A UNIVERSAL PARABLE
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON July 11th, 2010
Luke 10:25 “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test saying, ‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’ ”
Colossians 1:14 “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of our beloved Son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins.”
The story of the Good Samaritan is probably the best known story in the New Testament, and certainly all the best known parable. Everyone agrees that the words, “Go and do likewise,” are a call to assist those in need and to show compassion.
The Good Samaritan is symbolic of all efforts to do works of charity. Even those who do not call themselves Christians will quote the parable, and use is as an example. Indeed, there is nothing specifically Christian about the parable. Anyone of any religion, or none, sees this story as a good example to follow. It was, of course, told to those of the Jewish faith.
So what is Christian about this well-known story?
Firstly, we would say that is part of the teachings of Jesus, and therefore, part of the Christian way of life. The compulsion to follow the example of the Good Samaritan comes to us from the very words of Christ himself. Whereas others, who follow the same example, might simply say it is a good example to follow because it makes our world a better and more caring place. Even atheists feel they should help their neighbors in need.
The non-Christian and the nonbeliever would also, no doubt, call attention to those who pass by on the other side, who are, of course, religious. They represent indifference and hypocrisy, and they remind us that you cannot sit there and do nothing.
The Christian aspect of the parable is also revealed by the question asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” It was supposed to be a trap for Jesus. No doubt, this bright young lawyer thought Jesus would lay out a plan of prayer and worship, and a spiritual path to eternal life. But Jesus throws the question back at him, “What is written in the law?”
Now the lawyers in the Jewish faith knew all about the Law of Moses and were there to interpret the law to ordinary people. This lawyer did not hesitate to reply.
“You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself.” Thus, the lawyer, in his answer, revealed that love was the foundation and meaning of the law of God.
So for Christians, this example of the Good Samaritan is given to us, not just so that we might do good and help others, but that we might show we are possessed by the love of God. Possessed sufficiently that it leads to love of neighbor – and that such love is the way to eternal life.
In Colossians 1:1-14, St. Paul reminds us that the Kingdom of God has been given to us by what Christ did on the cross. Eternal life was first given to us, through the cross, in baptism. It was sealed by what Christ did on the cross. And it is renewed every time we come to the altar through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which is the re-presentation of what Christ did on the cross.
The love of God is shown forth in Jesus, and it is bound intrinsically in what he did on the cross. Theses three – the baptism, the cross, and the Eucharist, are the foundations of the Church’s very existence and of its life.
Therefore, the Church is called to be that society which shows its love of God and love of neighbor. In fact, through the Church we receive the grace and the strength to do this very thing. Whereas others, who are not of the Church, rely on their own personal faith, or none, as the case may be.
Now many people who do not identify themselves with the Church, carry out good works and help those in need. Perhaps the greatest example of those who follow the way of the Good Samaritan are, of course, the Salvation Army. That wonderful organization is always available when there is a need or a catastrophe, always supporting those who need compassion. They always shows up the rest of us who call ourselves Christians. Yet the Salvation Army does not have belief in the sacrament of Baptism, nor in the other sacraments. They don’t gather for the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday as we do.
Are they, therefore, outside God’s kingdom? Certainly not! They certainly live as Christians and act in a Christian way.
Is the Church, then, just a society for those like wonderful liturgy, beautiful buildings, good music, and fellowship – merely for those who like that sort of thing? Some would think so. But the Cross is also a part of what we do as the Church. Indeed, it is the cornerstone of the Church’s life.
The cross reminds us that everything about the Church – be it a beautiful building, good music, wonderful sacraments, or good works – is to point people to the fact that Christ won eternal life for us on the cross, and that he made us inheritors of the kingdom of God.
Our gathering, Sunday by Sunday, for the Mass is all about the cross. The sacraments are all about the cross. Our good works are all about the cross. All of these may inspire us and make us feel good and right – but that is not their ultimate purpose. Their purpose is to proclaim Jesus and Him crucified, for the salvation of the world.
That is why the Eucharist is rightly called a sacrifice. It re-presents Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that we might go out renewed by the sacrament to do good works. Every good work or act of compassion by Christians represents the love of God as revealed on the cross.
That is why the parable of the Good Samaritan is the answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Of course, we will not be saved just by good works. But as St. James reminds us ,it is by our good works that we show our faith. The incarnation, the whole life of Christ on earth, means that the world is to experience God’s love as revealed by Christ through those who belong to his Church – you and I. This also happens by the actions of the Church itself.
As a teenager, I was captivated by the stories of Anglo-Catholic priests and religious who worked in the slums of London in the 19th Century, and by those priests and religious who fought against apartheid in South Africa in the 20th Century. I was inspired by their acts of compassion and love. I discovered that at the heart of their lives, and as the rationale for their living out the way of the cross, was the Eucharist – often celebrated beautifully, and always with devotion and love.
Society might become more kingdom-like through political and social progress – and sometimes the church is involved in that. But the Church’s witness is to the cross, and a kingdom brought to birth through Jesus on Calvary.
So the cross is always a reminder to us that self-renunciation and sacrifice must be a motive for living as a follower of Jesus. Therefore, we meet not just as members of his kingdom trying to love our neighbor, but also as the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ, which was foreshadowed from the beginning of salvation history – perfected day-by-day by the Holy Spirit. This is a sign of the incarnation and God’s presence in the world. The sacrament, indeed, of salvation. A priestly people, and the household of faith.
For Christians, loving your neighbor is about loving God, through Christ – and because of Christ.