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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
The Good Samaritan
My beloved brothers and sisters, the expression "Good Samaritan," which you heard in today's Gospel, is something that we have heard all of our lives. It is not possible for anyone here not be familiar with that expression. And usually we give that as a name to someone who does a kindness, who does something kind to the world, to his neighbor. A "Good Samaritan." There is even in our perverse times something called the Good Samaritan Law, which protects a doctor who stops to help somebody by the roadside, and in less than ideal circumstances gives him all of the help that the can, but then there's some mishap. And whatever he was able to do was not helpful. This law protects such a doctor from being sued by the person that he tried to help. How perverse is our world, my beloved brothers and sisters, that in our times, in our litigious society, we have to protect Good Samaritans.
But since we are Orthodox Christians, we are required to know our Holy Scriptures deeper than what we hear and what we see. We are required to know in a more deep fashion the law of God, and what He expects of us, and what He has done for us. And so it is that when we hear this parable of the Good Samaritan we must meditate in a deeper fashion.
For that man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is every man.
Jerusalem is built on a height. It is a high city. And Jericho is a very low city. It is even below sea level. And so it is that this man in his pride traveled this way by himself, alone, leaving the heavenly city of God and descending into the depths of his carnality, of his materialism, of everything that is not of God. It is therefore not surprising that this person was set upon by thieves, by the demons, who set upon everyone who in his pride leaves God, and journeys to the depths. These thieves, which thieves are wont to do, these thieves set upon him, and robbed him, and beat him, and left him half dead. The image of being half dead being that our Lord never permits us to be robbed completely and totally of our free will. For we always retain that regardless; we can always make the choice; moral choices are always possible for us.
This man was left half dead, and our Lord wishing to make it clear to the people of His time -- something that is not quite so evident to us--He wanted to make it clear to them how different was the salvation of this man from the Messiah and from the preaching of the Messiah. He says that there was a priest who went by, a priest of the Old Testament, could not help him, and just kept going. And then a Levite, an officer of the law, a lawyer, also went by, and seeing that he couldn't help him also left. And this our Savior is telling His audience, that neither the ritual of the temple nor the law of the Old Testament were sufficient unto salvation for mankind. But someone else had to come; someone else had to be there to help him. And that was the Samaritan, this stranger. Our Savior was often called in ridicule and derision by the Jews of His time a Samaritan. That was an insult, because the Samaritans were a despised people. They called Him a Samaritan, but our Savior was not a Samaritan, but as the holy fathers tell us was not from Samaria, but was from Maria, as the holy fathers have insisted that we understand.
Who was it therefore that helped this man? It was this stranger. He came, and He had pity. And He got down from his animal, and He gave the man first aid. The oil of His mercy, and the wine, which is a styptic, something to stop the bleeding. The law of God, our Savior's law, and the confession of His faith, and living the Christian life is also a little bit like vinegar, a little bit of a styptic. It stops the bleeding. And then in a gesture that the holy fathers tell us is the taking on of our weakened, our sickly, our half dead, corrupted nature upon Himself, through His Incarnation, the Savior picks up and takes this wounded man, and loads him on His own animal, which is the image of His taking upon Himself our sinfulness and our weakness. And takes us to the inn, to that place of rest, which is the Church, which our Savior founded for our healing, for our convalescence, and our recuperation. And there as long as our Savior was here upon the earth, He took care of us; He healed us; He preached to us. He gave us those things needful for the recuperation and healing of our nature. But then, as He was ready to leave in a physical way from the earth through His Holy Ascension, He called upon the elders of the Church; He called upon the spiritual fathers of the Church; He called upon the hierarchs of the Church--these are the innkeepers, these are the hosts-- and He gave them the power, not from themselves, but from Him, by giving them these two coins, these two pence. The holy fathers tell us that these two pence, because they each bear the seal of the king, are also the Old and New Testaments, and the written and unwritten tradition of the Church. These are the means that the Lord has given to the spiritual guides of the Church to aid and to help and in the healthgiving of the wounded Christian people.
