- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

The following are excerpts from a sermon based on Luke 10:25-37 preached yesterday by the Rev. Gregory Safchuk at St. Mark Orthodox Church.

In all three synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — Jesus issues and confirms what has been called the “Great Commandment.”

Upon closer inspection, there really are two commandments, but bound together as one in purpose and meaning.

To the question “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered: “‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

To the lawyer who seeks to put Jesus “to the test” in today’s Gospel reading, by asking what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answers a question with a question saying: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

After citing this commandment, Jesus says to him plainly: “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”

“Do this, and you will live” — that’s it: the formula for attaining eternal life.

Simple, but not easy.

And how is it not easy? Because it requires that we go out of our way. It requires that we put aside our plans and activities, goals and desires for the sake of another — for “others,” for God and our neighbor. This is exactly the meaning of the cross of Christ: loving self-denial. It is the reason why so many turn away from Christ sorrowfully when they realize it.

As St. Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”

The lawyer in today’s Gospel knows this, so he seeks to justify himself by saying to Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” Our Lord answers with the story of the good Samaritan.

It is a story of inspiration, indictment and necessity. It is a story which clearly elevates the motivation of kindness and compassion from optional and pleasant behavior on the part of some so inclined, to the universal criterion for salvation and life eternal. It is inspiration in as much as we find the actions of the good Samaritan, the man who shouldn’t care, to be a surprising and refreshing example in imitation of divine love and purpose. It is an indictment in as much as we can likely identify ourselves with the priest and Levite, who should care, but pass by the hapless victim on the other side of the road, offering no assistance.

We might ask ourselves: “Why are they and we tempted to pass by?” If we search our hearts and memories, we perhaps find many occasions in which we were presented a similar opportunity to help another, but chose not to. The first reason that comes to mind is fear.

We are afraid that the man on the side of the road might be feigning disability or illness.

What if we were to approach, and he would rise up to harm and rob us? It’s a risk that we are cautioned by worldly wisdom not to take. What if we went through all that trouble and expense, and he turned out to be a scam artist taking advantage of naive and good-willed people? Then there is the shear practicality of the decision.

Why should we, with our limited time and resources, spend them on a complete stranger when we have other people with needs who are known to us in our lives? What about our sons, daughters, parents, brothers and sisters? We are told that we need to take care of our own, after all.

In answer to these familiar thoughts, the Scriptures tell us in 1 John that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

“But how can we love a perfect stranger?” we might say. By seeing Christ in them.

The sacrifice of self-denial for the sake of God and neighbor isn’t easy, but it’s necessary and made possible only by love. If we have this, we can, indeed, as Christ commanded, go and do likewise.

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