Sunday, 14 July 2019

Passing me by on the road
from Jerusalem to Jericho

The Good Samaritan ... a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 14 July 2019

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

Readings: Amos 7: 7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1: 1-14; Luke 10: 25-37.

An Orthodox icon of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, interpreting the parable according to the Patristic and Orthodox tradition (Click on image for full-screen viewing)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

One of the difficulties I face when I come to preaching, I have to admit, is that in most parishes most of are familiar with most of the great parables.

This year [2019, Year C], the Lectionary readings are inviting us to work our way through Saint Luke’s Gospel, which is full of healing stories and parables.

Most of us are familiar – or think we are familiar with – these great parables:

● the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37, this morning, 14 July 2019)
● the rich man with his barns who wants to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ (Luke 12: 13-21, 4 August 2019)
● the thief in the night (Luke 12: 32-40, 11 August 2019)
● the guests at the wedding banquet (Luke 14: 1, 7-14, 1 September 2019)
● the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15: 1-10, 15 September 2019)
● the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32, 31 March 2019)
● the unjust steward (Luke 16: 1-13, 22 September 2019)
● Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31, 29 September 2019)
● the widow who nags and nags at the judge (Luke 18: 1-8, 20 October 2019)
● the Pharisee and the tax-collector (Luke 18: 9-14, 27 October 2019).

Regular churchgoers are so familiar with these parables, we know who to identify with, who is being chided, what the lesson is, and what to expect in the sermon.

Or do we?

The story of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which we have read this morning, is so familiar to all of us that we all know how to use the term Samaritan … well, don’t we?

A Good Samaritan is someone who comes to our aid in time of need, who goes over and beyond the demands of duty, a good listener, a good neighbour, a giver, a helping hand …

In a conversation in Limerick with distant cousins earlier this week, I was identifying my own Good Samaritans in the world today, including Carola Rackete, the German sea captain who defied Italy’s ban on migrant rescue ships last month by forcing her way into the port of Lampedusa with 42 migrants rescued at sea.

But there are other characters, other dramatis personæ, in this parable too … who would identify with the man who has been beaten up and left by the road?

We all pretend we have not but probably have met characters who might easily be in that band of robbers.

I should worry that people might compare me less with the Good Samaritan and more with the priest and the Levite hurrying and scurrying to the Temple, two men who might well have made very good and upright deans and canons today.

How many of us would identify with the innkeeper, worried about somebody who is going to make a mess of one of the last rooms we have left available at a busy time of holidays and pilgrimages?

How many of us, instead, would identify with the man who has been beaten up and left half dead on the side of the road?

How often have I been beaten up on the pathway through life?

Beaten up by family rows and divisions?

Beaten up by depression, anxiety and low self-esteem?

Beaten up by job loss or finding it difficult to find meaning in life?

Beaten up by rejection in love, in friendship, by bullies, in employment?

Beaten up by ill-health, physical and psychological, when people pass by and think I ought to pull myself up by own bootstraps?

Beaten up by addictions that other people think are my own fault, so they pass me by on the other side of the road?

Well that man brought it all on himself, didn’t he, straying off the straight and narrow, instead of keeping focussed on the holy city, the Jerusalem of this parable, turning his face towards Jericho, the oldest city in the world, representing every city with its fleshpots and decadence?

There is another way of reading this parable, however. It is the way it was read by the early Fathers of the Church, a way of reading it for almost 1,500 years, a way that it is still read in the Orthodox Church.

The man who goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho is Adam, or humanity, each and every one of us.

Jerusalem is the holy city of God, but also symbolises God’s future plans for us.

Jericho, the oldest city the world, symbolises the oldest earthly pleasures.

On the way, the man loses his freedom, becomes captive to his passions, wounded by sin, so incapable of prayer and worship that on the road of life he has become spiritually half-dead, stripped of his virtues, left without the cover of God’s grace and protection.

The man wounded by robbers represents fallen humanity before the coming of Christ.

The Priest and the Levite, ministers of God, represent the saints and prophets sent by God from the beginning of time, before Christ’s coming.

They saw the plight of humanity, lying on the road. Moses came by, Elijah came by, other prophets came by, but the illness of humanity remained without being healed.

Only God who has created us can recreate us. God humbles himself and becomes human, takes on our human flesh, in the incarnation. It sounds so unlikely, so impossible, it is like imagining a Jew becoming a Samaritan, one of those in the territory between Judea and Galilee, between Jericho and Jerusalem.

Indeed, the Pharisees mockingly labelled Christ a Samaritan, saying, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’ (John 8: 48).

Christ humbly attributes to himself the name given to him by his detractors.

The Samaritan binds up the wounds of wounded humanity, pours oil and wine on them: oil symbolises mercy and wine the true teaching of God. He then brings us to an inn where we can be taken care of.

The Gospel says that the Good Samaritan ‘put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.’ However, in traditional icons, Christ carries the man on his own back. Christ in the incarnation takes on our human nature, our soul and body. That is why in the parable he ‘set him on his own beast,’ interpreted by the Early Fathers that Christ makes us members of his own body.

There is a similar image in the parable of the Lost Sheep (see Luke 15). When the Good Shepherd finds the lost sheep, he puts him on his shoulders, rejoicing.

The inn represents the Church, the innkeeper the bishops and priests. Christ establishes his Church which, like an inn, accepts and provides shelter for all. The wounded man should stay here to be taken care of. The Samaritan has to leave, however. He takes out two silver coins and gives them to the innkeeper, saying: ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Christ indicates his second coming, he will return.

The silver given to the innkeeper is the divine grace Christ gives to the Church; it heals and saves souls through the sacraments. Bishops and priests, the ministers of the sacraments of the Church, are the distributors of God’s gifts and freely-given grace for the lost and the outcast and those of us who have fallen by the way.

In this reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ offers himself as the prime example of mercy and compassion. Through his compassion, he takes on our sufferings and becomes the true neighbour of all fallen humanity.

This is a reading of this parable that connects with Saint Paul’s reminder this morning that God through Christ ‘has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1: 13).

We are not being challenged in this morning’s reading to be Good Samaritans. We don’t all have that opportunity, that encounter, that wealth to spend.

We are not even being challenged to be a good neighbour.

We are being challenged to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10: 27).

The Jewish theologian, Professor Michael Fishbane, says this great exhortation is at the heart of the Hebrew Bible, and adds: ‘These words are also at the heart of Judaism and constitute its religious idea.’

Christ then echoes a verse in the Law: ‘You have given the right answer; do this and you will live’ (verse 28); ‘You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing this one shall live: I am the Lord’ (Leviticus 18: 5).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transformed us into the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1: 13) … the Bridge of Sighs in Venice at night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Luke 10: 25-37 (NRSVA):

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

‘You shall love … your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10: 26) … but who is my neighbour? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical colour: Green

The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
Increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide,
we may so pass through things temporal
that we finally lose not the things eternal:
Grant this, heavenly Father,
for Jesus Christ’s sake, our Lord.

The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him’ (Luke 10: 35) … coins on a bar table in an inn in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

517, Brother, sister, let me serve you (CD 30)
499, When I needed a neighbour, were you there? (CD 29)
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord (CD 33)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The Good Samaritan ... a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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