Even My Enemy Is My Neighbor - A Homily on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (2021)

Even My Enemy Is My Neighbor - A Homily on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (2021) - Holy Cross Monastery

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We hear today the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. The moral of the parable is simple and clear—as we hear in another place of holy Scripture, Be ye merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful (Lk. 6:36). As with all Gospel commandments, its truth is undeniable, its spiritual beauty is incomparable, its meaning is understandable, and yet its depth is infinite, and its application limitless. We can never exhaust Christ’s commandments, but only strive towards their ever more perfect fulfilment. And we truly find depicted in this parable the height of Christian perfection.

The phrase ‘Good Samaritan’ has become a byword in our culture for any kind of do-gooder. We easily forget that there is special significance in the Lord’s using the figure of the Samaritan. To the Jews of Christ’s day, the Samaritans were a despised and outcast people—racially inferior, and spiritually in error. For the hard-hearted scribes, lawyers and Pharisees, it was a religious duty to scorn the Samaritans, and they would have no dealings with them. According to the Church’s tradition of allegorical interpretation, the Samaritan in this parable is seen as an image of Christ Himself, who came into the world to save mankind, wounded by sin and the devil, and left half-dead, stripped of the divine glory and splendor with which he was created. In his unspeakable compassion, mercy and love for mankind, the Son and Word of God could not idly behold this pitiful sight, but deigned to take flesh and come to His creation, to bind man’s mortal wounds and bear him to the spiritual inn, His holy Church.

Why does the Lord choose the figure of the Samaritan to portray himself? Just like the Samaritans, the Lord Jesus was scorned and despised by the scribes and Pharisees. They called Him a Samaritan and accused Him of being demon-possessed. Like the lawyer in today’s Gospel, they constantly provoked and tempted him, looking for some pretext to accuse him, slander him, and put him to death. If we ourselves are to be good Samaritans, then, it means that we must not only engage in acts of charity, but that we must do so towards those who hate us, those who are outside of the Church, who even oppose and blaspheme it.

This should come as no surprise to us, nor should it trouble us. We live in a society that seems so rapidly to be running away from Christ. Many of our contemporaries boldly and proudly hasten to discredit every God-ordained institution and authority, to overthrow every traditional norm of Christian society, to go about devising, loudly proclaiming and establishing their own righteousness, in open defiance of the law of God. Such lawlessness is given the benign guise of ‘tolerance’, and pursued in the name of those supremely Christian virtues of mercy, love, and compassion. An endless barrage of media assails us, both openly and subtly trying to shape and mold us according to the new morality. And make no mistake—the partisans of tolerance will tolerate anything except rejection of their own lawlessness. In the brave new world which is being heralded and ushered in all around us, there is very little place for those who wish to remain faithful to the authentic teaching of Christ, which indeed opens the door of compassion to sinful men, but admits of no compromise with sin. If we find that the world hates us for holding fast to the teaching of Christ and the tradition of the Church, then we have Christ’s own assurance that, the world hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (Jn. 15:18-19).

When we look around us and perceive the godlessness that only seems to be increasing in the world, what ought to be our response as Orthodox Christians? Is it to curse, condemn, and revile those who do and promote what is contrary to Christ and the Church? or is it to despair, to lose hope, to turn our attention away from the darkness in the world, to hide from it in defeat? The parable in today’s Gospel shows us, rather, that like the Samaritan laying eyes on the beaten and wounded man, we ought to be moved to heartfelt compassion.

How is this possible, to be moved to compassion for those who brazenly trample underfoot the things we hold sacred and dear? The real question is how we could possibly fail to feel compassion for them; if we do not, then we are far from the Spirit of Christ. The saints bear clear witness to the necessity of such compassion. “Understand me,” writes St. Silouan the Athonite, “It is so simple. People who do not know God, or who go against Him, are to be pitied; the heart sorrows for them and the eye weeps … [O]ur one thought should be that all should be saved. The soul sorrows for her enemies and prays for them because they have strayed from the truth and their faces are set towards hell. That is love for our enemies.” Here, St. Silouan gives us the answer to the lawyer’s question, Who is my neighbor?—Yes, even my enemy is my neighbor.

True compassion for our fellow man is predicated first and foremost on love for God and his truth, since it is only by God’s truth that we can reckon our fellow man at his true worth. Each human soul is exceedingly precious, and God desires that each one be saved. Just think: every person you see in the course of the day—every stranger, every beggar, every politician or actor—every single one of them was brought into being by God to shine with uncreated splendour as sons of God in the eternal kingdom of the heavenly Father. For each one of them, Christ died, and shed his precious Blood on the Cross. When we consider the glory for which we are all created and the price paid for our salvation, and compare it to how low we have fallen, our heart can only break over those who oppose themselves and live in a manner defiantly contrary to God’s will. Those who bear the name of Christ, but are far from his Spirit, see the sinner beaten by demons and wounded by sin, and want to condemn him and cast stones at him; those who champion tolerance see the sinner’s wounds, and contend that he is not wounded at all, that he in fact has no wounds to begin with, and so needs no help or healing; but we who call ourselves Orthodox Christians must see the sinner and respond as the Good Samaritan—first, by feeling compassion for him, and then, by showing mercy to him.

Even a small measure of mercy shown to an enemy can accomplish much. There is a story about St. Macarius of Egypt in the sayings of the desert Fathers. One day, he was traveling somewhere, and sent one of his disciples ahead of him on the road. The disciple encountered a pagan priest along the road, and shouted at him, “O devil, devil, where are you off to?” The enraged priest took the insolent disciple, beat him harshly, and left him for dead. Going on a little further, he met St. Macarius who greeted him sympathetically with the words, “Greetings, you poor, weary man.” The priest, astonished, asked the saint, “What good do you see in me, that you greet me in this way?” Understanding the futility of pagan worship, and that the priest was preparing for himself eternal perdition, St. Macarius replied, saying, “I have seen that you are wearying yourself in vain.” His word was born out of the Spirit of Christ’s compassion, and bore such inward power that it moved the pagan priest’s heart, who said, “I am touched by your greeting, and I realize that you are on God’s side.” And he would not leave St. Macarius until he agreed to make him a monk. St. Macarius then used to say that, “Just one evil word makes even the good evil, and just one good word makes even the evil good.”

So as we see the evil in the world increasing, our only response can be to show compassion to those around us. In the words of the Apostle Paul, Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. If we resist the allurements, the false loves and false goods the world offers us, and fill our hearts instead with the love of Christ through prayer, our hearts will break with pity and burn with compassion for those who have not yet come to know God’s truth, who live in ignorance of him, and in their ignorance oppose him. May he give us all the strength, by the Holy Spirit, to be so disposed, so that we and all those around us may find salvation, and rejoice eternally together in the kingdom of Christ, to whom is due all glory and honor, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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