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TALK ON THE APOSTLE AND GOSPEL

 READINGS FOR SUNDAY 15/11/09

12th NOVEMBER 2009

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Since we began the Interpretations of the Sunday Apostle and Gospel readings, I have tried to give more emphasis on the Apostle reading rather than the Gospel because most people find Paul’s letters more difficult to understand than the Gospels. Today I will do the opposite because the Gospel reading is that wonderful Parable of the Good Samaritan and we shouldn’t let it pass without a thorough examination. But the Apostle reading also has much to teach us. It is from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. During the Apostolic age, Ephesus was one of the largest and brightest cities of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was the Capital of Ionia and was the best known coastal city of Asia Minor. It boasted a wonderful port and was a great trading centre. Paul visited it twice. Once towards the end of his second journey which was only for a day as he was in a rush to reach Jerusalem and again on his third journey where he stayed for almost three years.

The main theme of his Epistle to the Ephesians consists in the unity and the glory of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. In the body of the Church is historically revealed the pre-eternal will of God for the world and mankind. The mystery of God’s will which was revealed to us with the incarnation of Christ is the unity of everyone with God, everything is summed up in Christ – through Christ and his body, in other words the Church. This Sundays reading singles out the event of salvation in Christ and reveals the primal role of grace in the accomplishment of this salvation. So let’s hear the reading which is from Ephesians 2:4-10
Brethren, God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

4-5) “
Brethren, God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”

From the beginning of the chapter which is not in today’s reading Paul underlines the state of the Ephesians before they came to know and believe in Christ. They were dead because of their transgressions and sins; they lived in the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature the children of wrath. This state was transformed by the intervention of Divine Economy in history that is, the Incarnation of God himself and his saving work which came about in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul emphasises the richness of God’s mercy and the great love with which he loved mankind. For even though men lived in a fashion which should have caused God’s wrath, he shows them his endless mercy and divine love. The reason which moves God to save mankind comes from himself: no one and nothing forces him: whatever he does for mankind he does it only from his mercy and love.
What exactly is involved in the work of salvation? Paul presents it here as the quickening, that is the coming alive again of mankind with Christ. The outcome of sin was our spiritual death. By taking human form, Christ transformed this death into life. He planted in us the seed of a new life, and gave us the fulness of his own life. By grace ye are saved. Here Paul wants us to fully understand that the work of divine grace is a gift from God and not the fruit of our own efforts. We are not saved by our own efforts and achievements but through divine grace.
6) “
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
In the previous verse Paul stated that God has quickened us together with Christ. Now he also says that God has raised us up together with Christ and has made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ. What Paul is telling us is that the salvation of man has already come about, all that remains is for each of us to embrace it on a personal level, for each to became partakers of the divine gift. Christ’s human nature has been raised and because Christ is the head and we the church the body we also have been raised with him. And as Christ sat on the right hand of God we also sit together with Christ who comprise his body. For where the head sits, there also sits the body.
7) “
That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
Here Paul is defining the purpose of the Divine Economy: God brings about the salvation of man to show in the future age the ineffable richness of his grace. We will know the Lord’s endless mercy in its fullness and we will appreciate it during the future life. But now during this present and temporal life, the unfaithful cannot see the good things hoped for and the faithful see them only in part as looking through a glass, darkly. (1 Cor. 13:12) But in the future age, both the faithful and the unfaithful will see the deified human nature which Christ received being venerated by all of creation and his saints reigning with him. The honour which God’s goodness has reserves for us is beyond imagination – to be made co-judges and co-reigners with his only-begotten Son. To sit on the right side is a show of honour which surpasses every other kind of honour and after this there is no other. Indeed this is immeasurable richness which only the unsurpassed strength of God can bring about. To sit with God, but who are you? A dead person who by nature is a child of wrath.
8) “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
What Paul said a little earlier in verse 5 that by grace ye are saved, he now puts added emphasis by repeating it. It comprises one of the basic truths of our faith, that our salvation is not the result of our good works or our virtues, but a gift and grace from God. Of course it also demands from our side that we believe. Faith is compulsory as the expression and response of our free will. If we do not want it, God does not save us by infringing on our independence, which is one of the greatest gifts with which he has endowed us.
9) “Not of works, lest any man should boast”.
This present verse reveals how things evolved. God did not only turn to the people who observed his will and performed good works: we cannot say that God confined salvation through works for then the saved would boast of their accomplishments. The verse in fact is not referring to the good works of the saints but rather the works of men in general. The works of men were evil and their life was corrupt, but God through his grace saved them. The result of this is that no one is allowed to boast. Man’s works are a cause of self centred boasting which confine him to himself, and distance him from the true source of salvation. Of course this doesn’t mean that in Paul’s mind the works of men have no place, but even the good works of Christians are not to be boasted.
10) “
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Here Paul explains what he said earlier that man’s salvation is a gift from God. Both the first creation of man and his rebirth in Christ are the works of God. We are his workmanship, his creation. He is the cause of our physical existence, but also as new creations in Christ, again we came from God. He moulded us and gave us rebirth. God creates and renews man unto good works, in other words to do good works and fulfil God’s will. The good works are the natural results of our rebirth. We have become a new creation not by the works that we do, but to do good works which reveal our rebirth. The meaning of “which God hath before ordained” can be interpreted in two ways. It can refer that God before ordained the works or that he foreordained us. This doesn’t cause any dilemma because whether it refers to the works or us, the meaning is that we should walk in them. In all the time of our earthly life our purpose is to always do good and to seek to be virtuous. Salvation is not some static situation but a powerful journey: a journey that begins with our baptism and reaches the kingdom of God.
That in short is the meaning of the Apostle reading. Let’s now hear the Gospel reading which is taken from Luke 10:25-37.
At that time, a certain lawyer came to Jesus, tempted him, and saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, 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. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, 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. 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. 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. 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. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

