The Good Samaritan and the Agape of God

August 14, 2016—The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity                                        

       The New Testament was written in Greek for a reason. God chose that ancient language for his written gospel because his gospel is about a special kind of love, for which the Greeks have the perfect word. The Greeks have three words for love. One is “philia” from which the city of Philadelphia takes its name. And Philadelphia means what? (No, it is not Greek for cream cheese). It means “brotherly love”. “Philia” speaks to the affection and sentiment that binds family and friends. It expresses itself as loyalty, fraternity, fidelity. This is the love with which we are most familiar day to day. Then there is “eros," the bond that unites lovers who are drawn together in sexual passion. This is the love they say the average man thinks about 90 percent of his waking hours; and you wonder what’s wrong with the world. When Jesus spoke of love, he seldom spoke of “philadelpia” and never “eros.” He most often used the word “agape”; it’s a word seldom used in ancient literature except in the New Testament where it’s used on almost every page. Agape is holy love, the love that originates in God’s heart and is therefore, perfect. When Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt.5.48), he meant that we should aim to become living souls who’s every word and deed is motivated by and expresses agape, the holy and perfect love of God.  

      God sent his Son into the world to reveal the perfect love of God. Jesus modeled that love by his sinless life; a life lived in perfect conformity with God’s will and word right up to his death on a cross. But In him we have more than an example of holiness to emulate. In Him we have a true Savior who rescues us who have fallen into sin, and lifts us up to his level of perfect holiness, that with his help and by his grace we might become as He is: one with God the Father in perfect love.

          In the sermon last Sunday, I spoke to you about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a story that illustrates the unconditional love of God our Father (Lk.15.11-32). This week I’m going to speak about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk.10.25-37). These two parables are intimately related and together they convey the entire gospel of God’s perfect love. These two parables are two sides of the same coin, a coin that says on one side “Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and soul” and on the other it says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself." In the Parable of the Prodigal Son Jesus shows us the depth of God’s love for us. We are never going to be happy as individuals or united as a society until we come together in God whose love alone has the power to unite us. But that is only half of the gospel. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus shows us that just as God loves us, so must we love one another; for love is nothing but sentiment and poetry until it is freely shared with those in need.

        Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a young man who asks him, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus doesn’t take the bait and get into a game of trying to define who is or is not my neighbor. He ignores that trick question and like a good politician who keeps on message no matter what, Jesus talks about he wants to talk about: sainthood. Jesus doesn’t quibble about who is or is not a neighbor. The bigger question to him, the only question to him is who is and who is not fulfilling the law to love their neighbor. Do you love? Do you? Do you really love others as God loves us? That was Jesus’s passion. He told the parable of the Good Samaritan to make his point that those who love God must show it by loving others as God loves us.

        As he would tell his disciples on the night of the Last Supper, the only evidence there is that a man or woman loves God is by the love we show for one another (John13.35). And remember what Jesus meant by love. He did not mean merely the camaraderie that good ol’ boys have for each other or the secret intimacy that lovers share in bed. He meant “agape." Where agape is absent, there is no love of God. And again what is agape? Well, that is what the Sermon on the Mount is about. Jesus summarized his doctrine of agape in the prelude to that sermon, in the immortal words that we call the Beatitudes (Mt.5.1-10). There, with the power of beauty and grace Jesus set forth his vision of love. In these words the Son of God, who has come to us from the heart of the Father, tells us what he has seen in heaven where love is all in all. And this is what he tells us: Love is a hunger and a thirst for righteousness, a desire to be and do good always. Love does not recoil at the misery of others but is empathic towards those who suffer, humble and ready to serve even the lowest people in society. Love is infinitely merciful, and kind, even to those who are unkind to you. Love is gentle, love seeks to live in peace not only with your own kind but with all people. And love is strong. Love does not quit being love. No matter what they do to you, love just keeps loving them back. Love never ends. That was Jesus’s way of agape and He calls each of us to follow Him in living that way. 

       Jesus’s mission was and is to turn faithless sinners into faithful saints in whose rock solid conviction and purity of heart the lost souls of this world will see the kingdom of heaven revealed. Jesus’s mission was and is to build up an army of saints whose love for sinful humanity is as strong as his own and who will by the power of that love draw the world to Our Blessed Lord. A saint is one who lives in a spirit of agape as Jesus did, pouring out mercy and compassion, pity and empathy for those who suffer, who come to their rescue with no questions asked; seeking nothing in return but the privilege and satisfaction of knowing that you did the right thing.

