Joy of All Who Sorrow

Homily for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost / St. John Chrysostom

Gospel [Luke 10:25-37 (§53); John 10:9-16 (§36)]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

Dear father, brothers and sisters:

In today’s Gospel we move on and travel further into St Luke’s Gospel and hear not another wondrous miracle or exorcism, as we have heard these past couple of weeks, but instead perhaps the most famous parable in the whole of the Gospel – the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Interestingly, this parable has become so famous that it has entered the English Language as a phrase for someone who exhibits outstanding human love and generosity – ‘a good Samaritan’. This parable is also one which is unique to St Luke’s Gospel without parallel in any of the other Gospels and speaks again of St Luke’s concern for the Gentile, for those who were not of the House of Israel. Today we also celebrate the great Archbishop of Constantinople, and Author of the Liturgy we celebrate today, St John Chrysostom. The extraordinary luminary of the Throne of Constantinople and perhaps the greatest homilist of the Orthodox Church. Ironically. However, despite his voluminous output of sermons and commentaries, to my knowledge we do not possess St John’s own homily on this most famous parable. Thus, today we shall draw on St Cyril of Alexandria’s homily on this passage and see what wisdom we can draw from his God-inspired words.

Interestingly, in his homily on this celebrated reading from St Luke’s Gospel, St Cyril does not spend much time on unpacking the parable itself, rather he is more concerned with the wider context of the parable and in particular the expert lawyer who prompted our Lord to preach this parable. Let us thus spend some time today looking more into the context of the reading which might help us to understand its underlying meaning and message further.

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

St Cyril begins his homily denouncing the falsity and hypocrisy of this lawyer who drew near to speak to Christ, not out of a desire to learn, or to be changed, but rather to tempt and trick Him. Again, we should understand by lawyer, here, St Luke does not mean a lawyer or solicitor who would speak within a civil law court. Rather, this would have been a Pharisee or at least a so-called expert in the interpretation of the Mosaic Law and Divine Scriptures. As we are now all too familiar with, although our Lord was followed throughout His ministry by the poor, by the sick, by the despised and rejected by the world, He was always followed wherever He went by a number of people from the spiritual elite of Israel, the priests and religious teachers who were full of envy of the Lord’s miraculous power and the depth of His Wisdom. In particular this devilish band were intent on trying to prove that our Lord departed from the Law and the teachings of Moses and the Prophets and instead was introducing novel teachings. As St Cyril says,

The lawyer, therefore, wishing, or even expecting to be able to entrap Christ, and get Him to say something against Moses, and affirm that His own doctrine was far better than the commandment of which Moses was the minister, drew near tempting Him, and saying, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life.

This lawyer, despite his apparent expert knowledge of the Law and Theology, clearly could not see what was right infront of His eyes, that God had become Incarnate and humbly dwelt amongst us bearing with endless patience the pettiness and hard-heartedness of His creatures.

St Cyril also notes that his false request to know about ‘Eternal Life’ was also a pointed reference to ‘the Saviour’s own expression’ that, in St Cyril’s words, the ‘haughty lawyer to ridicule Him … makes use of His own expressions’.

But of course, our Lord, as God Incarnate, clearly knew what was inside the heart of this lawyer before He even spoke a single word, was not going to be so easily fooled. Thus, rather than providing this teacher of the Law with any opportunity to accuse Him, our Lord clearly shows His love and honour for the Law. 

He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

As St Cyril muses, in answering thus and simply reaffirming the Truth of the Law, the Incarnate Author of the Law, entirely outwits the unfortunate lawyer.

