Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Who is the Good Samaritan? - Homily for the 15th Sunday in OT

            Have you ever been robbed? It’s happened to me a couple of times. When I was 20, my car was broken into and my CDs were stolen. And when I was 9, I remember being with my dad when we came home one afternoon and discovered that our home had been broken into. It’s a horrible feeling: we feel violated, as though something of our own self has been taken; we feel anxious as our sense of peace has been stolen; and we feel vulnerable. I remember after our home was broken into that I would once again return to my parents’ bed at night, being once again afraid of the dark. And I remember how the locks on the doors were used with more frequency. And that’s another result of feeling robbed: we feel the need to lock up and to protect ourselves.
            I mention all of this because at the heart of today’s Gospel is the fact that someone has been robbed. It’s easy to overlook this detail because we are focused on the overall moral of Jesus’ parable: namely, that we must love our neighbor. But, before we arrive at the moral of the story, there is this important detail. Remember: Jesus could have used any other image to describe how to love our neighbor. But of all images and stories to use, he chose a story about a man who was robbed. So, the question is: who was robbed?

The Old Covenant Cannot Help Robbed Humanity

            If we zoom out and look at human history, we can say that the one who was robbed was Adam himself.  He was robbed of heaven and original grace and left half-dead. And who was the robber? The devil.
In this way, we can see that all of humanity is, in fact, the one by side of the road: robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. All of humanity had been robbed of that joy and peace that comes from being in the presence of God. We were half-dead in our toils and in our journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
            Who could restore what humanity had lost? Who could repair the breach between man and God and return the order of grace and the treasures to man? No one but God could! This is why Jesus says that a priest and a man of the law (that is, a Levite) passed by the man.
            When I first heard of these two passing by, I wanted to judge them. But we must realize the reasons why they did not help. On the one hand, they did not help because they loved God. This sounds odd and misguided, of course, but that’s because we already understand how love of God and love of neighbor must necessarily go together. They did not necessarily have this union of the two commandments in their heart. So, they passed by. They passed by because, as good Jewish men, they knew that to touch a man and to get his blood on their hands—as they most certainly would if they were to help a man beaten so much that he was half-dead—they knew that to touch him would defile them and they would have to be purified before being able to worship in the temple again. So, that’s the one hand.
            On the other hand, the reality is that they couldn’t help the man. The priest, representing the old testament temple sacrifices, could not help restore the lost treasures of heaven to Adam. Those sacrifices could not make atonement, nor could they open the gates of heaven. Similarly, the Levite, who represents the old testament law, could not bring new life and a restoration of grace. The law could only bring death. Therefore, both the priest and the Levite, the old sacrifices and the old law, must pass by the robbed man. Neither can save him.

The Love of the Good Samaritan

Only God can. And God comes as the unexpected Samaritan (for no one expected God to become lowly man to save man!). This Good Samaritan approaches the man, bends down, and lifts him up, inevitably having the blood of the man on his own hands. The Good Samaritan enters into the very reality and world of the man’s problems. And the Good Samaritan does this because he loves us.
            Yes, we must reiterate that point once more. God enters into our daily world because he loves us. He does love us! If God had a wallet, your picture would be inside it! If God had a refrigerator, your family’s photo would be on it! You are important to God. You are His beloved.
            And so, imagine if you discovered your beloved along the side of the road. The one who you invested so much in, who you spend night and day with, whose laugh makes you smile, and whose very presence brings you delight—imagine that you see your beloved on the side of the road, beaten and robbed. We would run over to them! “What has happened to you?” we would cry out. We would immediately pick them up and care for them.
            And this is the point: God loves us! We are his beloved. He sees us there along the side of the road, having been robbed of our peace. He knows that we feel broken, that we have felt violated and are now afraid of relationships and love—and much less so, to be loved by God. He knows that we are vulnerable and anxious and suffering. We have been robbed!
            He does not chide us for falling into the robbers hands. No, as the Psalm says today:
the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not
He comes to free and heal us!
            Therefore, as Jesus approaches, let us not lock up our hearts and protect ourselves as though we were to be robbed again! God love us! He is here to save us. Let him pick you up and help you! Only in this way can we help others: Only when we allow God to become the Good Samaritan to our lives can we become the Good Samaritan to others. Only when we allow Jesus to help us will we be able to be Jesus to others.

