The Orthodox Pages




19th JANUARY 2012


































































































































Today we begin again with our series of talks on the Lord's Parables. Before the Christmas break we had finished with the Parables from the first and last group, and it remains for us to see the Parables from the middle group. These are sometimes referred to as the behaviour Parables because they teach us how a Christian should live and behave and emphasis is placed not only on someone's relationship with God, but also on his relationship with his neighbours, his employer and fellow workers and even on those who he considers are his enemies. In short, they teach us how to live with all men without discrimination. The well known Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of these parables that teaches us that we must show love towards all men. Let's then hear the Parable.
“At that time, a certain lawyer came to Jesus, tempted him, and saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)
The Lord found reason to tell this parable after a Lawyer came before him and presented him with the question: “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” By lawyer it does not mean a solicitor in the sense we know them today, but a teacher of the Mosaic Law. Note that the Evangelist says of the teacher that he came to Jesus, tempting him: in other words he came with the sole intention of tempting Jesus because he didn’t believe that Christ was God and that his teaching was contrary to what the Mosaic Law ascribes. Thus as a teacher of the Mosaic Law and with his great knowledge, he wanted to place Jesus in a difficult situation. So this cunning man came to Jesus without good intentions: what he said concerning eternal life was not the desire of his heart, he just wanted to converse with Christ and make him appear that he taught contrary to the Law which would have proven that he wasn’t God and neither did he come from God.
The lawyer/teacher comes across very arrogant and full of pride, thinking of himself as a superior teacher who had the knowledge to correct others, even Christ. He may have seen the miracles that Jesus did, but he only saw them with his physical eyes: the eyes of his soul remained closed. His envy and arrogance did not allow him to believe in Christ as the true God.
In spite of the teacher’s arrogance, Christ does not ignore and disregard him just as he doesn’t disregard any person, but wants all people to be saved. He came to seek and find the lost sheep. (Matth. 18:11) Every man, every sinner is a victim of sin and the devil and needs to be delivered from this tyranny. Now because the teacher was adherent to the Law, Christ condescends to also begin from the Law so that the teacher will be convinced that he was not against the Law: how could he be for the person who spoke with Moses and gave him the Law was Himself.
To the teacher's question, Christ replies with his own question: “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” And the teacher replies: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” The teacher replied with the correct answer because even though his question was “what should he do to find eternal life”, he knew the answer lay in having love for God and for one’s neighbour. His answer also showed that he was well learnt in the Law because he did not quote one of the Ten Commandments, but gave a combination answer by quoting passages from two books – Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Deut. 6:5. Lev. 19:18). Thus he showed that he didn’t lack knowledge of the Law, but he did lack the observance of it. He knew the letter and ignored the spirit.
That is why Christ said to him: “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live”. Don’t just read and teach the Law, but go and put into practice what you preach. But in the new age of the Incarnate God, to follow the road of love can lead to one’s life being sacrificed for the sake of love for others.
The teacher is among those who Christ said that: “they hear and see, but do not understand”, in other words they do not hear and see with ears and eyes of their soul, therefore neither can they understand with their soul. There is a hardness in their hearts from their sins and especially their pride. For them eternal life is very distant because they live in the old age of the Law, of the letter, the biological life and not with Grace which is eternal life. They cannot understand the true meaning of love and how it identifies with sacrifice for the one you love. For the love which is ready to die for God and one’s neighbour there is no death: love is eternal life. How can the love for God as expressed by the teacher with the quadruple repetition of “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind”, how can this be put into practice and if necessary how can it reach the sacrifice of this physical life? What does the Law offer to help man in sacrificing his self love, so that he may be able to offer himself totally to God and to his neighbour and thus gain eternal life? The answer is absolutely nothing. The Law preserves a certain relationship with the true God, so that the people of Israel are not drawn away into idolatry and also to prepare the reception of the Messiah. But it is the “letter” which doesn’t strengthen man in the struggle so that he remains in God.
