St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Good Samaritan

Sermon Preached by Fr Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 14, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God.  Amen.

When St. Paul preached on Mars hill introducing Athens to the God they called “unknown” he said, “He is not far from each one of us.  In him we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:27-28)  Thus we swim in a veritable ocean of grace.  God is in us and around us everywhere and in everything.  How do we miss Him?

The poet Kabir wrote words to this effect, “The fish in the water that is thirsty needs serious professional counseling.”

That is, I am afraid, the situation we find ourselves in.  We are impossibly thirsty fish swimming in an inexhaustible ocean of the sweetest of all possible water. We cannot see the forest for the trees. We are very much like two of the characters in today’s Gospel.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is about four fish: one, a Jewish fish taken out of water, robbed and beaten and left to die on the bank, two other Jewish fish and a Samaritan fish.  The two other Jewish fish were not just any Jewish fish.  One was a priest, a gefilte fish, and the other a Levite, a lox, both of whom were very religious, knowledgeable of the Torah, schooled in the social teachings of the prophets, open to the mystical traditions of Judaism. Delicious fish indeed!

The third was a Samaritan fish, a carp, a bottom-dweller!  Despised, rejected, and not very good to eat!  A member of a religious school that didn’t worship in the right place or in the right way, who misinterpreted the Torah and the prophets, and who didn’t have the sense God gave a minnow.

Although the priest and the Levite fishes should have known better, after all, they were the religious ones, the “orthodox”, right-believing, right worshipping ones, they ignored their suffering fellow fish and swam by on the other side of the stream.  The Samaritan fish, the one who supposedly had not a lick of sense, took care of him.

Jesus meant to show that what really matters is not how much you know or how much prestige you have, or what social strata, religion, or race you belong to, what matters is how much you love.  Only the Samaritan fish actually knew he was swimming in an ocean of divine love.  How do we know?  By the loving way he responded. Only he was not thirsty because he had been drinking from the ocean of grace.

I love these words from a poem by St. Francis:  “No one lives outside the walls of this sacred place, existence…Differences exist, but not in the city of love.  Thus, my vows and yours I know they are the same.”  Everyone who loves is of God.  Everyone who fails to love is a thirsty fish in the Great Sea like a fish “out of water”.  Fish out of the water die.  Fish who do not know they are in the water are very sad fish. Happiness is knowing that you are a fish in an inexhaustible source of beautiful, fresh water. God is love, the Gospel is love, and love is life. 

Let’s hear from St. Isaac of Syria.

“One who has found love feeds on Christ every day and at every hour and he becomes immortal thereby. For Jesus said, ‘Whoever eats this bread that I shall give him shall never see death’ (cf. John 6.58). Blessed is he who eats the bread of love that is Jesus.  For whoever feeds on love, feeds on Christ…as John bears witness saying, ‘God is love’ (I John 4.8). Therefore one who lives in love receives from God the fruit of life. He breathes, even in this world, the air of resurrection…Love is the Kingdom…Such is the ‘wine to gladden the heart of man’ (Psalm 104.15). Blessed is he who drinks of this wine…the sick have drunk of it and become wise.” 

Brothers and sisters, we swim in a veritable ocean of divine grace.  We live in God, we move in God.  Our being is immersed and suffused by God.  Every breath we breathe we breathe in God.  Every ray of sunlight is the light of His Grace. Everything in creation is a sign of His presence. Since this is true there is nothing to keep us from loving one another as Christ has loved us except our self-imposed blindness.  In fact, St. Maximus says, the Gospel absolutely precludes us from hating any human being.

Repentance is to lay aside everything that is not love and then practicing love with every ounce of our being.  Gradually, we change into His likeness as we repent and practice.  And we are not alone in this effort.  The omnipresent One is here to help.  What remains is our conscious effort to wake up and respond to this reality.

St. Isaac of Syria tells us how.

“Let yourself be persecuted but do not persecute others.
Let yourself be crucified but do not crucify others.
Let yourself be insulted but do not insult others.
Let yourself be slandered but do not slander others.
Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  Such is the sign of purity.
Suffer with the sick.  Be afflicted with sinners.
Exult with those who repent.  Be the friend of all.
But in your spirit remain alone.
Spread your cloak over anyone who falls into sin and shield him.
And if you cannot take his fault on yourself and accept punishment in his place, do not destroy his character.”

Advent begins tomorrow and the cosmos prepares for the coming of Christ.  We need to join the universal effort and prepare ourselves to receive Him.  How? Practice love.