25th Sunday after Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today, our Lord is approached by a certain lawyer who attempts to test Him by asking: ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’
Our Lord Jesus Christ tosses this question back to him, asking: ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’
The lawyer then summarizes the teachings of the Old Testament, answering: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Christ affirms the wisdom of his response, saying: ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you shall live.’
But the lawyer, the Gospel tells us, wished to justify himself, and therefore said to Jesus: ‘And who is my neighbor?’
In response to the question: ‘Who is my neighbor?’, our Lord tells the tale of the Good Samaritan. A certain man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and had been robbed and beaten and left for dead. A priest came by and, when he saw the beaten man, he passed by on the other side of the road. Likewise, when a Levite came by, he too passed by on the other side of the road. But then along came a Samaritan – one of the lowest classes of people in society – and, when he saw the beaten man, he had compassion and helped him: bandaging his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and setting him up in an inn where he could recover and be made well.
The priest, who spent his time in the temple in prayer; and the Levite, who spent his time studying the Jewish Scriptures… neither of these two could be bothered to help the wounded man. It was the despised Samaritan who proved to be a neighbor, who showed mercy on the man who had fallen among thieves.
Christ drives home two important and groundbreaking points in this parable.
Many religious people of the time (and, shall we not also say of our time?) contented themselves with their religious observances and thought themselves righteous because they fulfilled the letter of the Law.
Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan drives home the true meaning of loving God and our neighbor with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength.
As represented by the priest and by the Levite - if our attention to our religious observances are not penetrating our heart and elevating our soul to compassion, then we are missing the mark. The Apostle Paul writes: ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.’
The Christian life is a call to action! It is a call toward self-sacrificial love… of seeing Christ before us in whatever situation we may find ourselves in and of serving Him with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength.
How might this Christian life be lived in these days… when we find ourselves so isolated in lockdown, when our interactions with other people have been so greatly curtailed?
The question we must ask ourselves is this: ‘Who is the Christ before me?’
When the sphere of our lives has been so greatly reduced, we find ourselves confined within our homes, we find our social circle reduced to our closest associates and to our immediate family. And it is here where we must discover Christ before us. This is challenging and deeply inconvenient! As Dostoevsky wrote: ‘I could never understand how it’s possible to love one’s neighbors. In my opinion, it is precisely one’s neighbors that one cannot possibly love.’ It is the person closest to you in whom you can see all of their flaws and faults, their idiosyncrasies, their annoying little habits. It is to these that we are called to exercise patience, compassion, and love in this very real arena of spiritual contest.
And so, this crisis of the Corona virus shutdowns does not remove us from practicing our Christian faith. Instead, it is a perfect opportunity for us to put into practice this call of Christ, to see Him before us in those set right before our eyes. To see Him in our spouse, in our children, in our parents, our housemates, etc. Our worship and service to Christ is not limited to what takes place within the Church… it must extend into those day to day encounters with Christ in the disguise of those set before us.
And if you are alone during these times, then ask yourself this question: ‘What about the image of Christ within me? Am I honoring Him? Am I nourishing Him and showing Him reverence? Am I keeping the lamp of faith lit within the temple of my soul?’ These days of isolation are not a time for self-indulgence or for any reason to distance ourselves from God… they are a time for repentance, for spiritual awakening, for drawing closer to God and loving God with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength.
In this time of thanksgiving and gratitude, let us indeed thank God for His many blessings. Let us recognize our Lord Who is everywhere present and fills all things. Let us be fully aware of the generosity, mercy, patience, and love which God shows to us in our shortcomings… And let us then extend some measure of the same generosity, mercy, patience, and love to our neighbor… everyone we meet.