There are of course examples of saints in the Old Testament, who loved God and fulfilled his will in their life, but they were not strengthened by the Law so that they could overcome sin and inherit eternal life. In contrast to the Law, Christ is the only person who loved completely God the Father with love that reaches death on the Cross, but also offering himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of man. He put to death the obstacle called sin and became the true and eternal life.
With everything the teacher expressed concerning the Law and everything that Christ showed him “this do, and thou shalt live” proves that Christ doesn’t teach in opposition to the law, but rather that he came to fulfil it with love for God and man. Love is not a canon, a rule which we are to learn by heart and memorize it, as did the teacher, but the overcoming of our self-love, that the other person might live in us and us in them: each person living in the other which is an image of the persons of the Holy Trinity, which is eternal life.
But let’s return to the Parable. The teacher, having heard the praise from Christ “Thou hast answered right”, seems to be full of self pride and his arrogance is exalted even higher. Wishing now to justify himself for the question he asked, even though he knew the answer, he now asks Christ: “And who is my neighbour?” He considered himself as the only righteous and virtuous, with great knowledge of the Law and there was no one else to match him so that he could consider him his neighbour. This is how he tries to justify himself, by placing everyone below his own rank of virtue, so that no one could be found to be his neighbour. And even though the Mosaic Law considered one’s neighbour to be him who was in need of help, he understood it as someone who was of equal ranking. Thus because he believed he was above all people, he had no neighbour.
But Christ shows the teacher that his understanding of who is his neighbour has nothing to do with rank. He teaches that the thing someone has in common with us to be considered our neighbour is not his rank in life, neither his virtue, nor his place of origin or anything else, but only the common human nature. All who share in the one human nature are our neighbours. To every human being we owe it to be their neighbour with love, care and with our good intentions, especially when they are in difficult circumstances and are in need of help. As a prototype and good example to imitate is the Good Samaritan.
In the Parable, Christ, in a clear and vivid manner is addressing himself not only to the teacher, but to every man who has confined himself only to his egoistic self love to help him understand who is his neighbour, but also that through this he may gain eternal life. Christ tells the beautiful story of the great tragedy that befell upon a certain Jew who was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of thieves, who with cruelty stripped him naked, took everything that he had and then beat him mercilessly causing wounds all over his body and then leaving him unconscious or as Christ says “half dead”. His condition was so critical that it was impossible for him to regain consciousness on his own. Without help from someone death would have been imminent. His only chance of survival was for someone passing by to spot him, someone with a merciful heart who would do anything possible to save him.
As it happened three people did pass that way, a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. First to pass by was the priest and then the Levite. The two are similar because they were both Jews and in fact both of the same tribe because the priests of Israel were taken from the tribe of Levi, thus they were both representatives of the Law and the Prophets, both religious leaders and teachers. It is possible that the Jew who fell to the thieves was on his way home after worshipping at the Jerusalem temple and that the Priest and Levite were also on their way home after having fulfilled their duties in the temple. Many priests lived in Jericho and would only go up to Jerusalem when it was their turn to fulfil their priestly duties.
The priest passing by and seeing the unconscious man was obliged by the high office he held to be merciful and compassionate. This is what he taught others to be, but instead of being an example of what he taught he totally ignored the helpless man and passed by the other side. The Levite was even more cruel because it says that he came and looked on him, he saw that he was a Jew like himself, but he also chose to ignore his fellow man and passed by the other side.
They both had as their guide the letter of the Law. They knew and taught with every detail the double love for God and one’s neighbour. They also knew that one’s neighbour was he who was in need of help, he who is suffering and awaits our compassion. But these teachings remained only knowledge without putting them into practice. They couldn’t share in the practice because that would have meant personal sacrifice. They only knew how to serve their own self love, and the requirements of this earthly life which pursues to live biologically and not eternally. The fathers say that self love is a form of failure of the human life. With so much love for oneself, how is it possible to have love for God with all our might and to love our neighbour as our self?