The reading we have just heard is known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Lord found reason to tell the parable after a Lawyer came before him and presented him with the question: “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” By lawyer it does not mean a solicitor in the sense we know them today, but a teacher of the Mosaic Law. Note that the Evangelists says of the teacher that he came to Jesus, tempting him: on other words he came with the sole intention of tempting Jesus because he didn’t believe that Christ was God and that his teaching was contrary to what the Mosaic Law ascribes. Thus as a teacher of the Mosaic Law and with his great knowledge, he wanted to place Jesus in a difficult situation. So this cunning man came to Jesus without good intentions: what he said concerning about eternal life was not the desire of his heart, he just wanted to converse with Christ and make him appear that he taught contrary to the Law which would have proven that he wasn’t God and neither did he come from God.
In all reality, the lawyer/teacher comes across very arrogant and full of pride, thinking of himself as a superior teacher who had the knowledge to correct others, even Christ. He may have seen the miracles that Jesus did, but he only saw them with his physical eyes: the eyes of his soul remained closed. His envy and arrogance did not allow him to believe in Christ as the true God.
In spite of the teacher’s arrogance, Christ does not ignore and disregard him just as he doesn’t disregard any person, but wants all people to be saved. He came to seek and find the lost sheep. (Matth. 18:11) Every man, every sinner is a victim of sin and the devil and needs to be delivered from this tyranny. Now because the teacher was adherent to the Law, Christ condescends to also begin from the Law so that the teacher will be convinced that he was not against the Law: how could he be for the person who spoke with Moses and gave him the Law was Himself.
To the teachers question, Christ replies with his own question: “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” And the teacher replies: “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.” The teacher replied with the correct answer because even though his question was “what should he do to find eternal life”, he knew the answer lay in having love for God and for one’s neighbour. His answer also showed that he was well learnt in the Law because he did not quote one of the Ten Commandments, but gave a combination answer by quoting passages from two books – Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Deut. 6:5. Lev. 19:18). Thus he showed that he didn’t lack knowledge of the Law, but he did lack the observance of it. He knew the letter and ignored the spirit.
That is why Christ said to him: “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live”. Don’t just read and teach the Law, but go and put into practice what you preach. But in the new age of the Incarnate God, to follow the road of love can lead to one’s life being sacrificed for the sake of love for others.
The teacher is among those who Christ said that: “they hear and see, but do not understand”, in other words they do not hear and see with ears and eyes of their soul, therefore neither can they understand with their soul. There is a hardness in their hearts from their sins and especially their pride. For them eternal life is very distant because they live in the old age of the Law, of the letter, the biological life and not with Grace which is eternal life. They cannot understand the true meaning of love and how it identifies with sacrifice for the one you love. For the love which is ready to die for God and one’s neighbour there is no death: love is eternal life. How can the love for God as expressed by the teacher with the quadruple repetition of “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind”, how can this be put into practice and if necessary how can it reach the sacrifice of this physical life? What does the Law offer to help man in sacrificing his self love, so that he may be able to offer himself totally to God and to his neighbour and thus gain eternal life? The answer is absolutely nothing. The Law preserves a certain relationship with the true God, so that the people of Israel are not drawn away into idolatry and also to prepare the reception of the Messiah. But it is the “letter” which doesn’t strengthen man in the struggle so that he remains in God.
There are of course examples of saints in the Old Testament, who loved God and fulfilled his will in their life, but they were not strengthened by the Law so that they could overcome sin and inherit eternal life. In contrast to the Law, Christ is the only person who loved completely God the Father with love that reaches death on the Cross, but also offering himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of man. He put to death the obstacle called sin and became the true and eternal life.
