26th Sunday after Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today, our Lord is asked directly, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ The answer confirmed by our Lord is this: ‘You must love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your strength, and with all your mind; and you must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Christ then exemplifies this through the teaching of the Good Samaritan and his selfless love for his neighbor.
We are to love God with our entire being and we are to express and demonstrate that love in very practical and selfless terms by showing love to our neighbor.
This is the great paradox of the Gospel message… it is in denying ourselves that we are blessed, it is in giving that we receive, it is in dying that we live. It is precisely through this outward, ‘other-focused’ life of loving God and our neighbor that we begin to change ourselves – this transformation of self is not our primary focus but is a consequence of a simple and sincere focus on loving God and others. If our focus and objective is self-centered, we will never make true progress in the spiritual life.
Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us many things in the parable of the Good Samaritan. This teaching was given in response to a very important question asked by the young lawyer. In response to hearing that we are to love God and to love our neighbor, the young man asks: ‘And who is my neighbor?’
This is an important question! Who is my neighbor?
I think our Lord’s parable makes this abundantly clear… our neighbor is the person before us at any given time and, as the Apostle Paul states in his Epistles, the time of our salvation is now.
We must be present in each moment of our life and awake to the spiritual opportunities for good which God brings before us.
I remember hearing of a young man who was very inspired by the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner). He began by praying these 100 times a day and his zeal and enthusiasm grew to such an extent that he was praying thousands of prayers daily. One afternoon he was out on the balcony of his apartment, deeply immersed in his prayers, when the neighbor below came home and began making noise. The young man was so irritated at this intrusion of his peace that he began throwing dishes from his balcony down to the balcony of his neighbor!
Now, what kind of awareness of the moment and what kind of spirit is being demonstrated by such behavior? Isn’t this young man exactly like the Pharisees and Priests who passed by the poor Samaritan? So wrapped up in his own concerns and illusions of spirituality that he could not see the neighbor Christ has placed right before him.
God brings before us exactly what we may need for our salvation. Sometimes that may mean a rebuke or a challenge in our life that can be very unpleasant indeed. But we need to trust in the divine mercy and plan of God for our salvation and give thanks to Him for all things.
This week all over America families and friends gathered together to slow down for a moment, to share a meal, and to give thanks to their Creator for all of His blessings. What a joyful holiday this is and what an appropriate attitude this encourages of gratefulness to God.
The scriptures are very clear… In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thess 5:18). And: Continue in prayer and watch in the same with thanksgiving (Col. 4:2).
Our prayers to God may take many forms… quite often our prayers are of supplication – asking God for those things we think we need. But how often do we stop to take time to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God? How often do we stop to take stock of all of the countless blessings which God bestows upon us?
Gratitude to God for all things is an essential ingredient in the process of our salvation and of our striving to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength and mind.
St Ignatius Brianchaninov writes: ‘If your heart does not have thankfulness, then force yourself to thankfulness; along with it, peace will come into your soul. Repetition of the words, ‘Glory to God for all things’, or ‘May God’s will be done’ has a highly satisfactory effect against very serious sorrow. It’s a strange thing! Sometimes the soul loses all strength from the powerful influence of sorrows; the soul as if goes deaf and loses its ability to feel anything. In these moments I begin to say out loud, forced and mechanically, only with my tongue: ‘Glory be to God’; and hearing praise of God, the soul begins little by little to come alive at this laudation, then is encouraged, feels at peace and is consoled.’
The keys to being able to live a life of gratitude to God are to be present in the moment, to trust in the goodness of God, and to orient our attention away from our self and instead direct our primary concern toward God and our neighbor.
Salvation must never devolve into a selfish pursuit. Salvation is the process of loving God and of being loved and transformed by God in return.
God grant us that generous and grateful spirit to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and let us recognize and love our neighbor as our self.