The crime of abandoning the wounded man was equal to the crime of the inhumane beating by the thieves which left the man half dead. For both the priest and the Levite, their own interests were far above the needs of their neighbour. What was going through their minds at that moment? If they stopped to offer help, they may save the man’s life but the delay would hurt their own interests or they might even be in danger and also fall into the hands of the thieves. Maybe they also thought that someone else would soon pass that way, maybe one of their listeners who heard them teach on the Law and who would have more time on their hands to help this wounded man. They probably even said to themselves that they had love for the wounded man because they didn’t hate him neither did they wish this terrible thing to happen to him. When man stops loving God and his fellow man, he will try and find many excuses to justify himself. But love cannot be contained only in the mind. If it doesn’t manifest itself with works, with sacrifice and with offering ourselves to our fellow men then it is not love and we are deluded if we think we have love for God. With their denial to place themselves on a personal level with the dying man, the two representatives of the Law were in fact spiritually dead.
Now after the priest and the Levite another person passed by that way, a stranger from Samaria. The Samaritans were in part Israelites, but they were a mixed race with a mixed religion. They claim to be the direct descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722BC. Their religion was a mixture of the Jewish faith with the worship of other Gods. Thus for the Jews they were idolatrous, unclean and despicable people with whom they were not allowed to have any dealings with and were not allowed to even talk with them. Whenever they are mentioned in the Gospels, they always appear as extremely grateful and good people. They are shown as a people guided by the light of their own conscience and an unwritten law. Luke makes good mention of the Samaritans to show that Christ didn’t only come for the lost sheep of Israel but for all people. But they also serve to show the difference between the Jews who had the Law and the Prophets but didn’t live by the Law, and the Samaritans who didn’t have the Law but came close to living it.
Thus in the Parable he appeared in a completely different image from the two Jews. As soon as he saw the wounded man be had compassion for him. He immediately got down from him animal and began to take care of him. He washed his wounds with wine and oil and bandaged them. He them lifted him and placed him on his animal and took him to an inn and took care of him with the utmost diligence. He stayed all night with him and the next day he paid the expense to the innkeeper to continue taking care of him until he was completely recovered and promised that on his return he would pay for any added expenses that were necessary for the cure. With all this care by the Samaritan the wounded man was saved from sure death.
If the priest and the Levite lived the hell of the absence of love from their souls, the Samaritan lived that which the teacher sought, because eternal life is love for God and for one’s fellow men. Paradise is found in the heart which is ready to rise upon the Cross, to become a sacrifice for everyone and which accepts the last even as it does the first, which with a passionate and pure love calls out to all and says you may all enter. This is the kind of heart that the Samaritan had.
When he came to the wounded man and started to tend to his wounds, he didn’t for a moment think of his own safety: he didn’t think of the danger from the thieves. He was willing to sacrifice even his own life, because he had denied himself to save his neighbour. He took the “love thy neighbour as thyself” to a different level and made it “love thy neighbour above thyself”. He loved him more than he loved himself. He didn’t stop to consider that the wounded man was a stranger or from a different race. There was room in his heart for every man, because he is an image of God.
By loving his fellow man, the Samaritan, through this love, receives in his heart a perception of God which is knowledge of God and this knowledge becomes a perception of immortal life. For as Christ said “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”. (John 17:3) In other words life as love, which is the life of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, is life eternal. St. John in his first Epistle says: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death”. (1 John 3:14)
With this parable Christ taught not only the teacher, but every man, how eternal life is inherited and how by living with love for God and man, we live from now the eternal life. If we live this present life as love and communion with God and man, we will be united with God and this union will be divine and endless pleasure, but for all those who refuse this love it will be unspeakable pain.