With everything the teacher expressed concerning the Law and everything that Christ showed him “this do, and thou shalt live” proves that Christ doesn’t teach in opposition to the law, but rather that he came to fulfil it with love for God and man. Love is not a canon, a rule which we are to learn by heart and memorize it, as did the teacher, but the overcoming of our self-love, that the other person might live in us and us in them: each person living in the other which is an image of the persons of the Holy Trinity, which is eternal life.
But let’s return to the Parable. The teacher, having heard the praise from Christ “Thou hast answered right”, seems to be full of self pride and his arrogance is exalted even higher. Wishing now to justify himself for the question he asked, even though he knew the answer, he now asks Christ: “And who is my neighbour?” He considered himself as the only righteous and virtuous, with great knowledge of the Law and there was no one else to match him so that he could consider him his neighbour. This is how he tries to justify himself, by placing everyone below his own rank of virtue, so that no one could be found to be his neighbour. And even though the Mosaic Law considered one’s neighbour to be him who was in need of help, he understood it as someone who was of equal ranking. Thus because he believed he was above all people, he had no neighbour.
But Christ shows the teacher that his understanding of who is his neighbour has nothing to do with rank. He teaches that the thing someone has in common with us to be considered our neighbour is not his rank in life, neither his virtue, nor his place of origin or anything else, but only the common human nature. All who share in the one human nature are our neighbours. To every human being we owe it to be their neighbour with love, care and with our good intentions, especially when they are in difficult circumstances and are in need of help. As a prototype and good example to imitate is the Good Samaritan.
In the Parable, Christ, in a clear and vivid manner is addressing himself not only to the teacher, but to every man who has confined himself only to his egoistic self love to help him understand who is his neighbour, but also that through this he may gain eternal life. Christ tells the beautiful story of the great tragedy that befell upon a certain Jew who was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of thieves, who with cruelty stripped him naked, took everything that he had and then beat him mercilessly causing wounds all over his body and then leaving him unconscious or as Christ says “half dead”. His condition was so critical that it was impossible for him to regain consciousness on his own. Without help from someone death would have been imminent. His only chance of survival was for someone passing by to spot him, someone with a merciful heart who would do anything possible to save him.
As it happened three people did pass that way, a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. First to pass by was the priest and then the Levite. The two are similar because they were both Jews and in fact both of the same tribe because the priests of Israel were taken from the tribe of Levi, thus they were both representatives of the Law and the Prophets, both religious leaders and teachers. It is possible that the Jew who fell to the thieves was on his way home after worshipping at the Jerusalem temple and that the Priest and Levite were also on their way home after having fulfilled their duties in the temple. Many priests lived in Jericho and would only go up to Jerusalem when it was their turn to fulfil their priestly duties.
The priest passing by and seeing the unconscious man was obliged by the high office he held to be merciful and compassionate. This is what he taught others to be, but instead of being an example of what he taught he totally ignored the helpless man and passed by the other side. The Levite was even more cruel because it says that he came and looked on him, he saw that he was a Jew like himself, but he also chose to ignore his fellow man and passed by the other side.
They both had as their guide the letter of the Law. They knew and taught with every detail the double love for God and one’s neighbour. They also knew that one’s neighbour was he who was in need of help, he who is suffering and awaits our compassion. But these teachings remained only knowledge without putting them into practice. They couldn’t share in the practice because that would have meant personal sacrifice. They only knew how to serve their own self love, and the requirements of this earthly life which pursues to live biologically and not eternally. The fathers say that self love is a form of failure of the human life. With so much love for oneself, how is it possible to have love for God with all our might and to love our neighbour as our self?
