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Our Gospel parable this morning illustrates the greatest commandment of the Law: to love God with one’s whole being and one’s neighbor as oneself. As the commandment itself says quite clearly: God is not satisfied with external deeds or words—anymore than one’s spouse would be (marriage is an icon of the loving union of Christ God and His Bride, the Church). Like our spouse, He commands of us that our whole being, down to the root of our heart, exist wholly in the love of God, not one particle of our love held back and reserved for another—an idol or thief in today’s parable.
Let me say something important about God’s commandments in general. They are life-creating. To obey them is to be raised from nothing into being. “He commanded,” says the Psalmist, “and [the world] was created. He spoke, and it came to be” Ps 33.9). Not just into “being”, but into “well-being,” even “eternal-being”, following St Maximos the Confessor; or, into health and vigor, soterioi, following Wisd Sol (1:15). In His Pascha, the LORD re-creates us, raising us from death to life; but not to the biological life of the world that passes away, but into His own divine, eternal life.
The world, in other words, exists through and in the divine commandment. Outside the divine commandment, nothing exists. As St John says: “Apart from Him, not even one thing came to be” (Jn 1:3).
God is love, writes St John. He is merciful and deeply compassionate, sings the Psalmist. Obey this the greatest of God’s commandments and find yourself being taken up from nothing into being in which you exist wholly in divine mercy and compassion. Truly to be is to exist wholly in the love and mercy of God, to be all light, all joy.
This first and greatest of the commandments, then, is but the first command God spoke: “Let there be light!” means, let the creation come to exist in divine mercy and compassion; let it come to life in the love of God. Therefore, not to be merciful and compassionate as God is, is not to be! To live in the love of the world and not in Christ, the love of God, is not to live! The measure of my love for God, then, and of my love for my neighbor is the measure of the degree to which I am alive in the mystery of Christ!
I am caught by how the lawyer asks his question: “What should I do,” he says, “to inherit eternal life?” The word is poein. It is the word used by Scripture to denote God creating the heavens and the earth, the animals and plants, and finally man, as male and female, in the image and likeness of God. But, the word also means, to write a poem; and a poiema, in Greek, is not just a thing made, but an art, a craft, a poem that is made. The creation is a divine poem! Man is a divine poem (Eph 2:10)! So—to wax poetic—to obey the commands of God is to become a poem; to be raised, let’s say, from a prosaic existence—flat, dull—into a poetic existence, a lyrical life or, let’s say, a liturgical life of divine joy and beauty.
The question of the lawyer, then, can be translated: “How do I become God’s poem?” And the LORD answers: “Do (poiei) this [commandment] and you will live.” Shall we say, transcribe this commandment into your heart” and you will become the divine poem you were meant to be.
The certain man in our parable this morning is Israel—as is clear from the way he is described, which takes us back to the prophets, especially Isaiah. It says that this man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem is where God’s Holy Temple is; it’s where God dwells. Here, then, Jerusalem represents the Source of Life in the Love of God. The plains of Jericho are where the Israelites played the harlot and sacrificed to the idols of their neighbors. Israel, then, went down from Jerusalem to Jericho: Adam turned away from the love of God, from life, and gave his desires to the idols of the world. He fell in with thieves; he gave himself to the passions of the idols—lust, anger, greed—and they beat him and lacerated him and left him half dead by the side of the road.
But, note that the priest and the Levite also are going down to Jericho and therefore away from Jerusalem, away from God. I wonder if the priest and the Levite are the self-righteous, who, in their moral rectitude, feel only a self-righteous contempt for those who have become victims of their passions and addictions, by their own choice. The man is “immoral”, the priest and Levite are “moral” and “righteous”; but, they are all going down to Jericho, away from Jerusalem, away from the love of God to the idols.
St Maximos says, the source of all evil is self-love. Idolatry we could say is the form self-love takes. Therefore, they are all idolaters, devotees of their ego; the only difference is the form their self-love takes.
They are not divine poems, anymore. They are words that have gone their own way to produce a cacophony of noises, an anarchy of ideas that have no inner coherence, no inner meaning because they are oriented not toward the Life and Light of the divine poet but toward darkness and nothingness.
We read in Ephesians this morning that the LORD, having destroyed on His Cross, in His own flesh, the enmity between us and God, made—poiesas—us one with God. In the parable, He is the Samaritan; and, He is the only one who is not going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. It says, simply, that He was traveling on the Way—odeuon, from odos, Way—He who is Himself the Way. He was not going down from Jerusalem, or from the Temple of God, because His Body is itself, in the mystery of His Incarnation, the Living Temple of God. It says that He saw the man and felt visceral compassion. He is the Poet who has come to one of His words who has inherent meaning and beauty, who was created in the image of His own immortality, who was meant to live in His divine Poem, and He sees him lying beside the road, half-dead, the victim of his idols, fallen into the anarchy of meaninglessness and nothingness.
It says that He washed the man with oil and wine, which the fathers take as the sacramental mysteries of the Church—and so, they are the mystery of the Holy Spirit. He set him on His mule, which the fathers take as the LORD’s human nature. He set him on the cornerstone of His own Body; He raised the man from death to life in the mystery of His Holy Pascha; He brought Him out of the cacophony of his anarchy, his spiritual and psychic fragmentation, and into the Household of God, the Living Temple of Christ’s Body, the Church.
But, the Temple of God is the creation itself, heaven and earth and everything in it. He raised the man from the darkness of lying half-dead by the side of the road and into the Temple of His own creation. The Poet brought him back into His divine Poem. In the Temple of God, all of creation rejoices in never-silent hymns of healing and life-giving beauty, in the joy and wonder of the divine Poet’s life-giving death and death-destroying Resurrection.
There are many beautiful words being sung in the divine melody of this morning’s Scripture readings. Let’s lay hold of this one to take home with us: Who are you? You are a divine poem. You are a word of inherent beauty and meaning; you existed even before you existed as a logos in the Mind of the Divine Poet. You were brought into being to live, to move, to have your being, in this liturgical dance, this lyrical poem of the divine Poet’s Creation, His divine poem.
He has come into His poem, and He sees us lying half-dead by the side of the road. Seeing us, He does not look down on us or condemn us in His moral superiority and righteousness. Quite the opposite: His Moral Righteousness is expressed precisely in His visceral compassion. Let’s turn our heart toward Him; let’s give ourselves to Him. Let’s center our life on the Church. In our inner man, let’s rest in the Church’s liturgical rhythm and allow ourselves to descend into the divine Poem of the Poet. This is what heals the soul’s inner anarchy and establishes her in the Peace of the divine Poet, our of which we begin to sing out in the joy of the immortal meaning and beauty for which we were made, in the praise and thanksgiving of love for the divine Poet who made us as a poem because of His infinite goodness, kindness, and compassion. Amen!