At the end of the Parable, Christ asks the teacher: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” The teacher replied “He that shewed mercy on him” Christ told him “Go, and do thou likewise” in other words, go and become a neighbour to everyone by showing love and mercy as did the Samaritan. By living in this way, with love and sacrifice you will inherit eternal life. Thus the teacher had his answer to his original question “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” St Maximus says that the two pence the Samaritan paid the innkeeper for the wounded man’s treatment represent love for God and love for man.
There is another interpretation to the Parable which we find in the writings of the Fathers. According to the Fathers, the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho is Adam, who represents all mankind. Adam, disobeyed the divine law and fell into sin and by his own actions was banished from Paradise, from the "Heavenly Jerusalem," and had to live in the world, with many difficulties. The thieves represent the demonic powers who envied Adam's original purity and pushed him onto sin, depriving him of faithfulness to God's will and of life in Paradise. The man's wounds are the consequences of sin, which make us spiritually weak. The priest and the Levite are the law of the Old Testament, given by Moses, and the priesthood of Aaron, which cannot save man. The Good Samaritan is Jesus Christ and the oil and wine he poured onto the man's wounds are the New Testament and the grace of God to heal our infirmities. The inn is the Church of God, where we find all things needful for recovery. The innkeeper represents the Priests and teachers of the Church whom God has charged to care for the flock. The departure of the Samaritan in the morning symbolizes Christ's Ascension into heaven. The two pence, given to the innkeeper, are the two authoritative sources of Divine Revelation, Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition. Finally, the Samaritan's promise to return to the inn for a final reckoning is a prophesy of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, when to each man will be given according to his works.
Our second Parable for today is the Parable of the Foolish Rich Man.
“The Lord said this parable: The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 12:16-21)
Christ said this Parable to correct the way of life of all of us. For just as the rich man of the Parable fell to the temptation of greed and the love for wealth and became greedy and miserly, a true idol worshipper who worshipped the material wealth instead of the one true God, the same can happen to each and every one of us. The temptation of greed, in other words, the possession of material goods, more than what we actually need and our dependence on them, creates a danger for our salvation
Although the rich man had gained material wealth he had in fact failed in life. In the evening he made plans that would keep him living comfortably for many years, but by the morning death put an end to his life. But before the death of his body, he had already given up his soul to death, because he lived the hell of being separated from God and from his fellow men. Christ calls him a fool and his failure in life is all due to his foolishness. Lets take a deeper look at the mistakes the rich man made with the hope that we do not make the same.
Life without God was the basic sin of the rich man. He denied the divine will of God, that is, the holy commandments, which if someone follows can live in eternity. He lived autonomously, by his own rule of life, which served the desires and needs of his carnal nature and became his passion. But life without relationship, love and communion with God, without participation in the Trinitarian way of life is a choice of death. The image of the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity shows us that life is fulfilled when it is a communion of love. When our life is love for God and for all men, we confess our faith in the Holy Trinity and we become true images of God on earth. If God and mankind do not live in our hearts and we in them, then we deliver ourselves to death, which is the result of being separated from God. We are deprived of the breath of life, the grace of the Holy Spirit, who gives life to everything. The rich man lived this death of God’s absence everyday, and it was his great unhappiness. But because man cannot live without God, something has to take his place and in the rich man’s case his wealth became his god. The thirst for God in his soul was replaced by thirst for wealth. His whole life depended on this material god, his happiness and his long life, which he desired so that he could satisfy his passions. Thus he became an idol worshipper, because he loved wealth. The Apostle Paul calls greed idolatry (Col. 3:5). Greed is the uncontrollable attachment of the human heart to material goods of this world. The man who becomes subject and prisoner to the desire of obtaining and possessing more and more material goods, distances himself from God and devotes himself completely to his possessions, which take the place of God. Therefore Greed is like idolatry because the person becomes so attached to his belongings that he cannot bear to part from them. They are his gods that he worships.
