When Has Night Ended and Day Begun
Be a “Good Samaritan.” This biblical phrase is a part of our common American language, even though many people today, without biblical literacy or involvement in the Church, may have no idea of its origin. Yet when someone says, “He was a Good Samaritan,” or “Try to be a Good Samaritan,” most people know that this implies helping others, reaching out to those in need, doing something good for someone in a difficult situation.
The Good Samaritan reminds us of the Gospel story where a stranger, a foreigner who was even considered a heretic, unexpectedly saw someone in desperate need and changed his plans no matter how inconvenient it was, in order to reach out in love to help the other. And its spirit doesn’t simply imply doing one good deed, but is centered on a choice of lifestyle, a choice we make daily on whether we are willing to help whoever crosses our path in the midst of their difficulties and challenges.
The attitude of the Good Samaritan tests our faith – is our faith something that impacts how we live and how we treat others each and every day? Remember, St. James says, “Faith without works is dead,” and whenever we face challenges each and every day, we can put our faith into action.
Is the Christian faith we proclaim alive and does it influence our daily life? Or is it sterile, making no difference in our lives and in the lives of others? We see the vitality of our faith by the way we treat the people we meet throughout the day, including especially the people we may not like, the people who may be different than us, the people we may have already put in a category as the “other.”
Remember that ultimately we will be judged by the mercy and love we show to others. Our love for God that we proclaim can be seen very clearly in how we love the people who cross our path throughout the day. Are we treating the other with respect, with love, with kindness? Are we willing to reach out to those in need, who have fallen among robbers and been left half dead? Will we inconvenience ourselves, change our plans, and give not only of our money, but also of our time and effort to help others?
Throughout Scriptures, we are reminded that Jesus identified with those in need. The man who was robbed and beaten, left half dead on the road to Jericho was Me. The hungry child from a broken home was Me. The migrant whom society despises or rejects is Me. The young man or woman struggling with addictions is Me. Those old people abandoned in the nursing home is Me. The sick person in the hospital, who no one visited, is Me. Whatever you do to the least of my brothers or sisters, you do to Me, Jesus noted!
We hear again and again throughout the Gospels that the greatest commandment is love – to first love God and then one another. These two loves cannot be separated from one another because in fact, they are two sides of the same coin. As we grow in our love for God, we automatically grow in our love for humanity. If our love for God doesn’t lead us to love others more and more, than our love for God is something false, insincere, and a lie. Today’s story of the Good Samaritan vividly highlights that we cannot say we love God if we don’t love each person who crosses our path – each and every person! As St. John the Theologian says, “You are a liar if you say you love God who you can’t see, and don’t love your neighbor who you can see.”
Here is the real test for our sincerity of faith. Do we concretely love those around us, even those who don’t love us back? Divine love knows no limits, and we offer this divine love even to our enemies, to those who may be different from ourselves, to those who represent something foreign to us. The shocking aspect of the Good Samaritan story was the fact that Jesus told his Jewish audience a story about a “good” Samaritan. For Jews, Samaritans were impure, heretical, half-blooded Jews who were the enemy. To call a Samaritan “good” was an oxymoron. The Priest or Levite in the story, the people of God should have been the heroes, not the despised Samaritan! Yet Jesus showed that this heretical and impure Samaritan understood divine love better than the supposedly religious people of his day.
Your neighbor, your co-worker, your family members, even the stranger you pass by on the street – these people will give a testimony for each one of us on the day of judgment; they will witness before our Lord to how we actually lived out our Christian faith. Did we sincerely love them as we proclaimed love for God? Did we offer concrete acts of charity to them, treating them as we would Christ? Did we understand that all we possess is not our own, but instead we are simply caretakers of all we have, and we realize that God expects us to generously share His gifts with others in need?
Remember, true Christian charity does not limit itself to helping only “our own,” or only those who are like us. According to today’s Gospel lesson of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reveals that our neighbor is not exclusively someone connected to me by blood, or country, or even faith, but that my neighbor is, at each instant, anyone whom God brings near to me; every person who crosses my path – whether Christian or Muslim, atheist or secular, an American or an immigrant. The one in need represents my neighbor, and my Christian faith tells me I must reach out and help them!
As we Orthodox Christians begin the Christmas Fast on Thursday, November 15, and try to renew our faith during these 40 days before Christmas through increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving, let us remember that nothing will reveal better our journey towards God than concrete actions of love for those in need all around us! Let each one of us begin preparing for Christmas from now – not by shopping and decorating and throwing parties, but more importantly by offering acts of concrete love, by imitating the Good Samaritan to a needy humanity all around us!
I conclude with a beautiful story. A wise old teacher was sitting around a fire with a number of young students. As all sat in silence waiting for the wise man to speak, the teacher asked the question, “How can we know when the night has ended and the day has begun?”
After some discussion among the students, one young man answered, “We know the night has ended and the day has begun when we can look in the distance and determine whether a dog is a Labrador or a Golden Retriever.” “A good answer,” the teacher said, “But not the one I’m looking for.” After a period of time, another student suggested, “The night has ended and the day has come when light falls on the leaves, and we can tell whether the tree is a palm tree or a fig tree.” “Another good answer,” he said, “but not the one I seek.” After several more attempts, the students gave up and asked the elder, “What is the response you desire.”
The wise man softly answered, “You know that the night has ended and the day has begun when you are able to look into the eyes of any and every human being and see them not as a stranger, but as your brother and your sister. For as long as you can’t see the stranger as your brother or sister, you will always remain in the night.
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Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019