And He said to him Now you use these, these powers, these teachings, these holy mysteries. Use these for healing people. And whatever of yourself you give, whatever of your own power, whatever of your own strength, whatever of your own volition you give, be assured that when I return I will repay you.
And so it was that our Savior was never separated from the Church, but left it physically, has left us the Holy Orthodox Church for our healing, for our recuperation, for our return to full health. That is, to become saints. My beloved brothers and sisters, this is the revelation of the mystery of the Church. This is what the Church exists for. It exists to help people to be healed. It exists to help people to come to full health. It exists to take those of us, for many of us who are the hosts and are the innkeepers are perhaps at times more sick than everybody else, who have been wounded and have been robbed by the demons a place where we can be restored to health. There is a certain place. It is not an amorphous idea of the Church. There is place of the Church; there is a hierarchy; there are spiritual guides of the Church. Therefore this Protestant idea of some kind of a spiritual church has nothing to do with the revelation of truth through Christ Jesus our Lord.
And if you read, and if you listen, we must be impressed by the grandeur of our salvation through Jesus Christ in the Church.
Our Lord's love for us is so great that for a time, He Who is timeless, He Who is glorified forever, emptied Himself of His glory; He Who is co-enthroned with the Father, never leaving the throne, eternally co-enthroned with the Father, came and visited our poverty, came and visited our sickness, came and visited our ignorance. Jesus Christ, Who is One of the Holy Trinity, worked our salvation not from the heavens, but came here to the earth, came and dwelt among us, and healed our sicknesses, and educated our ignorance. He came and He dwelt among us.
We go and we visit the sick in hospitals. Not as often as we should, but we go. And we can't wait to leave. Because in general, a hospital is a depressing place. The moans of the sick, the smells, the general condition that we find ourselves in makes us want, after we have done our duty, to leave as soon as we possibly can and go back to the world of the healthy. It is impossible for us to imagine the glory and the brilliance and the cleanliness and the brightness in which our Savior Jesus Christ dwells with His Father and the Holy Spirit. And yet that He left, and He stayed with us not for a moment, but for thirty-three years. And He lived with us not as a king, not as a person of privilege, but as a person Who dwelt in the most humble, and the most primitive, and the most unclean, and unsanitary, and unpleasant, and unsavory way that it's possible to live, in the company of lepers, and harlots, and sinful people, and all of the rest of the dregs of the earth so that those people in His time who were of the privileged could not understand why He preferred their company to the company of the higher, more educated classes.
I'm telling you all of this because it is very important for us to try to understand the majesty and the greatness and the fullness of the love of Jesus Christ for us. And it is a way that I have to bring you into the period that is coming up now, the period of the fast of the Holy Nativity, preparation for the Holy Nativity of our Savior. For if we understand, if we can somehow conceptualize in our minds and give our hearts to understand what a great thing our Savior accomplished for us when He came and took on our human nature, took on that wounded and sick and smelly human nature onto Himself, then maybe, with a little bit more open heart, maybe with a little bit lighter step, maybe with a little bit greater enthusiasm we can enter into the fast of preparation for the Nativity of Jesus Christ, and not begrudge those few days of preparation for that event for the which the whole world waited three and four thousand years.
We will prepare for forty days for the coming of the Messiah; we will prepare for forty days for the coming of Him who found our wounded nature on the street and took us upon Himself and healed us. We will prepare for forty days denying ourselves something, because I think the closest, and the holy fathers believe that the closest organ to our brains is our stomachs. And if our stomachs are empty a little bit, then maybe our mind can be mindful of Jesus Christ.
My beloved brothers and sisters, as we set out on this Nativity fast, remember the Good Samaritan, remember our wounded nature, remember what it was that He did by His Incarnate Dispensation, in which He, the Word, the Son of the Father, through the good will of the Father and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit worked out our salvation. To Him therefore, and to His Father and to the Holy Spirit, to the Holy Trinity Who has saved us be glory and honor unto the ages of ages. Amen.