Preached September 18, 2011
St. Luke 10:23–37
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today with the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, we enter into the second half of the Trinity season. Because Easter came rather late this year, the second half of the season will be somewhat cut short, but it will, as always, address the various aspects of the Christian life, its difficulties, its joys, and its approach to final perfection. The first three Sundays follow a theme of true and laudable service, with one Sunday each on the terms Love, Purity, and Singleness of Heart.
In our Epistle lesson for the day, St. Paul is describing the nature of Abraham’s relation to God. He says that this was a covenant relation between God and Abraham, Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. The emphasis is on the fact that this is a covenant, a promise, and specifically a promise of God to Abraham and one of his descendant lines. This promise was the gift of unconditional grace from God to Abraham and his descendants, establishing a familial relationship between them. Thus the service due to God arising from that relationship was the natural, easy service of family members.. There is not a lot said about this service because it is the sort of natural service that it is. It is not according to laws and regulations, but rather it is the service that arises naturally from deep love in the heart, as of a son for his father or mother.
Then St. Paul continues to talk about the service of the Law which came into effect some 430 years after the covenant was given to Abraham. The Law did not represent an advancement in the relation between man and God, but rather it was a regression, a sliding back. It was because of this back sliding that specific rules had to be set forth to specify the relationship, to identify the exact service due. You will remember that the first table of the Ten Commandments deals specifically with the service due from man to God, while the second table deals with the relations between men under God’s Law. This was because the conscience of man no longer responded sufficiently to the unwritten laws of the duty arising from the covenant.
The effect of the imposition of the Law was to make the Lord God seem far away from the Jewish people. It was the sort of break in the relationship that occurs when a superior interposes a new subordinate between himself and you. This is what is described by St. Paul in the phrase, Galatians 3:19b and it (the Law) was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. The mediator is Moses, who is placed between God and the rest of the Jewish people. The people were now under the Law, seemingly further away from God than they had been previously when they had simply owed the service of Love. But this had all come about because of the hardness of the hearts of the people.
But look at the overall message of our reading. St. Paul is saying that Christianity is again under the early Covenant relation with God, not under the Law. He is saying that, as Christians, we are Abraham’s seed and heirs through Jesus Christ of the ancient Covenant, the Covenant that has continued in unbroken form because it is God’s promise. He effectively sweeps away the centuries of life under the Law as not applicable to us because we live instead under the Covenant. He is careful not to describe the Law as bad. Christ had never condemned the Law, and the Law was given by God. But he describes the Law as a lower form of relation to God from which we are relieved, and it would be wrong to return to the lower form from the higher form. There are two things we must remember:
(1) That the baptismal covenant makes each Christian an Isaac, a child of promise, the possessor of a rich inheritance and the heir of “Heavenly promises”
(2) That this relationship of love must be the motive for true and laudable service—the service of filial devotion—even as Abraham served God, “and it was counted to him for righteousness.”
The opening words of our Gospel lesson were these: Luke 10:23-24 23 And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: 24 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. The Christian Church, and every member therein, is blessed to see the love of God throughout our lives. We see it when we are first brought into the Church as infants for Baptism, to be received into the Church, to be received into the blessed communion of saints in which we will be supported throughout our lives by our families and other members. As we grow in the Church, we are constantly aware of the central role of the Cross and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. We learn to make use of the Sacraments — particularly Holy Communion — for the pardon of our sins and the growth in our sanctification. All of this leads to the blessed assurance of a quiet rest when our service here on earth is done and the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” from the voice of our Master in Paradise.
To carry out the essential service of Love is exactly the same today as it was in the days of Abraham, the day of Jesus Christ, or any time since. There are two aspects which we are all familiar with from the Summary of the Law that we recite at Mass most Sunday mornings when we do not use the full Decalogue,
1) Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
2) Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
The first covers the love of God and the second covers the love of our fellow man. They are really on a single commandment because we cannot love God if we do not love our fellow man, and we cannot love our fellow man if we do not love God. It looks so simple, but the difficulty is in the application, as you might have guessed!
The Gospel is illustrated by the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. While the parable may be understood quite well by simply reading the story at face value, there is an allegorical interpretation that traces its roots back to Origen that offers additional insight. The parable begins by speaking about a certain man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is a road trip of some 18 miles and a drop of approximately 3500 feet, so it is quite steep. It passes through a very wild and desolate area after leaving Bethany just a couple of miles from Jerusalem, so it was a natural place for robberies. Let us understand that man to be Adam, the progenitor of mankind. Let us understand Jerusalem to be Paradise while Jericho represents the world. Thus this initial statement describes the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, not a road trip from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Our Lord Jesus continues, Luke 10:30b and (the man) fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. For the purposes of the allegory, the thieves are the dark powers of the world, the powers of sin and death, which include real thieves but also so many other things that can strip us of our morality and wound our souls. The wounds themselves are our disobedience, the result of our yielding to temptation and sin. This is the state of many in the world every day, not completely physically dead, but with souls in mortal peril because of the great wounds that they have received and from which they will eventually perish.
Luke 10:31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. The priest stands for the mosaic Law which has no power to save at all. Rather than seeking out the man sick with sin, the priest passes by on the other side of the road, avoiding the sick man as much as possible. Similarly, Luke 10:32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. The Levite represents the Prophets.
Things change when Luke 10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, It appears that the Samaritan was not looking to avoid the wounded man, but rather was looking for him, in order that He might save him. This leads to identifying the Samaritan with Jesus Himself. This accords well with another instance in which the crowd says of Jesus, John 8:48 Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? The Jewish people saw the Samaritans as outsiders, but not quite as far removed as the rest of the Gentile world; in essence they were partly Jewish and partly Gentile in Jewish eyes. Identifying Jesus as a Samaritan may be understood to represent the dual natures of Jesus Christ, being both fully God and fully human. Note that what He is not is fully Jewish.
Luke 10:34 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. According to the allegory, we understand this to tell us that Jesus relieves the suffering of mankind, by offering His own blood as wine and by sending the comforter, the Holy Ghost as the balm of olive oil to take away our pain. Jesus physically takes the suffering man upon his own beast, that is, His own Body, to carry him to safety. Jesus takes man to the common house or inn, which is the allegory for the Church, the place of refuge that receives all who wish to come in. This is the place where each person is personally cared for by Jesus Christ..
Luke 10:35 And on the morrow when he 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. The two coins which are given to the innkeeper are identical, and have the same image upon them. The allegory says that these two coins are God the Father and God the Son, each indistinguishable from the other. They are given to the head of the local Church, the bishop or priest, to use in the care of the recovering man. The phrase, when I come again, I will repay thee, is taken as a clear reference to the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time when He returns as Judge of the world.
Our Lord then asks the question, Luke 10:36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? Let us not miss the point, concluding that our only neighbor is Jesus Christ! Our neighbor is anyone we encounter who is in need. Let us never hesitate to willingly open our hearts and our purses to aid those truly in need.
Our focus is to learn to love others as God has loved us. This is the only way that we can do the sort of service to God that will put us in the sort of relation to God that Abraham enjoyed with Him. Grant, O Lord, that we may live in such way as to please thee in this life and fail not in the end to attain thy great promises, through Jesus Christ, our only Saviour .
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.