Who is my neighbour?

Sermon on the event of National Chaos

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

C Праздником

   Today is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, and the Sunday after the Ascension into Heaven of our Lord. I had intended to mention the importance of that First Council. And it is important: what they accomplished, how they accomplished it, how they stood up for the Faith once delivered — how they humbled themselves and asked not “What do you think?” But rather “What were you taught?”

   And I also intended to mention the crucial significance of the Ascension, how it completes the Incarnation, how Christ brings our humanity, sanctified, as a gift to His Father, creating for us a path to the Kingdom of Heaven, how He finishes His undoing of Adam’s sin. . . . and more of our Holy Paradox to revel in. 

   And much has happened this week. We are gathered here for the first Public Service since the “Stay At Home” order. This week we reached 100,000 deaths due to this pandemic. Some of them have been Orthodox Clergy: Archbishop Pimen, Bishop Benjamin of Zheleznogorsk died in the hospital in Kursk, ProtoPresbyter Paul and early in this pandemic ProtoDeacon Alexander in Las Vegas. While we enjoy having a public service this week we must remember those whom this disease has taken from us, and pray for them. Even though in this county we are entering Phase II, I fear that we shall see a spike soon in other places because of other things that are happening. 

   We cannot ignore the pain and unrest that is bubbling up in some places of our nation, and raging in others. We have seen privilege used to attack others this week, and we have seen a man murdered with impunity. People are angry, and rightly so. Yet the evil one often does not care if our anger is righteous or not, he can use it. And there are humans also who want to exploit our anger for their own twisted purposes. Like a forest that has been dried out by hot weather and not enough rain over time, all it takes is for someone to ignite the fire, and watch it take off. This is true today, and it was true in Jesus’ day. 

The events of our day cause us to pause and question: “Who is my neighbour?”

   One day a lawyer came to Jesus and asked Him what the greatest commandment was. Jesus throws the question back at him. The lawyer says the Sh’ma: Thou shalt love the Lord the God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. And the second: Love thy neighbour as thyself.  But the lawyer wants to justify himself and asks “Who is my neighbour?” He thinks that most of the people he meets are not his neighbour, and that he owes them nothing, that they are people that he can freely despise and hate.

Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Remember that in Jesus’ day the Samaritans were despised by Jews. 

We in the Orthodox Church take a number of approaches to this parable. 

   “We meet all sorts of people along the Jericho Road, and some of them are victims whose only claim is that they have need. Along the Jericho Road we meet people who think that life is what they can take and what they can exact, what they can demand from us or from others. We also meet along the way people who feel that religion is one thing and the cries of humanity are another.” (Rev. Henry Durham) We must admit that in certain ways, we are all of those people. 

   We are asked, by the Church, to look deeper and consider ourselves the man who fell among thieves, and Christ as the Samaritan Who comes to save us from death. We have visited wounds upon ourselves: “I am the man who fell among thieves, even my own thoughts; they have covered all my body with wounds, and I lie beaten and bruised. But come to me, O Christ my Saviour and heal me.” In some ways we are our own worst enemy. Our thoughts and passions have beaten us up and robbed us. Yet Christ comes to heal our self-inflicted wounds and to bind them up and to heal them. I would be an irresponsible priest if I did not mention this aspect. Sometimes it is we who are in need of mercy. 

   Jesus asks us, through this parable: Who is our neighbour? And we must look around us at the other people. Just as this lawyer wants to limit “who is my neighbour?”  . . . just as the priest and the levite both wanted to limit, “who is my neighbour?”  . . . so we often want to do the same. The final point of this parable is that the one who is merciful is the neighbour. Sometimes our neighbor’s wounds are obvious; sometimes it is hard to see another’s wound through their hate. We must be the one who has mercy. 

Who is our neighbour?

   Our neighbour is everyone. And in this day of internet and global communications, our neighbour may well be in another state or on another continent. We must be the one who has mercy. We must be the one who listens, who hears, who gives space for others who hide their wounds. 

   And it is easy to let our ears go deaf to Jesus’ call to be merciful when there are so many others out there wounding and leaving for dead. We see how senselessly people are despised for no reason other than they don’t look like us or don’t talk like us. It is easy to despise others. And today it is easy to despise those who do not even try to hide that they despise others. But this is not the Christian way. 

   Jesus said to the lawyer and to us: “go thou and do likewise.” Go and be merciful the same way this despised man was merciful in His parable. We, with the lawyer, still keep searching — trying to justify in our minds, finding ways in which others are not our neighbour. 

May the Lord God have mercy on us all. 

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