Salvation History: The Plan of the Good Samaritan

But how does Jesus want to help us? How are we being called to let him help us? The second half of the story holds the key. In the second half, after Jesus lifts the man up, it says that the Good Samaritan bandages the man’s wounds, fills his wounds with wine and oil, and takes him to an inn. These are not insignificant details. So, what do they mean?
First, it says that Jesus bandages our wounds. (Little did we know that the Good Samaritan is the Divine Physician!). Jesus is the one who helps our hearts to heal. This comes about in many ways, but one way is particularly important here—and that is the word “bandaged.”  Another word for this is to “bind.” We hear this word when Jesus talks to the apostles about forgiving sins: “whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven….” To bind the man’s wounds is to forgive him. This is what makes the Good Samaritan so able to help the man, robbed by the effects of sin: the Good Samaritan can forgive unlike the old priest and the old law. It is the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we see this.
            Then, it says that Jesus fills the man’s wounds with oil. Oil was used as medicine in those times. But it was also used to consecrate priests, prophets, and kings. Another word for “anointed” is the Greek “Christos” from which we get Christ, or in Hebrew “Messiah.” Here, the Good Samaritan, after having forgiven the man, restores the man’s dignity and even elevates it by giving him a share in His own anointing as priest, prophet, and king. Do we not see this as the newly baptized are anointed with chrism? or at confirmation? and at Holy Orders?—all healed too when they receive the anointing of the sick!
            Next, it says that Jesus fills the man’s wounds with wine. You’re thinking, I know, so it’s obvious that wine was used at the Last Supper and at the Wedding Feast of Cana. Wine is the sign of God’s superabundant and divine love poured into our hearts. That’s why there is a superabundance and a super-tasty wine given at the Wedding Feast. That’s why, at the Last Supper, the wine becomes transformed into the superabundance of God’s love himself, Jesus Our Lord. The robbed man’s wounds are filled with this new wine. And so are ours at the Eucharist.
            We see, therefore, that all seven sacraments are presented to us on this road between the two cities! This is how Jesus wants to help us! In the sacraments, Jesus restores to us what was lost in the great robbery: He restores to us the life of grace and His very divine presence into our lives!

Life at the Inn until the Second Coming

            And note: this takes place on the road between Jericho and the heavenly Jerusalem—which together represents life. It is there at that we see the Good Samaritan taking the robbed man to an inn. What is this inn? Well, you are sitting in it! The inn is the Church. And we hear that there is an innkeeper there. (… At your service!)—the priests and bishops, the Apostles, Peter. Jesus gives the innkeeper two coins—two coins taken from the treasury of God’s love, representing His graces—and tells him,
Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.
“Take care of him.” We hear this when Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, feed my lambs.” And to the disciples: “Go, therefore and teach… baptize…” Yes, Church, “Take care of him”!
            But, then it says, “if you spend more than what I have given you…”
What does this mean? It means our sufferings. In our care for our neighbor, we will bank on the coins of God’s grace, but we will also spend ourselves, offering our very lives in payment. We will suffer as we care for our neighbor.
            To this, Jesus says, “I shall repay you…” This is God’s promise of eternal reward. And when is this eternal reward given? “On my way back”—when Jesus returns! This is the Second Coming. At the Second Coming, we see our Lord fulfilling his promises of eternal life full of reward or of punishment.

The Robbed, Good Samaritan

            This brings us back to the very beginning of today’s Gospel! Do you remember how this whole conversation about the Good Samaritan began? It began with a scholar asking Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Here, we see the answer. the answer begins with a corrective to the Pharisaical attitude which loved God at the expense of neighbor (which we saw in the priest and Levite passing by the robbed man). The answer continues in the union of the two commandments— that is, to love God and neighbor—which are seen at in the way people are judged at the end of time.
            It is there that we hear something very interesting. And it’s worth hearing the passage in its entirety. So, at the Second Coming,

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Ok, so we see here that those who become like Jesus, the Good Samaritan, and helped their neighbor, shall receive the Good Samaritan’s kingdom: that is, the inheritance of heaven.
            But we also see something peculiar and it is found in the words: “What ever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” What does this mean? It means that Jesus identifies himself not only as the Good Samaritan, but also as the one who was robbed, who was stripped and beaten and left for dead—which He was.
            So, Jesus is not only the Good Samaritan that lifts up our robbed selves to become like the Good Samaritan, but Jesus is also the one who, by taking upon himself our sins, becomes the robbed man in need of a Good Samaritan.
            Therefore, when we see those who have been physically or spiritually robbed by the devil or the world, we are not simply seeing a robbed man. We are seeing Jesus. Our loving response to our neighbor, therefore, is never divorced from love of God; for we see that God has become our neighbor! "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."
            This is why we must become like the Good Samaritan: for not only were we once robbed and now restored, but our God has become like the one robbed and is now awaiting our coming. All of this requires that we first recognize where we have been robbed and allow ourselves to be helped by the God who comes to save us. Only then can we really hear the words of the first reading.

This command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky…
Nor is it across the sea…
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out