The crime of abandoning the wounded man was equal to the crime of the inhumane beating by the thieves which left the man half dead. For both the priest and the Levite, their own interests were far above the needs of their neighbour. What was going through their minds at that moment? If they stopped to offer help, they may save the man’s life but the delay would hurt their own interests or they might even be in danger and also fall into the hands of the thieves. Maybe they also thought that someone else would soon pass that way, maybe one of their listeners who heard them teach on the Law and who would have more time on their hands to help this wounded man. They probably even said to themselves that they had love for the wounded man because they didn’t hate him neither did they wish this terrible thing to happen to him. When man stops loving God and his fellow man, he will try and find many excuses to justify himself. But love cannot be contained only in the mind. If it doesn’t manifest itself with works, with sacrifice and with offering ourselves to our fellow men then it is not love and we are deluded if we think we have love for God. With their denial to place themselves on a personal level with the dying man, the two representatives of the Law were in fact spiritually dead.
Now after the priest and the Levite another person passed by that way, a stranger from Samaria. We have talked about the Samaritans before. They were in part Israelites but they were a mixed race with a mixed religion. They claim to be the direct descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722BC. Their religion was a mixture of the Jewish faith with the worship of other Gods. Thus for the Jews they were idolatrous and had no dealings with them and were not allowed to even talk with them. Whenever they are mentioned in the Gospels, they always appear as extremely grateful and good people. They are shown as a people guided by the light of the own conscience and an unwritten law. Luke makes good mention of the Samaritans to show that Christ didn’t only come for the lost sheep of Israel but for all people. But they also serve to show the difference between the Jews who had the Law and the Prophets but didn’t live by the Law, and the Samaritans who didn’t have the Law but came close to living it.
Thus in the Parable he appeared in a completely different image from the two Jews. As soon as he saw the wounded man be had compassion for him. He immediately got down from him animal and began to take care of him. He washed his wounds with wine and oil and bandaged them. He them lifted him and placed him on his animal and took him to an inn and took care of him with the utmost diligence. He stayed all night with him and the next day he paid the expense to the innkeeper to continue taking care of him until he was completely recovered and promised that on his return he would pay for any added expenses that were necessary for the cure. With all this care by the Samaritam the wounded man was saved from sure death.
If the priest and the Levite lived the hell of the absence of love from their souls, the Samaritan lived that which the teacher sought, because eternal life is love for God and for one’s fellow men. Paradise is found in the heart which is ready to rise upon the Cross, to become a sacrifice for everyone and which accepts the last even as it does the first, which with a passionate and pure love calls out to all and says you may all enter. This is the kind of heart that the Samaritan had.
When he came to the wounded man and started to tend to his wounds, he didn’t for a moment think of his own safety: he didn’t think of the danger from the thieves. He was willing to sacrifice even his own life, because he had denied himself to save his neighbour. He took the “love thy neighbour as thyself” to a different level and made it “love thy neighbour above thyself”. This is what he did, he loved him more than he loved himself. He didn’t think that the wounded man was a stranger or from a different race. There was room in his heart for every man, because he is an image of God.
By loving his fellow man, the Samaritan, through this love, receives in his heart a perception of God which is knowledge of God and this knowledge becomes a perception of immortal life. For as Christ said “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”. (John 17:3) In other words life as love, which is the life of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, is life eternal. St. John in his first Epistle says: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death”. (1 John 3:14)
With this parable Christ taught not only the teacher, but every man, how eternal life is inherited and how by living with love for God and man, we live from now the eternal life. If we live this present life as love and communion with God and man, we will be united with God and this union will be divine and endless pleasure, but for all those who refuse this love it will be unspeakable pain.
At the end of the Parable, Christ asks the teacher: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? The question by the teacher of “Who is my neighbour” Christ now transforms it into “Who became your neighbour”. And when the teacher replied “He that shewed mercy on him” Christ told him “Go, and do thou likewise” in other words, go and become a neighbour to everyone by showing love and mercy as did the Samaritan. By living in this way, with love and sacrifice you will inherit eternal life. Thus the teacher had his answer to his original question “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” St Maximus says that the two pence the Samaritan paid the innkeeper for the wounded man’s treatment represent love for God and love for man.