Sun, 3 November 2019
Why did Christ pick a Samaritan as the Hero in this story?Homily on St. Luke 10:25-37
We know this lesson; we’ve heard it so many times! Perhaps you want to “test out of” this homily? We know that the Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we need to have the courage and compassion to love all people that are in need; even those who are different than ourselves. We even get extra points for knowing the symbols in the story that point to the salvific power of the Church. This lesson on compassion for all provides a necessary corrective! Our instincts betray us. Our fallen post-Babel psychology is tribal, with many of our moral standards defined by differences between “us” and “them” rather than need.
But if that was the main point, why not make the Samaritan the one on the roadside and an ordinary Jew the one that helps him? Then the Jews listening to him would have known that they should love and help Samaritans, not just other Jews. Surely that would have been a more effective way to teach compassion towards the “other.” But Christ is the Great Teacher and scripture is a reliable guide to His teaching. Whenever we read something in the Bible that seems off, it is time for us to learn something new and unexpected. After all, as St. Paul wrote to Timothy;
All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
So let’s look a little deeper and see if we can learn why it was that the Lord Jesus has a Samaritan saving a Jew, rather than the other way around.
1) First off, this parable continued a theme that Jesus returned to often. He had a lot of patience for everyone but the hypocritical leaders of the Jews, those who knew what the greatest commandments of the Law were (love God and love your neighbor), but refused to follow them. Contrasting the men that were held up as the “best of the best” with a lowly Samaritan showed that much of their behavior was was ungodly and to shame them towards repentance.
2) But wait, there’s more: the parable was designed to do more than shame the religious leaders, it was designed to shame all of the listeners; to point out that their own behavior would have been just as despicable as that of the priest and the Levite. Jesus was basically saying; “this is what your leaders would have done in this situation ... and you would have been tempted to do the same.” It wasn't necessary to put an ordinary Jew in the parable; two points make a line. They themselves were part of that line. Jesus had already described the line by describing the usual behavior of the men who were supposed to be the “best of the best.” These are the two points that make that line. The Jews would have seen that they are part of that line.
But Christ is not just bringing attention to the immorality of the Jews; He was describing the fallen psychology of all mankind (the “old man”, “Adam”) in general. Mankind (the “old man”, Adam) was caught in a rut – he was not virtuous. He was not courageous. He was too willing to define virtue based on what other people did or expected rather than on what virtue actually requires. It would take something jarring to get them to see this and to change. This parable is jarring. It goes against expectations.
The Samaritan in the parable is virtuous not because of who he is (i.e. the box society put in) but because of what he does; just as the priest and the Levite are cowardly and mean not because of who they are (i.e. the box society has put them in) but because of their actions. For a tribal people, this undermined the natural and expected order. And that disruption was necessary because that natural and expected order was ungodly and wrong.
3) There is a more subtle theological point that the Church would have us remember. The Samaritan is an outsider. It is an outsider, one who is only half-Jew – or half-man, as it were – that heals the dying man. The Orthodox Church teaches that the Samaritan in the parable represents Christ. He is counter-posed to the Jewish priest and Levite in the parable not just because He is also different – He is both fully man and fully God – but because He is the only one who can bring healing to the brokenness of humanity. As a good and virtuous man, He – unlike the Jewish leaders of His time – had the will to save all mankind; and as the All-Powerful God, He also had the power to do it. The Jewish law and temple worship that the Priest and Levite offer and lead cannot heal the wounds of mankind the way that Christ can. He is more than our High Priest, He is Christ our God, the Savior of the world.
[This theological point becomes even more powerful when we add in the fact that Christ is the New Adam, the new "mankind" if you will; and we are to climb out of our rut by joining Him as part of the new mankind, as part of the new Adam, the new mankind, the Church with Him as its head (for these are all the same thing) with all the grace, responsibility, and power that this represents].
In Conclusion, our psychology is the same as that of Christ's audience. We are called to be virtuous; to be courageous and caring, even when the world is not. But we have more than parables and Christ's example and teaching to help us. He is the source of all virtue and healing, and we are His body. If we accept Him as our God, then it is His virtue that defines us and His healing power that flows through our loving actions. But there is even more: we are still fallen and our psychology is still the same: for instance, we still look to others to see what the right behavior is. The parish, like the family, is called to be a community that is defined by its virtue and charity; the examples that we set for one another naturally create a community that is good. Moreover, our community then sets the example – becomes the leaven for – the entire nation and the world itself.
May God strengthen us as we live virtuous lives in Christ; for the good of our families, our parish, our nation, and the world.