23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of those stories from the Bible that even the non-believers know and often reference.
Who is the Good Samaritan? It’s the one who helps those who are in need. Who is my neighbor? It’s anyone we encounter.
As we hear this parable every year, we know the outcome, nothing is surprising in it. We know that the expert in the Law is not asking an honest question. We know that the priest and the Levite refuse to help the half-dead man, but in a sense, they are obeying the Jewish Law by not helping because if the man were dead, they would become unclean and unable to serve in the Temple. And we know that the Samaritan, an outsider and an enemy of the Jews, is the only one who goes above and beyond to help the poor and wounded man.
But there is one question we should always ask ourselves when hearing a parable, any parable, told by the Lord – who are we in this story?
Are we the expert in the Law who asks God dishonest questions, not looking for answers, but just looking to doubt?
Are we the man who fell into the hands of the robbers and was left half-dead? Or maybe we are the robbers who beat and steal and ravage? God forbid!
Or maybe we are the priest and the Levite, who see someone in need, but choose an easy way out, under the cover of their customs?
Maybe we are the Samaritan, who helps, no questions asked, and even pays his own money to make sure that the man is really taken care of?
Or, finally, maybe we are the innkeeper, into whose care the man was given and who was asked to spend as much as needed to help the man recover, and all our extra expenses would be reimbursed?
As you can see, there are many ways of interpreting this parable. If you looked closely at the icon I posted on our parish website along with today’s Gospel lesson in theLooking Ahead to Next Sunday section, you would’ve seen that the Orthodox Church understands the Good Samaritan to be the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are not the Good Samaritan in this parable. We can be like Him (more on that a bit later), but we are not Him. So who are we?
We are the stripped and beaten and wounded man. The man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. All we need to know about Jerusalem and Jericho is that Jerusalem is on a mountain and Jericho is located below the sea level.
So the man was traveling down. Going down symbolizes falling into sin. As he was traveling down, indulging in sins, he was attacked by robbers. That’s what usually happens because the way of sin is filled with these robbers. When we try to live a pious and righteous life, there are temptations. But when we choose the way of sin, these temptations become outright attacks.
And who are the robbers? They are the evil spirits who desire nothing else but to strip us of our spiritual grace and to inflict wounds, sometimes spiritual and sometimes physical. Just to be clear, the only way these evil robbers can attack is when we sin and keep rumbling down the hill, unrepentant.
From the parable it is unclear whether the Samaritan was going down, from Jerusalem to Jericho or the other way. It just says that he was traveling.
But it is assumed that he is also traveling down the hill. In this, the Church understands Christ’s Incarnation. He came down from heaven to earth and became man. He traveled from a higher plain to a lower one.
And notice that it says that when the Samaritan “saw the wounded man, he was moved with compassion.” Compassion doesn’t just mean he felt sorry for the poor guy. This word has an older meaning of co-suffering, suffering with someone.
When the Son of God became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and eventually was crucified, He did it out of compassion. He co-suffered with us by living the life that we live, and then dying so that through His suffering and death we may be saved.
The Samaritan had compassion on the half-dead man; he suffered with the man by taking care of him. In one of the prayers during the Baptism, the priest prays, “O Master, because of the tender compassion of Your mercy, You could not endure to behold the human race oppressed by the devil, but You came and saved us.”
This one little sentence describes the parable of the Good Samaritan. God became man because of His compassion. We were oppressed by the devil, so He came and suffered with us and saved us.
When the Samaritan came to the man, he bandaged his wounds and poured oil and wine on them. Oil and wine were used, among other things, for medicinal purposes in the old days. They cleaned and healed wounds.
The Church understands the oil and wine to be the sacraments of Christ. We use oil for anointing, especially during the Unction (Healing) service. And where do we use wine? At Communion, right? The wine is transformed into the healing and cleansing most precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And then the Samaritan took the man to an inn, tended to him there and paid the innkeeper to keep taking care until he fully recovers.
The inn is the Church. Christ has compassion on us, bandages our wounds, and brings us to the Church to keep tending to our wounds here. Remember how in the Gospels Christ said it’s not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31)?
Well, He meant that. We are here because we are the beaten and the stripped and the wounded man, who was brought here by the Samaritan, by Christ Himself, so that He could tend to our wounds through the sacraments.
This parable was response to a question, “And who is my neighbor?” So, who is our neighbor? It’s the Lord Himself. He is our neighbor! He became our neighbor by His mercy, through His compassion.
But this is not the end of the story. It ends with Jesus telling the expert in the Law, and us, to “go and do likewise.” Go and imitate the Good Samaritan, imitate Christ in His mercy. Go and be a neighbor to someone. A neighbor is not someone from our family or church or country. A neighbor is someone who has mercy on others.
So go and be neighbors to others. If you see them, bind their wounds and bear their burdens, have compassion on them, co-suffer with them. Bring them to Christ’s Church, so that they, just like you, can also partake of His healing sacraments.
Saint Augustine said that “Christ shows mercy to us because of His own goodness. While we show mercy to one another because of God’s goodness.” We have received His mercy and goodness, now we are commanded to show the same mercy and goodness to those we encounter.
Let me end with looking at who the innkeeper is. As I said, in this parable we are the wounded man. But we are also commanded to imitate the Good Samaritan, Who is the Lord. The inn is the Church, and we are also the innkeeper – we are those who are in the Church.
The innkeeper is asked to take care of the wounded man, and is even paid to do so. Our job is to be a neighbor to those we encounter, but we should not neglect those who are already in the inn, in the Church. We should take care of each other because we are the innkeeper and the wounded. And Christ keeps bringing more wounded all the time.
The innkeeper was paid in advance to care for the man, and was also asked to spend as much as needed to make sure he fully recovers. And he was promised to be reimbursed.
We can’t use the excuse that we don’t have much money to care for others, to be compassionate neighbors to them. First of all, because that’s not true. Whatever we have, however little, is enough to help a neighbor. But more importantly, we have mercy. Or at least we should have mercy.
We can never run out of mercy and compassion, and nobody can take it away from us. We can only choose to refuse to be merciful. But more than that, if we think we might spend more than we have, we will be reimbursed. What did the Samaritan say to the innkeeper? “I will repay you whatever more you spend when I come back.”
Show mercy and compassion, be a neighbor to those who are beaten and wounded, take care of them, and the Lord will repay whatever more we spend.
But I have a feeling He has already paid us enough in advance.
So let us go and be merciful and compassionate neighbors.
To the Lord Jesus Christ, our merciful and compassionate Neighbor, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, we offer all glory, honor, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.