Saturday, November 11, 2023

Those Who Have Received Christ's Merciful Generosity Must "Go and Do Likewise": Homily for St. John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria & the Eighth Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

2 Cor. 9:6-11; Luke 10:25-37

             It is terribly tragic when people fall into the delusion of thinking that they love God and neighbor, when in reality they are using religion to serve only themselves and the false gods of this world.  One symptom of doing so is to narrow down the list of people who count as our neighbors to the point that we excuse ourselves from serving Christ in all who bear His image and likeness.  When we do so, we disregard not only them, but our Lord Himself, the God-Man born for the salvation of all.  Our actions then reveal that we are not truly united with Him because we seek to justify ourselves by serving nothing but our own vain imaginations.

            That is precisely the attitude that the Savior warns against in today’s gospel reading. After describing how the Old Testament law required loving God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” the lawyer wanted to justify himself by limiting the people he had to love.  That is why he asked, “And who is my neighbor?”  He wanted to limit what God required of him in a way that served his convenience and prejudices.  That way, he could assume that he was a righteous man as he went through life serving only himself and the few he deemed worthy of his concern.   

            The Lord’s parable does not allow us, however, to place any limits on what it means to love our neighbors.  He tells us about a man who was robbed, severely beaten, and then left on the side of the road to die. Surely, anyone who saw him in that condition would have an obligation to help him.  All the more is that the case for the religious leaders who were going down that same road.  They knew that the Old Testament law required them to care for a fellow Jew in a life-threatening situation.  Like the lawyer, however, they must have come up with some excuse not to treat him with even an ounce of compassion.  We do not know exactly what they were thinking, but they somehow rationalized passing by on the other side without helping him at all. 

            Ironically, a Samaritan—a hated foreigner, a despised heretic-- is the one who treated the unfortunate man as a neighbor.  The Samaritan did not limit his concern to his own people.  He did not restrict the demands of love in any way.  Even though he knew that the Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans, he responded with boundless compassion and generosity to this fellow’s plight.  He did not figure out how little he could do and still think of himself as a decent person.  Instead, he spontaneously offered his time, energy, and resources to bring a stranger back to health. Even the lawyer got the point of the story, for he saw that the one who treated the man as a neighbor was “The one who showed mercy to him.”  

            The Lord used the story of the Good Samaritan to show us who we must become if we are truly united to Him in faith.  Purely out of compassionate, boundless love, Christ came to heal us all from the self-imposed pain and misery that our sins have worked on our souls.  He came to liberate everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, from slavery to the fear of death, which is the wages of sin.  Like the Samaritan, He was despised and rejected as a blasphemer.  In the parable, the religious leaders were of no help to the man who was robbed, beaten, and left to die.  They passed by and left him to suffer in the state in which they had found him.  Likewise, the legalistic, hypocritical religious leaders who rejected the Messiah were of no benefit to those who needed healing from the ravages of sin.   They interpreted and applied the law in order to gain power in this world and were powerless to heal anyone. We must be on guard against the temptation to become like them by distorting our faith in ways that would excuse us from seeing and serving Christ in every suffering neighbor.    

Christ has brought salvation to the world, not by giving us merely a religious or moral code of conduct, but by making us participants in His divine life by grace.  By becoming fully human even as He remains fully divine, He has restored and fulfilled the basic human vocation to become like God in holiness.  Only the God-Man could do that.  If we are truly united with Him, then His boundless love must become characteristic of our lives.  Among other things, that means gaining the spiritual health to show our neighbors the same mercy we ask for from the Savior.  Doing that even for those we love is difficult because our self-centeredness makes it hard to give anyone the same consideration we want for ourselves. 

The challenge of conveying Christ’s love to people we do not like for whatever reason may seem impossibly hard. Remember, however, what the Samaritan in the parable did for the robbed and beaten man.  He administered first aid, took him to an inn, paid the innkeeper to care for him, and promised to pay for any additional expenses when he returned.  Christ does the same for us in baptism, the Eucharist, and the full sacramental life of the Church, which is a hospital for our recovery from the ravages of sin. He also calls us to spiritual disciplines—such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—through which we will prepare to welcome Him during the Nativity Fast as we open ourselves to receive the healing necessary to convey His mercy to our neighbors.  He enables us to pursue a life of faith and faithfulness through the ministries of His Body, the Church, as a sign of the salvation of the world.    

The generosity of our Lord is truly infinite.  The more that we share in His life, the more His generosity will become characteristic of us.  As St. Paul wrote, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  This entails that those who offer themselves to serve Christ in their neighbors “will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”  Today we remember two saints known especially for how they manifested the generous mercy of the Lord.  Saint John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria, directed the church’s resources to help thousands of needy people, including paying ransom for the release of captives. He distributed alms on Wednesdays and Fridays, visited the sick three days a week, and brought those who had done wrong to repentance through his personal example of great humility and mercy.[1]  Saint Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and a catechumen when he cut his cloak in two and gave half to a shivering beggar on a freezing night.  Then “Christ appeared to the saint wearing Martin’s cloak. He heard the Savior say to the angels surrounding Him, ‘Martin is only a catechumen, but he has clothed Me with this garment.’”  After his baptism and departure from the army, he became a monk and then a bishop.  “He is called the Merciful because of his generosity and care for the poor, and he received the grace to work miracles.”[2]  

Their blessed examples show that it is possible to be so fully united to Christ that His generous mercy becomes characteristic of us in relation to those who are robbed, beaten, and left for dead by the side of the road, whether literally or figuratively.  In the Good Samaritan, we see the boundless mercy of our Lord for all His suffering children. Today and throughout the coming weeks, we are receiving an offering for the suffering people of the Holy Land.  Let us not miss this opportunity to unite ourselves more fully to Christ as we invest ourselves in His compassion and generosity, for by doing so we “will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”  As those who have received such infinite mercy from the Savior, how can we not obey His command to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise”?   



No comments: