THE GOOD SAMARITAN Sermon from Nov 14, 1993 Luke 10:25-37
Sometimes asking the right question opens up doors to new worlds and new opportunities for people. For asking the right question may mean you have gained the right insight into an issue, or perhaps you have gained a new perspective on a problem that will allow the problem to be creatively solved in a way no one had ever thought of before.
Such a new and right question is asked of our Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. A lawyer asked Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Inheriting eternal life is the new perspective, for the OT speaks of inheriting the promised land and even receiving the Lord as one’s inheritance, but it does not speak of eternal life as an inheritance. The lawyer shows he has some insight into the teaching of Christ Jesus. For this lawyer indeed understands that the promise and inheritance which Jesus speaks of is not land, but rather unending life, and as a lawyer, he wants to make sure he gets his share of this reward.
Asking the right questions opens new vistas to our thinking. It can creatively help us understand issues, get the big picture, to see the vision needed to accomplish one’s goals. This is why today so many organizations like to uphold a vision or mission statement. These statements help us keep a good and right perspective on life. They help us to understand what are the true and important issues and to keep focused on what it is we need to accomplish.
Having a clear vision statement however is only part of the equation in the spiritual life. For good vision also rests on having purity of heart. For it is the heart which gives us clear vision, the ability to see reality as it really is and as God intends it. An icon is a vision of a spiritual reality, but a heart darkened by sin sees only another picture or a mess of colors, and is not inspired to see beyond the icon into God’s kingdom. The Divine Liturgy also is an experience of the Kingdom of God, but the heart blinded by the cares of this world or dulled by anger, cannot see the beauty of God’s Kingdom which is revealed in the Liturgy.
The lawyer who came to Jesus asked the right question. He had a good insight into the message of Jesus. But he came to the Lord not to learn from Him, but as it says in the scripture, to put him to the test. The lawyer approaches Jesus with hostility.
There is a great irony in this story. The lawyer comes to Jesus fully recognizing that the law commands him to love God and neighbor. Yet he approaches Jesus not with love but with hostile intent to test Jesus. He says God’s law is to love God and neighbor, yet he approaches Christ with neither love for God or neighbor. He lacks the love he knows the law commands when he approaches Christ, yet he feels he can fully justify himself or prove that he in fact does keep the commandment of love.
The man who comes to test Jesus, is himself tested. He pridefully thought of himself as an example of fulfilling the law, but is blind to himself and his own attitude toward Jesus.
It turns out that the love the lawyer practiced was love of himself. He loved himself and was proud of himself and how he could quote the law and live it out. But his ideas of God’s law were lost in his pride and in his legalism.
By the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus aimed at showing that true love requires mercy for other people. True love does not end up focusing on the self and how good I am. True love focuses on the other and mercifully taking care of them. True love involves compassion for the other. True love is not based on legal obligation to provide for one who deserves my love. Rather true love is pure gift giving, showing myself to be neighbor to others, even to those who don’t deserve it.
Love is an attitude of the pure heart which leads us beyond caring for those who deserve it, for we are to do that too, but in addition having compassion for all others no matter how strange, defenseless or frightening they may be.
For us to keep on task, to stay the course, and to attain the prize, we must have a clear vision of where God is leading us. We have much to help us on this account – the life of Christ, the Scriptures, the Liturgy, the saints, and even our own parish vision statement. They show us the way we are to walk. But in addition, each of us must have a pure heart so that we can clearly see the way which has been set before us. Purity of heart will enable us to to have clear vision by allowing us to love as God has loved us with mercy and compassion. To love not only those who deserve it, for that is merely giving reward, but to love all, for that is the pure gift giving which God has revealed to us in giving us the gift of eternal life in giving His Son to us. And in the Liturgy, it is why we call the bread and wine the gifts. For they not only symbolize God’s gift to us, they become that gift in the act of love which is accomplished in the Liturgy.