The rich man living in his loveless hell is deprived of even the slightest trace of the divine knowledge, of divine enlightenment, which guides man so that he doesn’t trip up in the darkness of the passions. In the darkness of his mind from the absence of God and the desires of the flesh, he makes plans for his life and for his future. Everything he plans foresees the satisfaction of his passions, to which he is a prisoner. The reason for his need to make plans is the bountiful crops his land produced. Christ says that: “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” The bountiful and rich produce of his land does not become an opportunity to thank God who is the giver and provider of all things, spiritual and material. For the rich man the bountiful crop did not become a means leading to salvation, but the means to increase his self vanity and pleasure, his self centeredness and self love. If he was in the little bit interested in his salvation, the bountiful crops from his land would have connected him with God and he would have invited his poverty stricken brothers to become sharers of his good fortune. It would have been an act of love and would have shown that he was still spiritually alive and capable of allowing others to live in him and him in them. True life is life that communes with others, that offers and shares as a result of love. But none of these things does the rich man do because he is greedy.
Wealth is indeed a great temptation for man. Of the three temptations, gluttony, vainglory and love for wealth, the fathers say that the love for wealth is the most powerful. That is why when the devil used all three to tempt Christ; he left the most powerful of these till last.
God told the rich but foolish man: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" This is a question that troubles many of the rich people of the world. Who will inherit my wealth: are they worthy of it and what will they do with it? Even the richest Solomon, when pondering the matter, said: "For all is vanity and waywardness of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall come after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool, and whether he shall have power over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have waxed wise under the sun? This also is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 2:17-19).
With the thought of “the more I have the more happier I will be”, the rich man decides to pull down his barns and to build bigger ones to store all his fruits and his goods. And when he has fulfilled his plan, he will say to his soul “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” In his mind the foolish man plans ahead his future with a never ending banquet for his soul with carnal foods. This “be merry”, in other words joy and happiness in life, is his intention. But how is it possible for wealth to bring happiness when it has no stability and is similar to a liquid that flows from one place to the next? In reality he is living an illusion and all his goals to take it easy and enjoy life to the full for many years are full of vanity and failure.
If man desires material goods more and above the things he has need of, then he is suffering from the illness of greed, or love for pleasure or vanity. For the man faithful to God, the thing greater than all the kingdoms of the earth is that he is called by the name of Christ, in other words, a Christian. He has received the adoption according to grace and has become a son of God. (John 1:12) This is the wealth of God’s Grace, which gives fullness to man. To the faithful man God’s grace is like having all the money in the world, to the unbeliever it is not worth a farthing (Prov. 17:6 Septuagint). The world of money cannot be compared to the wealth of grace. Christ said that whosoever: seeks first the kingdom of God, he will not be deprived of worldly materials and everything we have need of will be given to us. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” (Matthew 6:33-34)
The acquiring of wealth and the way of life of the rich man was death, but if the rich man put to death the spirit of this world which ruled within him and acted with his mind in Christ, he would have been transported from death to resurrection. With love for God and for man he would have made his goods common for all instead of holding on to them only for himself. He would have risen above the requirements of his carnal nature and would have followed a new way of life as a member of the community of the Church, which had all things common. (Acts 4:32)
Joy is genuine when it is the joy of everyone. Let my joy become our joy. Then the rich man’s words which he would have said to his soul: “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” would have become reality for many, because everything would have come about through grace which truly gives rest and happiness, not only for many years but for life eternal. Joy is not the “eat, drink, and be merry” but “That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:30). He would have taken delight in the heavenly bread of love which would have united him with God, but he preferred the wealth that decays and not the wealth of love.
This rich man who thought he had everything God called a stupid fool. And he was a fool because of the way he lived and thought. For God he was spiritually dead because he denied to love and have communion with him and with his fellow men. Death and hell were within him from the moment he replaced God with the barns, his crops and the “eat, drink, and be merry”. In short, they give a temporary welfare to the body, but do not accompany man to eternity.
Many of Christ’s parables have a similar meaning – their purpose is to teach us that we must have love for God and love for man. This was the meaning of the previous Parable of the Good Samaritan: the answer to the teacher who asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life was “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Love is above all things. This is the teaching we have received from Christ and the Apostles and this is the message we receive from all the Saints. Paul said: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” Or he could just as easily have said “I am a fool; I am spiritually dead.”
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.