       Christ made the hero of his great parable a Samaritan, an outsider. The Samaritans were to the Jews as the Yankees were to the Confederates. Israel fought a civil war several centuries before Christ was born; a war that left the Samaritan Jews and the Jerusalem Jews embittered and estranged from each other. Imagine going to Atlanta in 1865 and telling a story in which the hero is General Sherman. Why did Jesus do this? Because the Jews in his generation to whom he had come in fulfillment of their scriptures treated him as though he were a Samaritan, and not their king. They rejected Him and did not see Him for who he was, but treated Him as though He were a hated adversary. Jesus is the Good Samaritan and the pitiful victim in the ditch dying alone is you and me and every sinner who will perish unless rescued by a redeemer. Jesus is that Redeemer. And yet so many still do not see him for who he really is. They think he’s a stranger, an unorthodox outsider, a man who doesn’t belong to us let alone exercise authority over us. And yet he is our Savior who saves us by the charity that is in His sacred heart; a heart that is as big a God’s and full of agape, the perfect love of the Holy Spirit that heals and redeems the human soul.

       Having loved us who loved him not, he expects us to go forth and do the same for others. Jesus taught us this in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt.6.9-15): “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray over and over again. But do we stop to think what we are saying? We are asking God in this prayer to treat us exactly as we treat others and no better. How many of us can pass that test? When Peter asked him how many times must I forgive? Jesus said, seventy times seven, which in effect means infinitely, keep forgiving again and again and again (Mt.18.21).

       And then to illustrate His point, he told a story about a manager who asked the owner of the estate to be forgiven a large debt and the owner forgave him. But then that same manager, when someone who owed him a little asked forgiveness of his little debt, he would not grant it. When the owner of the estate heard about the manager’s hardness of heart, he became so angry that he threw the manager into prison and threw away the key. And Jesus ends the story by warning: so will God to you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (Mt.18.35).

       When we see Christ on the cross looking down forgiving a world of sinners, remember: He expects you and me to do the same. And our heavenly reward, if there is one, will be in proportion to how we have forgiven others. Forgiveness is not forgetting as if nothing happened. Forgiveness remembers: you don’t want to get burned again. But forgiveness takes the high road and never stoops to the other person’s level. Always be the bigger person. Always take the high road. Turn the other cheek does not mean be a door mat and let others walk all over you. It takes a great deal of courage and integrity, self –discipline and virtue to be strong enough to turn the other cheek. Be that hero: be stronger, better and bigger than the one who hurt. Be like Christ. He went to the cross in obedience to his Father and by so doing he conquered the world. Christ did not come into the world to get even with sinners, he came to save them. And how did he do that? He loved them. As much as he loved God he loved even those who rejected him. In some ways he loved them even more. Love those who hurt you, pray for those who abuse you, bless those who curse you, forgive, them as Christ, the Good Samaritan loved us. Love those who are loveless and though the world may never know it, God will write the title saint before your name in the book of life (Phil.4.3; Rev.20.12).

       The Good Samaritan saved the man given up for dead by pouring wine on his wounds. Jesus saves us by pouring the wine of his blood on our wounded souls. "This is my blood, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins," He said as consecrated the cup of wine. That is the true “mysterium fidei,” the mystery of faith.  Jesus saves us by His precious blood, the wine of God’s mercy (1Pt.1.19). Every time you kneel at the communion rail and receive the blood of Christ, think of the Good Samaritan rescuing that poor man in the ditch by pouring wine into his wounds and know that you are that man, and Christ has “saved you by his precious blood.”

      Jesus’s two great parables the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan both have the same message: the way to evangelism is by loving others. I have a sign in my office that says “Love is contagious; we catch it from each other.” It’s a cute saying with a deep meaning. Love doesn’t just happen. We learn how to love from others who love us. The church is a school and the Good Samaritan is teaching the most important class. In every encounter with another human being we have an opportunity to put the mystery faith into practice: as Christ had poured the wine of his love on your wounds, pour the wine of your love on others' wounds. Be among the saints who take what Christ has given you and give it generously to others; and so we will, together with Christ, heal this broken world, one soul at a time, until we are able to say we are all one in the faith as He is one, bound forever in the love of the Holy Spirit, the perfect agape of God.