for one entrusted to his care. The image of the guardian in this morning’s Gospel points to Jesus. Jesus is the Samaritan in this morning’s Gospel. Jesus, the Good Samaritan, is the one who alone can come near to our half-dead condition, who possesses the necessary medicine to heal our souls, to bind up our wounds, and to place us upon His own beast of burden – the shoulders of His own sacred humanity, and take us to the inn, or the church, that spiritual healing might commence and lead us to Heaven. Jesus, the Good Samaritan, places us into the hands of His church and her ministers, and commands them: Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. (Idem, 35) The point is that through the parable our seventh sense comes alive. Remember that Joshua the Son of Sirach instructs that our seventh sense is the ability to interpret knowledge. Our interpretation of the Parable must mean that Jesus is the Good Samaritan who comes to heal and save us, that in and through us, He may heal and save others.
So, who is my neighbor, the lawyer had asked? My neighbor, our neighbor, is Jesus the Good Samaritan. He alone loves God with all [his] heart, mind, soul, and strength. He alone loves [His] neighbor as [Himself]. (Idem, 27) Jesus is full of our Heavenly Father’s love, compassion, and pity. Jesus comes to find the lawyer and all of us in the ditch of life, left half-dead, in one way or another. Jesus longs to heal and redeem us always. Jesus the Good Samaritan intends that the healing that He begins should continue in the Church. The inn keepers are the faithful in Christ’s Church, who are like the victim redeemed and saved by the Good Samaritan. They too have been stripped of all integrity and meaning, wounded and bruised by the suffering that life brings, and then left half dead in the ditches of an uncaring and cruel world. Because they have been rescued and healed by Jesus the Good Samaritan, now they have the tools and passion to pass on His healing power to those who will receive it.
In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to us Go and do thou likewise. (Idem, 37) As Archbishop Trench suggests, the question is not only who is my neighbor, but to whom can I be a neighbor? (Notes on the Parables, p. 252) To whom can I be neighbour? Jesus. For Jesus is not only the Good Samaritan but also the man left half-dead in the ditch. To whom can I be neighbor? Well, to those with whom Jesus identifies because He is with all men in their ghastly suffering. Perhaps, the man in the ditch is all men whose suffering cries out for the Good Samaritan’s determination to help, heal, and save us. In this morning’s Collect, we pray that we may become God’s faithful people who always do true and laudable service to Him…by faithfully serving Him. (Collect Trinity XIII.) Faithful service comes when we love our neighbours as ourselves. Faithful service might even mean that we love our enemies as ourselves. Jesus did. The Good Samaritan’s loves and wants them also…even lawyers!
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons