In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading we recount the Parable of the Good Samaritan; one of the most famous morality tales in all the Bible, and a model example of mercy and charity. An innocent man is mugged and left for dead along the highway. His plight is ignored not only by his own people, but by those among his own people who really should have known better. In particular, we learn of a Priest and a Levite who pass him on the other side. As men specifically trained in the Law, and set aside for liturgical worship in the Temple, the Priest and the Levite surely would have been able to summarize the Law as well as the smarmy lawyer whose questions had inspired this parable. To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and to love thy neighbor as thyself. The Priest and the Levite look away from the downtrodden man. Perhaps, they could not recognize him as a fellow Jew, but surely they could make out that he is a fellow human being. Moreover, assuming that they would have freed a mangled beast from a ditch, then they must have viewed this fellow human being as more of a neighbor to them than that hypothetical beast. What we are really seeing in this parable is not a disagreement as to what constitutes a neighbor. What we are really seeing is much darker than that. The Priest and the Levite know better, but they are callously refusing the call to duty that the circumstance demands. They know that this fallen man is indeed their neighbor, and they know their moral, ethical, and religious obligation to this man, and yet they just do not care. Whatever is occupying them at that moment, wherever it is that they need to go, that is more important to them than putting into effect the Summary of the Law. The heart of this callous indifference is pride, for how else may we describe the conscious decision at the pivotal moment to put one’s own purpose or desire ahead of God’s command? What I want at this moment is more important to me than what God wants. This is self-deification, the first sin, the devil’s work; and though we may cloak this sin sometimes as cowardice or indifference, it is really just our wretched pride pushing us to walk along the far side of the highway.
The man who helps this victim is a Samaritan. We know that the Samaritans were reviled by the Jews on account of their abandonment of the faith of their fathers and concomitant embrace of cultural and religious paganism. The Samaritans had made themselves foreigners to the Jews by willfully violating God’s command, and yet the Jews who castigate them are turning a blind eye to the darkest sins committed in their own household. They forget how their own King Ahaz, as recounted in the Second Book of Chronicles, had abandoned the faith of their fathers in favor of the Canaanite cult of Molech, a horned, bull-headed demon typically cast in metal and depicted with opened and outstretched hands. Molech worship consisted of heating the statue until it is red hot, and then placing an infant on the open hands. Beating drums drowned out the screams of the child until he burned to death. In the Book of Leviticus, God proclaims a death sentence on anyone who worships Molech, and yet the child sacrifice cult continues for generations. King Manasseh of Judah even gives his own son to Molech in emulation of the Samaritan Kings trying to curry favor with this wretched master of dark magic. Disgusted with how His own people are embracing this cult, God withholds His favor from Judea, and the Jews are vanquished before a combined force of Syrians and Samaritans. The spoils of this war are about to be handed to the victorious Samaritan army, when the Judean Prophet Oded stands up from among the defeated and intercedes on their behalf with the victors. Oded reminds the Samaritans that they are not any better in the eyes of God than their defeated cousins, for the Samaritans had embraced the Molech cult even before the Jews did. Oded reminds them that as we all fall short of the perfect glory of God, we must temper victory with mercy and advantage with charity. We must see and acknowledge the wretchedness in ourselves before we point it out in others. We are neighbors in our common humanity, neighbors in our common depravity, and so there can be no justice in the affairs of victor and vanquished unless there is also mercy. There can be no righteousness in the affairs of victor and vanquished unless there is also charity. Heeding Oded’s greater wisdom and piety, the Samaritans release the Judeans, and allow them to go back home. This saves the line of David from going extinct, and in Our Lord’s parable we see another Samaritan coming to the aid of another Judean. This time, the ramifications are much more personal than political in scope, for surely there will be no change in the political landscape if the victim is allowed to die along the side of that highway. Nevertheless, the act of mercy is as poignant here as when that Samaritan army long ago listened to Oded and released the Judeans. For in both instances what inspires the act of mercy is an acknowledgment of our common humanity. The Samaritan sees himself in the Jew, and Our Lord is reminding the Jew to see himself in the Samaritan. If you are going to love your neighbor as God commands, then first walk in your neighbor’s shoes a while, and then realize that his shoes are not all that different from your own. His ancestors way back when committed the worst of sins, and so did yours. His ancestors embraced the dark magic of demons over God, and so did yours. His people are a stain on the world stage, and so are yours.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we are all Samaritans, including the Priests and the Levites among us. We are all born from a legacy in wretchedness, and yet we are all at the same time and in our own way capable of mercy and charity. Molech worship or something else just as hideous is a part of our common ancestral past; and yet because of Christ Jesus love and life eternal is available for each and every one of us, if only we put the Summary of the Law into practice. We are way too wretched to do this ourselves, but Christ Jesus has done this; and as importantly He is offering unto us the grace to follow His lead and to be Good Samaritans for one another. We can stand up as Oded did when circumstances demand. God Himself will give us the words that need be said. We can help our fallen neighbor when we see him left for dead along the highway. God Himself will give us the strength to do what need be done. And, so God forbid, if and when we are left for dead we may have faith that if no one else sees us, God sees us. If no one else helps us, God helps us. For Christ Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Christ Jesus has taken on Himself the ancestral guilt of the Samaritan, of the Judean, indeed of all of mankind. In every way He is as reviled as the Samaritan, as much a foreigner among his fellow men, and yet He will not leave anyone to die alone and forgotten. When the rest of the world looks away, He looks. When the rest of the world refuses to act, He acts. So when we need Him, He will be right there by our side. No one else may notice, but at that moment we shall notice, and in His loving arms we shall find peace as we are carried to the innkeeper for the rest and repair we so need.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.