2 Corinthians 9:6-11; Luke 10:25-37
In a world of mass shootings, terrorism, and constant strife between nations and competing groups of all kinds, it is tempting to narrow down the list of people we care about. By limiting our concern only to those we think deserve it, we try to protect ourselves from going beyond the easy habit of loving only those who are like us and love us in return. The problem, however, is that shortening our list of neighbors in this way is a complete rejection of the good news of our salvation.
When a lawyer tried to find a loophole to limit the requirement to love his neighbor as himself, Jesus Christ told the parable of the good Samaritan in response. After having been attacked by robbers and left half dead by the side of the road, a Jewish man was ignored by religious leaders of his own people. But a Samaritan, whom the Jews certainly did not view as a neighbor, stopped to help him, bound up his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his lodging, even promising to return in order to pay for any additional costs as the man recovered. In response to the Lord’s question concerning who was a neighbor to this fellow, the lawyer answered rightly: “The one who showed mercy on him.”
In other words, the true neighbor was the hated Samaritan. Christ concluded the parable by saying “Go and do likewise,” which meant to become like that Samaritan. In other words, He told the lawyer to love as himself even those who hated and rejected him, even members of ethnic and religious groups he had learned to view as his enemies. Not only did the lawyer fail to find a loophole in the requirement of love for all his neighbors, he found himself facing a much more demanding standard than he had ever considered. For the Lord responded to his question in a way that made clear his obligation to treat as a neighbor even those usually thought of as despised strangers and enemies.
The Savior used this parable to call us to participate personally in His merciful love for all corrupt humanity, for the Samaritan is surely an image of our Lord coming to heal us from the deadly ravages of sin. Stripped of the divine glory like Adam and Eve cast out of paradise and bearing the wounds of our own transgressions, we have become slaves to death, the wages of sin. Religious rituals and laws were powerless to restore the spiritual health of those who bear the image and likeness of God. So the One Who was rejected as a blasphemer and even accused of being a Samaritan (John. 8:48) became one of us in order to conquer death and make us participants by grace in His eternal life. The oil and wine of the parable represent the Holy Mysteries through which Christ nourishes and heals us. His Body, the Church, is the inn where we regain our strength to grow in holiness. He will return in glory to raise the dead and fulfill His Kingdom.
“Go and do likewise” is not an abstract legal or moral command, but a truthful statement that those who are in Christ will manifest His mercy in their own lives. Those who participate already in His eternal life will become living icons of His love even to those who hate and reject them. The point is not to reduce our relationship with God to being nice to others, which usually means little more than helping our friends and trying to have warm feels about humanity in general. It is, instead, that those who are being healed by the ravages of sin through the mercy of Christ will no longer be blinded by the passions and fears that make it so appealing to limit our list of neighbors to those who measure up to our standards. Christ died and rose again for the salvation of all people, including those who called for His crucifixion and literally nailed Him to the Cross. He enables those who are truly in personal union with Him to become radiant with the divine glory in a way that overcomes the darkness that so easily separates people, and groups of people, from one another.
That is why St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.” There are no limits to the merciful love of our Savior. We must relate to our neighbors not on the basis of how we happen to feel about them or how much moral virtue we can muster, but instead on the basis of the boundless grace we have received. The Apostle knew that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” The more fully we open our lives to the healing mercy of His grace, the more He will work through us to bless the world. So instead of limiting our list of concerns out of fear that we will run out of steam, we must unite ourselves so fully with the Savior that His merciful holiness becomes characteristic of our lives. Then we will say with St. Paul “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
Some people today find it hard to believe in God in light of all the problems of the world, the divisions between people, and especially horrible acts of wickedness like mass murder in churches and other public places. It is understandable why, in the face of such suffering, some will ask “Where is God?” Here we must remember that Jesus Christ came to a world of sin and death to heal our wounds and grant us the spiritual strength to manifest His love to all who suffer. He did not rain down wrath upon evildoers, but as the God-Man entered into our brokenness and pain to the point of death, burial, and Hades, over which He triumphed gloriously in His resurrection. The same hateful wickedness that led people to crucify Him wounds human beings to this day, and none of us is yet fully healed from its malign effects. Surely, every form of human depravity imaginable will remain in this world of corruption until He returns and fulfills His Kingdom. But until then, He works through His Body, the Church, to bind up the wounds of those He died and rose again to save.
Our response to horrific acts of evil is to obey Christ’s command “Go and do likewise.” His Kingdom comes not through the coercive powerbrokers of the world as we know it, but through the healing of human souls and communities in which broken, imperfect people extend to others the same mercy we ask for ourselves. His divine mercy is not limited to people we like or admire or to any nation, race, or group. Even as the Lord offered Himself on the Cross for the salvation of the entire world, we must refuse to live as though anyone in His image and likeness is not a neighbor whom He calls us to love and serve, even as He has loved and served us.
At the end of the day, our answer to those who doubt God’s presence in the world is primarily practical, not abstract or theoretical. It is to love our neighbors as ourselves in a way that foreshadows the blessedness of a Kingdom in which there are no hated foreigners. It is for our common life to become a sign of our Lord’s merciful love for everyone He came to save. It is to become living icons of the indiscriminate love of our Savior, for He came to bless us all who like the man in the parable have been beaten, stripped, and left for dead by the side of the road.
For that to happen, we must invest ourselves in the abundant grace of our Lord such that His life becomes present in ours. When that happens, our lives will be living proof that He is still at work binding up the wounds of suffering humanity. By treating everyone as a beloved neighbor, we will provide the world a much needed sign of hope for an alternative to the pointless strife and divisions that so easily blind us to the humanity of our enemies. Yes, God is with us in Jesus Christ as the Samaritan was with the man who was victimized in the parable. The only question is whether we will be with Him in refusing to narrow down the list of neighbors whom we are to love as ourselves.