Mercy: An Invitation To Eternal Life

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (10:25-37) 

Today we hear the story of a lawyer who came to Jesus to put Him to the test. Little did he know that in testing Christ, he himself would be truly tested as he came face to face with and heard the voice of the living God.

As an aside, I want to say that when we approach Christ, when we approach God, it should not be to test Him. What do I mean? I know people who read in the Bible with the goal of proving it to be wrong or false. Or they read it to defend their opinions or test their positions against the positions of Christ and the Holy Scripture. Similarly, we sometimes pray in a way that is not respectful, we test God to see what He will do for us, instead of coming to Him with our brokenness and humility and allowing Him to be our guiding hope and our comfort. Sometimes we live outside of the commandments of God and then we have the audacity to blame God when our life falls apart, when in fact it is our own selfishness and unrighteousness that have put us in such a bad state. These are not trivial matters. The psalmist says “Feel compunction upon your beds, for what ye say in your hearts.” So we must be careful that our hearts are truly directed towards Christ whenever we are reading the gospels or spending time in prayer.

In today’s gospel reading, we have this lawyer who comes to test Jesus and he asks “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a very good question. It is an excellent question, really. The problem, as we will see, was not the question, but the intent of the questioner. The Lord then asked a question of this man “What is written in the Law? How do you read?” And we are told that the lawyer answered in this way “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 neighbor as yourself.” It is really remarkable because he gave the correct answer! He knew the answer in the head, intellectually speaking. Our Lord said to him “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” So this is the simple way of our Christian faith, to love God with everything that we have and everything that we are, and to love our neighbors fervently. It is simple but it is not always easy. Why? Because loving others, means thinking and living outside yourself. To love is to risk and to sacrifice and even to suffer. 

The lawyer was still quite inquisitive and he asked a final question, an important question:“And who is my neighbor?” This shows us that whatever he knew intellectually, he still did not possess as knowledge in his heart.So the Lord Jesus then told him the parable of the good Samaritan. This parable would have been quite a scandalous thing to the ears of those who were listening. The Lord Jesus took the group that was looked down on and often was despised because they did not believe and worship exactly as the Jews did, and He lifts up one of them as an example of mercy and love for everyone else. He reminds us that anyone can love his neighbor and often as we sit and judge people both inside and outside the church, those same people are working quietly to serve God by serving their neighbors. Our mind is not the mind of God. He sees what we do not see, He judges rightly. 

We are taught by the Lord that anyone can love their neighbor and we are also taught that anyone can be your neighbor, the person that you ought to love. St. Jerome writes,

“Some think that their neighbor is their brother, family, relative or their kinsman. Our Lord teaches who our neighbor is in the Gospel parable of a certain man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.… Everyone is our neighbor, and we should not harm anyone. If, on the contrary, we understand our fellow human beings to be only our brother and relatives, is it then permissible to do evil to strangers? God forbid such a belief! We are neighbors, all people to all people, for we have one Father.”

St. Jerome reflecting the teaching of Christ, is telling us that nothing should cause us to separate ourselves or withhold our love and mercy from anyone else, no matter their creed, or their appearance, their race or their political affiliation, nationality or ethnic origin or any other man made classification that causes strife and division. Each person we meet is our brother or sister, each one is our neighbor. 

Origen writing about this parable says that,

“One of the elders wanted to interpret the parable as follows. The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience. The beast is the Lord’s body. The pandochium(that is, the stable), which accepts all who wish to enter, is the church. The two denarii mean the Father and the Son. The manager of the stable is the head of the church, to whom its care has been entrusted. The fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.”

So we see that what appears to be a simple parable has many rich layers of meaning and ultimately, it is a reminder that the true neighbor is our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is reflected in the icon of the parable, if you’ve ever seen it. Christ himself is the Samaritan.He has taken each of us as He found us, no matter what condition we were in, and He has shown compassion on us and carried us to the place of healing. He has poured out Hismercyupon us. In return, He asks us, who have received mercy from Him, topour out loveon those who need assistance. We are encouraged and commanded to do more than talk about love, we are encouraged to do and to be love. This is our high calling as the adopted children of the Most High God. God is love. He desires us to become love, to make love present. May He give us courage to take risks and to have a heart for those who are in need around us. May the Lord give us strength to sacrifice for others, to follow the path of the cross, the path that He has made clear to us. And glory be to God forever AMEN. 

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