The lawyer has missed his prey, he has shot wide of the mark, his wickedness is unsuccessful …

However, the lawyer doesn’t give up, for we then hear –

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

Again note that the lawyer here was not asking to genuinely understand, but rather ‘to justify himself’ and to continue to justify his unjust interrogation of the Word of God. He thus seeks a further opportunity to ensnare Christ through attempting to condemn His understanding of ‘neighbour’. It is then that our Lord develops His most famous Parable of the Good Samartian that we all know so well. In his homily, St Cyril emphasises that our Lord doesn’t just use the parable to underscore how we are to follow the example of the Samaritan in not showing partiality in our love, but of showing love and compassion upon all those we come across regardless of who they are, where they come from or what they believe; but also turns the parable back upon the Lawyer himself. For this parable, like many of our Lord’s parables was also, in a certain sense, told against the hypocrisy of the self-righteous teacher of the Law that was questioning our Lord. At the end of the Parable not only does our Lord entirely silence the lawyer, but He underscores what it is to be a religious leader.

For the dignity of the priesthood is unavailing to its owners, and equally so is the being called learned in the law, to those who are so reputed, unless they excel also in deeds.

The scandal in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is not only that two Jews – God’s chosen people – look but fail to see and have compassion on their wounded brother, but also, that a Priest and a Levite, the latter of whom had specific religious and educational duties, fail to live up to their high calling and exalted office, and live out the teachings they profess with their lips – to love thy neighbour as thyself.

Today we also celebrate our holy father St John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople and Pillar of Orthodoxy. For all Orthodox Christians, St John is primarily known for his ordering of the Divine Liturgy which we are celebrating today as well as for his activity as a preacher which earned him the title, Chrysostom, in English, “Golden-mouthed”. Each Pascha all of us are inspired and uplifted through the words of his beautiful sermon which is read in every Orthodox Church at the end of Paschal Matins as “the” sermon of sermons on the feast of feasts. Yet, although St John was a great preacher of the Word, unlike the priest and Levite of the Parable we have been meditating on today, he truly modelled what a priest, and indeed a high priest should look like. Indeed, even before he was a priest, whilst he was still a humble reader, St John wrote a brilliant work in 6 books and dialogical format on the nature of the holy Priesthood. It was only when he was ordained a priest in Antioch that he finally preached, but again, unlike the priest and Levite of the parable, and the lawyer who interrogated Christ, St John was not just a preacher of the Word, he was also a doer. Under Saint John, the Antiochian Church provided sustenance each day to as many as 3,000 virgins and widows, not including in this number the wanderers and the sick. When he eventually and inevitably was elected to the episcopate and succeeded Archbishop Nectarios to the Throne of Constantinople, as its Archbishop in 397AD, St John immediately set about reforming and purifying the church in the Imperial city which had fallen into a certain excess of luxury. St John was not a hypocrite and started this work of reformation first on himself and his own episcopal household. The financial means apportioned for the archbishop were channeled by the saint into the upkeep of several hospices for the sick and two hostels for pilgrims. He emptied the Episcopal palace of its costly plate and furniture and sold it for the benefit of the poor and the hospitals. He refused invitations to banquets, gave no dinner parties, and ate the simplest fare in his solitary chamber. He denounced unsparingly luxurious habits in eating and dressing, and enjoined upon the all Orthodox Christians, especially the rich, the duty of almsgiving, which became a constant theme of his godly preaching.

Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food”, and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me”… What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well

Dear father, brothers and sisters, on this day when we commemorate our holy father St John Chrysostom, let us follow the saint’s own example when it comes to living out our lives in harmony with the Gospel each one of us claim to follow. Let us seek to look, see and act as the despised Samaritan who had compassion and showed true love and mercy towards his brother. Let us also remember that our Lord does not need our candles, He does not need our prayers or our thanks or any of our outward shows of piety, these indeed can be an abomination to Him if not offered with the right spirit, rather He, the Merciful One, wants us above all to show mercy towards our brother whoever they may be. As our meek and merciful Saviour says to the conceited lawyer of our Gospel who was led to admit the centrality of mercy, let each one of us also hear these same words addressed to our own stubborn and conceited souls – ‘go and do thou likewise’.