The Good Samaritan
Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, November 13, 2022
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
Good morning! What do we mean when we say that love fulfills the law?
Today’s gospel offers a summation of the law as love for God and neighbor, specifically, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer proposes this law, and Jesus concurs. One law transcends all others. The requirement of love fulfills the law by going beyond the rules. Love is concerned with more than just what we do, but also with our motives. Love covers the wide range of our relationships. There are not enough rules to define duty for all contingencies. Love alone can prescribe for every situation or any occasion. Love asks less that is pointless and more that is significant. Love is less restraining but more demanding. Love is less burdensome, but more costly. The person who merely obeys the rules is trying to save himself, but the one who loves, serves God. The first is slavery and the second is perfect freedom. And so, we love with all our heart, all our soul, with all our strength, and all our mind the Lord our God who made us for himself.
How can love be a requirement, or a law? Mustn’t it be voluntary? Love is to desire for the well-being of our enemies. Love moves in three directions: from God to us, from us to God, and toward each other. We can love God only because he first loved us. We are only able to love our neighbor because Christ loved us first, by giving his life for us.
When the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” This question opens a door that allows Jesus to pass through with a parable. First, do we love ourselves? The priest and the Levite think primarily of themselves, esteem themselves, identifying with their roles in society. The Samaritan on the other hand, thought of himself not as a Samaritan, but as a human being, and the important thing was not that a Jew was in need, but that a human being was.
As Orthodox Christians, we say, “God made us, judges us, and Jesus redeems us and sanctifies us as high priest.” And once we realize that God loves all of humanity, we can no longer ascribe any great importance to racial or cultural distinctions. God loves everyone. The world almost forces us to love ourselves for the wrong reasons, for our accomplishments, power, money, or what we own, for the pride of race, sex, or our identification with one group over another, with an antagonistic nationalism, but these do not belong to the natural order. All that matters is the great love and humility of God.
And this love is extravagant. The lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” meaning, “Who should I love?” and Jesus replies with the answer to a different question, “Who is the person who loves?” Which of these three proved that he loved his neighbor as himself? Love of neighbor is not calculated or restrained, but instead is foolishly extravagant. We hear this again in the Sermon on the Mount where we are told to love our enemies, walk the second mile, and give up our clothes for our neighbor. So many other parables reflect this extravagant love: when the employer pays all his laborers the full wage even though some have worked only for an hour, when a father rewards a great feast to his unworthy son. These are all examples of God’s extravagant love. Here again we find the hallmark of Jesus: the “neighbor” was a stranger, a Samaritan, whose compassion was extravagant, pouring out oil and wine and binding the poor man’s wounds, setting him on his own beast, bringing him to an inn and taking care of him. He could have stopped much sooner, and still have fulfilled the “rules” of mercy or one’s duty to a wounded stranger. But he didn’t stop there. Instead, he left money to pay for the man’s care, and insisted if more were needed, he would pay the account on his return. This act was not about duty. The Samaritan was not even aware of duty. No. He loved his neighbor as he loved himself, as we are called to do.
Thanks be to God.