Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
August 29, 2010

Over the summer we took some time in our adult forums to look at some of the Church Fathers who helped shaped the theology, doctrine, and dogmas that we continue to uphold as catholic Christians even to this day. Even though we didn’t have a great deal of time to investigate each Father in detail, or study their works with care and precision, we did at least familiarize ourselves with these stalwarts of the faith, many of whom died for their belief in Jesus Christ. It was important work that we did in studying our history and where we came from, and some of that instruction continues with the parable we just heard.

With the exception of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the parable of the Good Samaritan is equally as well known and preached upon. The two parables share a common thread in that Luke is the only Gospel writer to contain them. All three Synoptics contain the discourse which precedes the parable with the lawyer’s question. There is a noticeable difference in the lawyer’s question in Luke’s Gospel as opposed to the account in Matthew and Mark. As we heard a few moments ago, the lawyer stands up and asks Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Our Lord then proceeds ask the man a question to which he replies with the summary of the law which we repeat at each and every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. In Matthew and Mark we have the man ask Jesus directly in somewhat different fashions, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus is asked a direct question, and he answers it. Do you see the difference in what we heard from the lawyer this morning? Jesus in typical Jesus fashion doesn’t answer the man’s question with an answer, but rather, answers his question with another direct question, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” Jesus throws the question back on itself, and he wants the lawyer to search for the answer, because in actuality, the man knew the answer. However, the problem comes in the narrative that Luke supplies, “the man wanted to justify himself.”

OUCH! That stings because it certainly hits home for me and I’m sure does with you as well. How often does the sin of pride take hold, and we wish to justify ourselves before others? How often does the temptation to make ourselves look self-righteous, morally just, and Pharisaic in our keeping of the law? After all, isn’t this the parish which condemns the current social ills which plague our denomination and our nation as a whole? Aren’t we the church that takes a stand and says that abortion is sinful and abhorrent in the eyes of God; aren’t we the church that says that sexual activity outside the bond and covenant of Holy Matrimony is sinful and abhorrent in the eyes of God; aren’t we the church that dares to point out the inconsistencies in theology in the 1979 Prayer Book and seek to return to orthodox Anglican faith and worship in the use and propagation of the historic book as espoused in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer? Isn’t this the church that stands alongside a limited number of other parishes in calling out our bishop for his vote to confirm a partnered lesbian to be bishop in Los Angeles? Yes, we are that parish. But with that title comes the temptation to wish to justify ourselves and proclaim that our stands on certain positions are what define the Christian faith and life.

Certainly those points above are markers, and signs of the fruit that comes from our proclamation of the Gospel. The lawyer in our Gospel makes the same false assumption that we might be tempted to make when we think that resting on our laurels is all that matters. This man thought that all he had to do was live in some isolated state of obedience in which he never had to get his hands dirty, never had to come in contact with those whose lives were wracked with sin, never deal with those hurting, or lost, or without hope. Jesus then tells a parable in which he declares that that is not what the Saviour of the world came to do. The Messiah had come to seek and to save that which was lost, in every sense of the word lost.

I now come to the point to tie in of our study of the Church Fathers. I don’t believe that I had heard this explanation offered by Origen before as an interpretation of the Good Samaritan. Certainly Origen has been criticized for some of the things he taught, however, I believe his insight into this parable is most helpful and a splendid exposition of the Scriptures.

One important thing to keep in mind regarding parables, they are not allegories. The point of a parable is not to simply offer a one-for-one comparison. The word parable literally means to lie along side. There is a truth or multiple aspects of the truth that is being highlighted. That’s why in most cases, there is more than meets the eye when looking at a parable.

In one of his homilies, Origen puts forward the following.

"A certain one of the Elders, interpreting the parable, said that the man who went down is Adam; that Jerusalem means Paradise; Jericho, the world; the robbers, the enemy powers; the Priest stood for the Law; the Levite for the Prophets; the Samaritan for Christ. The wounds stand for our disobedience. The beast, the Body of the Lord. The common house (Pandochium), that is, the inn, which receives all who wish to enter it, is interpreted as the Church. Furthermore, the two denarii are understood are understood to mean the Father and the Son: the innkeeper, the Head of the Church, to whom the plan of the redemption and its means has been entrusted. And concerning that which the Samaritan promises at his return, this was a figure of the Second Coming of the Saviour."

I hope this helps us see the multitude of layers of interpretation that lie behind what at first glance seems fairly straightforward. One thing about this parable is the fact that it could be read quite literally, and tells a poignant story while standing on its own merit. I found new insights from this interpretation that opens areas for us to ponder as well.

Jesus is saying that setting our hope on the rote keeping of the law, and the admonitions of the prophets is not enough. There’s more to the Christian faith and life than just “walking the straight and narrow.” After all, even the Pharisees and Scribes did that, and I believe that Jesus didn’t have allot of use for their moralism, and disdain for their neighbor. That’s exactly why the posturing of the lawyer is so dangerous because it entrenches an attitude of us vs. them. It fosters the thought that there are others who fall outside the grace and mercy of God. It leaves us with the false sense of security that manifests itself in statements like, “at least I’m not like those folks” or “look at how pure, pristine, and holy I am.”

This is not Universalism by the way. There are those who will end up outside and find themselves spending eternity in hell. In C. S. Lewis’s work The Great Divorce, those who take the bus ride from hell to heaven choose to get back on the bus for the return ride. They are given a glimpse at paradise, and for each individual, the decision is not to stay, but return to the hell that they have made for themselves – the place where they can go and attempt to justify themselves. The people who fall outside the grace and mercy of God are those who outright reject it, and declare that they have no need of it; these are the folk who falsely declare that they have no need of a Saviour, and have no reason to change who they are or where they are heading.

Twice in the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer, he uses the word “do.” When the lawyer rightly answers and recites the passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which make up the Summary of the Law, he is told that he has answered correctly and do those two things. At the end of the parable when the lawyer again correctly answers Jesus’ question, he is commanded to do as the Samaritan had done and show mercy to his neighbor. There is another command at this point in the story. Jesus says to Go, and do likewise. The keeping of the Summary of the Law pertains to the individual, and his own being. The showing of mercy requires action beyond the self. It means we have to go out into the highways and byways, as the master of the banquet declares, and seek to bring others into the feast. As with that same story the admonition is not to be overlooked. We are required to be wearing the garment fit for those in attendance. This is cyclical, and neither can be done in isolation. Showing mercy to others means binding up their wounds, bearing their burdens, and bringing them to the cross. It means meditating on the Summary of the Law, and how that is lived out here in Moultrie. It means continuing to be the beacon and witness of the Truth, and inviting others to join in that witness. It is an invitation to newness of life, in recognition that the Good Samaritan continues to have compassion upon us who still fall among thieves and robbers, who lie half-dead upon the way, who stoops down when others have passed by to clean our wounds by pouring on oil and wine, who bears us upon his back and helps us get inside Holy Mother Church telling the innkeeper to do whatever is necessary to return us to health and spare no expense, because if it costs more, I will be returning and whatever you spend, I will repay. That is a message of hope, and it is a message that needs to be heard by us, as much as it needs to be shared.

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