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Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Rev. Canon Dr. Robert Crouse

University of King's College Chapel

Halifax, Nova Scotia 1996

Galatians 5:16f     St. Luke 10:25f


And behold, a certain lawyer stood up,

and tempted him, saying, Master, what

shall I do to inherit eternal life?

The Gospel lesson appointed for this week is one of the best-known passages in the New testament: Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.  It's a well-known story, certainly, but perhaps not always well-understood.  The interpretation of the parables is, in fact, a tricky business: under the surface of simple stories, there are deep layers of meaning for those who have eyes to see.  Today's parable, for instance, could be read on several different levels.


A contemporary reading of it might perhaps see it as a kind of cynical anti-establishment fable: the priest and the Levite, recognized officials of Jewish society, custodians of religious and moral authority, appear in a very uncomplimentary light.  They see the wounded man by the wayside, and they pass by on the other side.  It is left to the Samaritan, the despised heretic and outcast of society, to act with a compassion and a generosity which put the establishment to shame.


Such an interpretation would not be entirely wrong: there is certainly present in the story that element of hostility towards the officials of Judaism.  But that's not the whole point; and it's surely not the basic point.  A parable is, after all, a symbolic or illustrative story, and one must look beneath the surface; one must look beyond the sign to what is signified.  And if one does that, one may find (as ancient interpreters did) a more universal theological and religious meaning.


Who is the wounded wretch, lying by the wayside, stripped of his raiment, and half-dead?  Who is this but lost mankind, wounded by sin, distracted from his road of pilgrimage, stripped of human dignity, and deprived of truly human life?  And who is that magnanimous Samaritan, that despised outsider, who brings solace and healing, who binds up the wounds, and makes provision for the care and convalescence of the traveller?  Who is this but Christ himself, who comes here from outside, as it were; who comes in mercy and forgiveness, and makes provision for our new life in grace, with the two-fold coinage of word and sacrament?


Then comes the final admonition: "Go and do then likewise."  It's an answer to the lawyer's question about how to attain eternal life.  "Go and do thou likewise."  Go and act with the magnanimity - the greatness of soul, the compassion and generosity - of Christ the Good Samaritan.  That is, after all, the Law:  "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all they mind, and thy neighbour as thyself...this do and thou shalt live."


But what about this final admonition:  "Go and do thou likewise"?  Is what we're left with in the end simply a moral exhortation which any liberal humanist - ancient or modern - would certainly applaud?  Moral exhortation, as Aristotle long ago explained, and as we all know perfectly well from our own experience, is of very limited use:  the more fundamental issues have to do with moral perspectives and motivations.  We can "go and do likewise" only insofar as we ourselves become good Samaritans, and that is possible only by the Good Samaritan's gift.  And it is that aspect of the matter that today's Epistle lesson (from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians) insists upon, speaking of goodness as the "fruit of the Spirit." [The Epistle appointed in the 1962 Cdn BCP]


In the Epistle lesson, one finds the typical Pauline opposition between Spirit and flesh; and that is so open to misunderstanding that we had better spend a moment or two thinking about it.  It's important to see that it's not an opposition between Spirit and body.  (Some of you will perhaps recall how St. Augustine, in Book XIV of the City of God, interpreting these Pauline texts, makes precisely that point against Virgil.  Virgil, says Augustine, blames all our ills on the body - the cloddish clay by which the pure spirit is degraded.)  St. Paul, on the contrary, sees all our sins as generated in our souls: the works of the flesh are not the works of the body essentially, but worldly, fleshly preoccupations of the soul. [e.g. "wrath, heresies, envyings..."]


What is required, then, is not a new law, nor a new moral exhortation, but an inner renovation of the mind.  "Walk in the Spirit", says St. Paul, "and ye shall not fulfil the desire of the flesh."  In this perspective, our Gospel parable is not simply about moral exhortation, but is more fundamentally about inner spiritual transformation: renewal of the mind.  "Go and do thou likewise" means "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," and as St. Paul says at the end of our Epistle lesson, "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts."


Now, all of this belongs, of course, to the ordinary teaching of the Church for this thirteenth week of the Trinity season, but I think we can also relate it particularly to the life of the University, and suggest its relevance especially for those of you who are new here.  The whole point of the University is renewal of the mind - a renewal which involves the discovery of the sources and springs of moral and spiritual life.  We live in an age which has to a very great extent forgotten those sources and springs, and I think the "fruits of the Spirit" will not long abide in a world from which the Spirit has been banished.


University education is, of course, many things: skills, and techniques, and knowledge of all kinds; but, above all, it must be about the recovery and repossession of those sources; about the discovery and nutriment of the life of the Spirit.  If our university and its chapel can help you to make such discoveries and find such nutriment; to find, indeed the bread of life, your time here will be well-spent.  God bless you in the undertaking.