The Good Samaritan
Sermon preached by Kyra Limberakis on Sunday, November 12, 2023
November 12, 2023
I stand before you as the “chief among sinners,” as we say in our pre-communion prayers, knowing that the words I share with you are ones I fall short of daily.
The Gospel of the Good Samaritan is one I hold close to my heart. Its message is the grounding force of what led me to the work I do today with Orthodox Volunteer Corps. OVC is a ministry where young adults spend a year in service with our neighbors on the margins all while living in intentional community and engaging in the life of the Church. It’s this message of compassion. Compassion to our most vulnerable and overlooked neighbors that we encourage the young adults of OVC to live by every day at their nonprofit placements as individuals and as a community.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of those we can quickly recount and refer back to as Christians. It seems simple…in answering the lawyer who asks what it will take to inherit eternal life, Christ shares a story of what it means to be a neighbor. He describes a man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho and is robbed, beaten and left in a ditch…a priest and a levite pass by this man and do nothing. But a Samaritan stops, tends to his wounds with oil and wine, puts him on his own animal and brings him to an inn. He then gives the innkeeper two denari saying that when he returns he’ll pay whatever extra is needed to care for him. Christ shares with the lawyer that the true neighbor of the three was the one who had mercy on the man.
Unsurprisingly, there is a deep treasure within the well of this seemingly simple parable. And I can assure you I’m only scratching the surface.
It’s more than just Christ simply calling us to love and be a kind neighbor. It is Christ calling us to be attentive to the suffering of others through boundless compassion as he models it in the person of the Good Samaritan. His mercy was not bound by race, or religion, or economic status. It was not bound by time or money for he promised to come back and give what was needed. It was not bound by the perceived morality of the other person for it didn’t matter that this man was making the journey from Jerusalem, the spiritual center at the time, to Jericho, a seedy place of chaos. It was not bound by assuming that others would offer this compassion. Fr. Greg Boyle describes the texture of Christ’s compassion in his book Tattoos on the Heart saying, “Compassion was the wallpaper of Jesus’ soul, the contour of his heart, it was who he was.” Or rather, it is who he is. Fr. Greg goes on to say:
“Compassion is no fleeting occasional emotion rising to the surface like eros or anger. It’s full-throttled. Scripture scholars connect the word to the entrails, to the bowels, from the deepest part of the person. This was how Jesus was moved, from the entirety of his being. He had room for everybody in his compassion.” (Tattoos on the Heart, pg. 62-63).
What would it mean for you to have room for everyone in your compassion?
In this parable we see the Good Samaritan making room for someone who as St. John Chrysotom says “was in no way related to himself.” St. John reflects on the intention of the Good Samaritan in his 8th homily against the judaizers
He [the Good Samaritan] did not say to himself, what do I care about him? I’m a samaritan, I have nothing in common with him…He did not think of the danger nor expense nor anything else. If the Samaritan was so kind and gentle to a stranger what excuse would we have for neglecting our brothers when they are in deeper trouble? The Samaritan could have come up with a lot of reasons to not help this man but he didn’t. He just helped him.” (St. John Chrysostom’s 8th homily against the Judaizers part 3).
What would it look like for you to “just help” someone radically different than yourself?
I’d like to share a story of a way in which I’ve seen at OVC young adults make room for people radically different from themselves in their compassion. It’s a story of Evan and Matt. Evan was part of our inaugural OVC cohort. He grew up outside Atlanta and went to college in Texas; was actively involved in his OCF and good student. As part of his year of service, he worked at a drop in homeless shelter in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh where folks from all walks of life would visit. To say this environment was different from what he grew up with is an understatement. Every day he greeted folks coming in off the street who needed clothing, a hot meal, a shower, or just a person to talk to. Over the course of the ten months of OVC, Evan became more comfortable in the shelter and even became friends with the people who dropped into the center. One of them was a man named Matt. Matt is about Evan’s age; in his twenties.. One night Matt was sleeping on the street and the temperature got so low that he got frostbite on his hands. The frost bite was so bad, he had to have all his fingers amputated up to his knuckle. The next day, he came into the center with bandaged hands where Evan greeted him. Because of his wounded hands, he couldn’t bring a glass to his lips. Evan had to help feed him and give him a drink of water. He soiled himself. Evan helped bath him and gave him fresh clothes. And because of the relationship they had already built, Evan was a listening ear for Matt that day and the days after. That night, Evan came home to the OVC house and shared the experience with his fellow Corps Members, together they prayed for Matt. That Friday during seminar we talked about what are the root causes of homelessness, we talked about how Evan felt in that vulnerable moment with Matt. He said that it softened his heart. To me, the story of Evan and Matt is a small glimpse of boundless compassion.
What drives OVC are these individual encounters with the people we meet along the road, but it means putting ourselves as church on that road in the first place. Being proximate to the road by putting ourselves in the places and spaces of others suffering…and not doing it alone. Evan had the support of his community, of the Church. I’ve seen time and time again with OVC that the boundless compassion these young adults offer to our most vulnerable neighbors needs the full body of Christ. It needs the community. And it requires us to see ourselves as the one in the ditch as well; not above or separate from…but in solidarity with…recognizing that we are all broken and in need of the healing balm of Christ’s mercy…like oil the Samaritan poured on the wounds of the man.
In the hymn at the 5th vespers of Lent we hear ourselves being compared to the man in the ditch singing “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…but you oh Lord…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. Oh Christ my God, bind up my wounds with linen and in your compassion bring me to your heavenly kingdom.”
So how do we, as church, walk this road, as a community, a collective, as a body called to this boundless compassion? What does compassion look like for us as a community, here in Cambridge, in the US, globally? And who are the people we encounter on the road? Is it the person experiencing homelessness right outside the walls of the church? Is it our brothers and sisters in Gaza? Is it our friend who is going through a divorce? A couple who just experienced miscarriage? A young woman who is struggling to understand her place in the church? Perhaps it's someone who we disagree with? Perhaps it is yourself and the “thieves of your thoughts.”
Regardless of who it is, let us “have ears to hear” and “eyes to see” the suffering of our neighbors and not pass by as the priest and the levite. Let us be the merciful neighbor with boundless compassion as the Good Samaritan. Let us, as MLK reflects in his sermon on the Good Samaritan, “develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” And let us do this together as a community, as Church, so that we may be known for our boundless love.