Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who is Our Good Samaritan?

I was out shopping the other day and realized that the Christmas shopping season is upon us. In fact some stores had Christmas displays next to Halloween displays. Gone are the days when the day after Thanksgiving had the distinct honor of officially opening the Christmas shopping season. So there I was in a store, I don’t really remember what I was looking for…I don’t shop much…but I remember not being able to find what I needed. I walked around the store for ten minutes; I’m sure looking totally lost. Actually, I was trying to look lost. Being a man I don’t normally ask for help so if I look lost enough eventually a sales clerk will, I hope, ask me if I need any help. But no help came. I could see sales clerks walking around and some even looked in my direction but not a single clerk came to my aid. Maybe next time I’ll just lie down in the aisle to get some attention. Maybe if I look hurt and about to die a clerk might come and ask if I need help.

Actually that sounds a little like our Gospel lesson this morning. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10.30) Well I wouldn’t go that far just to get the attention of a sales clerk but you can imagine that this man, we don’t even know his name, just then was hoping that lying half dead would get some attention and that maybe someone would help him.

This parable is told by Christ in response to a question from a lawyer who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. He says, “’Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’” (Luke 10.25-28)

Today we are going to imagine that we are both the lawyer and the man left half dead. In reality both the lawyer and the man left half dead could just as easily have been the same person. Both were wanting to be saved. Both were hoping to get attention and both were ignored by their friends. Listen again to what happens to the man left half dead. “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10.31-32) The lawyer was depending upon his friend, his knowledge of the law, to save him but just like the man left half dead, the lawyer was left alone. The law was not enough to save him because he didn’t understand it. Saint Luke writes, “But he, [the lawyer] wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10.29) And the answer for the lawyer and the man left half dead is the same.

Maybe there have been times when we placed our hope in someone or something that let us down? Sometimes it seems that everything lets us down: our car, our bank, a friend, even our government has let us down before and chances are all these things will let us down again, maybe even our family. Sometimes we feel like the man left half dead, just lying there waiting for help; our friends and family just ignoring us when we need them most. Sometimes we are even ignored by our own Church. Don’t forget that even the priest in this morning’s Gospel saw the man and walked away.

But there is hope! “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10.33)The Samaritan was despised by the Jews and, yet, he still saved the man left half dead. Sometimes we get help from the person we least expect. The only question is: “Who is our Good Samaritan?” Who will come save us?

Christ asked the Lawyer, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10.36-37)

When Christ speaks in parables many times He speaks about Himself. If we consider the story from this point of view, then we see Christ is the Good Samaritan. When every other person (family, friend, coworker, church member) walks away, Christ is the one that comes and saves us. Christ is our Good Samaritan because it is Christ who shows mercy to us.

Saint Ambrose said, “When he sees half dead whom none could cure before, he became a neighbor by acceptance of our common feeling and kin by the gift of mercy.” (Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 7.74) In other words, when we feel the most vulnerable, when we feel like there is no other place to go for help, He is there for us. I continue to see lives changed when people place their hope in Christ’s mercy. It is not a coincidence that we say “Lord have mercy” thirty-six times in the Divine Liturgy. There is no doubt that we need mercy and that God has it…and plenty of it…and He is willing to give to anyone who needs it.

The Samaritan was hated by the Jews but he still helped the man left half dead. Of course, we may not hate God. We did come to Church this morning after all but do we show Him that we love Him? We are asked to love God with all our heart, our mind, our soul and our strength AND our neighbor as ourselves. This was the essence of what Christ was teaching the lawyer and what He is teaching us this morning. If we love Him then we will love our neighbors and have mercy on them even if they hate us, even if they don’t look like us, even if they are lazy and don’t work as hard as we do.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and there are thousands of people who are struggling. Are we going to be like the clergy and the Levite and ignore them? We cannot. We must not. If we want to have eternal life we must have mercy on them and help them. We have to be willing to roll up our sleeves, get a little dirty, and help when we see a need.

We don’t have to just imagine ourselves as the lawyer and the man because in fact we are both. The Lord has asked to us to show mercy to others in need if we love Him, and He promises to come help us if we need Him. “Then Jesus said to him, [and He is saying to us] ‘Go and do likewise.’”

So this week when we leave this Church let’s keep our eyes open. When we see someone – it could be a person in a wheelchair crossing the street; it could be someone needing food or a job; it could be anyone we meet – let’s stop and help. But If you are struggling with a problem that seems to never end; if you feel everyone else has ignored you…don’t give up…Christ has come for you too! He is right here.

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