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 this morning God is moving us to discover knowledge and virtue. First we are brought to certain knowledge of our human nature, and then we are invited to acknowledge its limitations. In the transition from the one to the other, I pray that we shall discover the Divine virtues that will sanctify and save our sin-sick souls. 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 –speech, which is the interpretation and then articulation of knowledge. As a result, man can come to thank his Maker for the magnificent operation of his God-given senses and abilities. And yet the gifts come to us with a danger: Beware of all unrighteousness. (Ibid, 14)
Contrary to post-modern man’s protestations against its potential corruption, spiritual consciousness comes with the knowledge and temptation to evil. Ancient man knew this well enough. Its power was once woven into human consciousness through Greek Tragedy and in the spiritual experience of the ancient Jews. The author of the Psalms captures its nature most acutely. 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) The Psalmist tells us that the man who comes to know and obey God will be attacked. It doesn’t much matter if the enemy is someone on the outside or something within. What he knows is that the effort to be found faithful is plagued with fallen temptation. The Psalmist is overwhelmed because he discovers himself to be powerless in the face of spiritual malevolence. The perfection of his sixth sense –understanding moves him to his seventh sense –speech, in order to open up to God’s deliverance.
I called upon the LORD in trouble; and the LORD heard me at large. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear what man doeth unto me. The LORD taketh my part with them that help me; therefore shall I see my desire upon mine enemies. It is better to trust in the LORD, than to put any confidence in man.
(Ps. cxviii. 5-8)
Healthy spiritual trust in God’s healing power alone heals the soul. To will the good we must implore God’s strength and might in order to overcome the evil that attacks us. The LORD is my strength, and my song; and is become my salvation. (Ibid, 14)
When, with the Psalmist, man studies the Divine Law, he discovers not only what is true about God but also about himself. He finds that God’s Law is one thing and his own inability to will it is another. 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 man’s knowledge of the Law had sufficed, it would have saved him. But the Law is a summary statement of the problem and not the solution. The Psalmist’s knowledge translates into his own self-conscious powerlessness as he reaches out into the future yearning for the Grace of God to save and deliver him.
Our Gospel lesson for today both sheds light on the problem and illustrates the solution. In it we read that, …a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Jesus, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Ibid, 25) Jesus must be thinking what he says later: 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) Lawyers often think that the Law only ever applies to others, and thus never apply it to themselves. Jesus asks today’s lawyer: What is written in the Law? How readest thou? (Ibid, 26) The lawyer answers: 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) He as much as says: You have a correct understanding of the Law. If you can put it into practice, do it!
But that the lawyer cannot do it is revealed in what we read next. Willing to justify himself, he said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? (Ibid, 30) Origen of Alexandria tells us that the lawyer wishes to justify himself because no one is his neighbor. (Sermon cccxxxiii) No one is his neighbor because he has never needed the friendship and assistance of God, who desires to be his true neighbour. Jesus tries to open the eyes of the lawyer to his own sorry sinful state in the Parable that follows. 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) As a Jew, the lawyer should have had an acute sense of his own fallenness. If he had, he would have begun to see himself in this certain man who had traveled with Adam far away from the Paradise of union with God into the Fallen Creation –from Jerusalem to Jericho. He would have sensed too that the devil had robbed him of his created integrity, wounding him and leaving him half dead. Agony and anguish would have followed when he would come to learn that the Jewish Law and the Prophets could not sanctify and save him. By chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side…Likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. (Ibid, 31) Origen of Alexandria says that the priest stands for the Law, and the Levite for the prophets. (Idem) The Law sees sin but cannot look into it. Prophesy looks into the sinful condition but can only point men to future deliverance from the hands of God. Neither the Law nor the Prophets can ever do more than diagnose man’s fallen condition or pray for a solution. The Lawyer should have seen himself as caught in an Old Testament problem. Who is my neighbor? He could not imagine a neighbour to love because neither the Law nor Prophets had brought him God’s love.
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) Jesus tries to show the Jewish lawyer that One will come who will be neighbour to him, and who will fill him with a love that he can share with others. He uses the image of the Good Samaritan. To the Jew a Samaritan is an alien, outsider, and certainly never likely to be a good neighbour. If the lawyer had been conscious of his own sin, he would have seen that Jesus was offering an image of the love of God in the Good Samaritan. How else could a Samaritan possess such love and share it with a Jew? It would only be by God’s Grace that a Samaritan could be moved by love and filled with goodness sufficient to heal a fallen Jew. The point is that if the lawyer had used his seventh sense –the ability to interpret knowledge, he would have come to see that God’s Grace alone can fulfill the demands of the Jewish Law –the love of God and neighbour, and fulfill its prophesy with the healing love of the Good Samaritan.
So who is my neighbor, the lawyer had asked? The example of the Good Samaritan shows that it is the One, Jesus Christ, who loves God with all [his] heart, mind, soul, and strength. He alone loves [His] neighbor as [Himself]. (Idem, 27) Jesus is our Heavenly Father’s love, compassion, and pity made flesh, who comes to find us in the ditch of life, wounded, hurt, robbed of our identities, and left half dead. Jesus is full of God’s eternal desire to heal, redeem, and sanctify us. Unlike the lawyer who finds virtue only in obedience to the Law, we must find virtue in surrender to Christ’s healing love. And on the morrow when the Good Samaritan departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. (Ibid, 35) The innkeepers in this morning’s Parable are the ministers of Christ’s Church because they have received and now must dispense God’s Grace. With the Good Samaritan’s love that has healed them, now they can heal others. With the Divine love that is making them whole, they will make others whole also. This kind of love alone can heal and reconcile man with God and is the foundation of God’s Church.
In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to the lawyer and us that we should imitate the Good Samaritan by showing mercy and become neighbours to those who are fallen. Go and do thou likewise. (Idem, 36, 37) So we must remember the words of St. Paul: But the Scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Idem) The Jewish Law and the Prophets only reinforce the knowledge of our sinful condition. What we need is deliverance from the condition! That comes first by faith in Jesus Christ and then by surrender to the Divine Ministrations of His Grace. Then we shall become conscious of being filled with a love so undeserved and unmerited that we cannot help but share it with all others…aliens, outsiders, Samaritans…even with lawyers! Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: