Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Good Samaritan

In most commentaries and homilies, the parable of the Good Samaritan is read as a morality tale.  We are encouraged not to be like the religious hypocrites, but rather be like the Good Samaritan who stopped on his way and was “a neighbor” to the one left wounded by thieves.  And this wounded neighbor, in as much as he is “the least of these” is Christ, so that in ministering to our wounded neighbor, we are ministering to Christ.  However, the hymns of the Orthodox Church, particularly leading up to Holy Week, interpret the parable quite differently.  They interpret it eschatologically: the parable reveals the nature of reality, which is hidden from most eyes (c.f. Matt. 13:13).  Consider the example below from Vespers for the fifth Friday in Lent:
Departing from Your divine commandments as from Jerusalem, and going down to the passions of Jericho, I was led astray by the false glory of the cares of this life.  I fell among the thieves of my own thoughts; they stripped me of the robe of sonship that was mine by grace, and now I lie wounded, as though without the breath of life.  The priest drew near and saw my body, but he took no heed; the levite looked at it with loathing and passed by on the other side.  But You, O Lord who ineffably has taken flesh from the Virgin, You have of Your own will poured out blood and water from Your side for my salvation, and as with oil You have anointed me.  O Christ my God, bind up my wounds with linen, and in Your compassion bring me to Your heavenly Kingdom.
Notice how the roles have been changed.  Christ is the Good Samaritan and I am the wounded traveler.  And although I am a victim of thieves, the thieves are none other than my own thoughts, thoughts that I have allowed to chase after the false glory of the cares of this life as I wandered away from the divine commandments down to the passions of Jericho.  The oil and wine by which the Good Samaritan cares for me is nothing other than the very blood and water that flowed from His side on the Cross.  And other hymns explain that the beast on which the Good Samaritan places me is His own Body and the inn to which He brings me is the Church.  
There is nothing wrong with interpreting the parable of the Good Samaritan morally.  Scripture can and must be read on many levels at the same time.  However, I suggest that if we do not first and fundamentally see ourselves as the ones wounded, wounded by the thieves within ourselves, then a merely moral interpretation of this parable can be nothing more than insipid, and possibly even harmful (i.e. “We are not like those bad religious hypocrites over there”).
To see Jesus as the Good Samaritan is only to acknowledge that He is the despised and rejected One.  But to see ourselves as the wounded traveler, I think, is a little harder.  And harder yet it is to acknowledge that the thieves of our own mind have wounded us as we have pursued the idols of our culture (“false glory”) and directed our life after the cares of this life rather than toward the Jerusalem of God’s commandments.  We have lost the robe of sonship given to us by Grace--notice, the parable is not about unbelievers finding Christ for the first time.  It is about those who have already received the robe of sonship and have soiled it, torn it, and lost it.  The parable is about us.  It is about us who had been given everything by grace and not only have lost it, but have also wounded ourselves almost to the point of death.  

And then the very One we had ignored, despised and rejected in our mindless rush to the passions of Jericho; this Samaritan comes to us and cares for us binding our wounds and pouring on us oil and wine, which is His own Life.  He places us on His beast, His Body, which is mystically both the Body that hung on the Cross and rose from the dead, and the Church, those who partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.  This beast that carries us, I like to think, is the intercession of the Saints.  I myself have no strength even to get up and walk, but the Holy Ones who are Christ’s Body intercede for me.  The prayers of the Mother of God and of all the Holy Ones carry me to the inn and to the inn keeper, who are the teachers of the Church, the bishops, the Holy Councils, and the Tradition that has brought back from the brink of spiritual death thousands and thousands before me.
Toward the end of Great Lent, many experience--each in their own way--weakness, weakness so great that it is as though you can’t finish the course set before you.  Here more than ever we need to call to mind the intercession of the Saints.  Here more than ever we need to beg our Holy Mother, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God--and all of the Holy Ones--to pray for us.  Here more than ever we need to be carried to the inn where the wise inn keeper will care for us as we heal and await the return of our Good Samaritan.

No comments: