The Samaritan and the Chaplain

Homily 477 – 21st APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 14, 2021
Epistle: (203) Galatians 2:16-20 and (131) 1 Corinthians 4:9-16 (St. Philip)
Gospel: (53) Luke 10:25-37 and (5) John 1:43-51 (St. Philip)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The account of the good Samaritan has been ingrained into most of us in our society, to the point that it might lose some of its significance.

It has entered our language – to be a good Samaritan is a well-known phrase. We have Good Samaritan laws, protecting the behavior of those who render aid.

We have also perhaps lost some of the meaning because being a Samaritan in the time of Christ was not a status to be desired. It was a pejorative, derogatory term.

In other words, to call someone a Samaritan was downright mean.

You can substitute any well-known ethnic slur for Samaritan and get the same idea today.

These people – Samaritans – were despised by the Jews. To have a Samaritan render aid to a Jew, was unthinkable. It is part of the disbelief the Apostles had with Jesus speaking to a Samaritan, and a woman, at the well.

Jesus uses this story to illustrate his point to the lawyer. What was that point?

In theory, it was the answer to a question: who is my neighbor? Who is the one I must assist and love as myself?

Draw the boundary for me, Jesus! Who is to be loved, and who can I, well, not love?

Jesus provides an interesting answer, by first of all rephrasing the question.

He outlines the story, then asks his own question – which one of the people behaved as a neighbor? Which one of the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan acted as a neighbor?

We know the answer.

The thing we need to understand is that the Lawyer was asking the wrong question. The question is not “who is my neighbor?” because the answer to that question is “anyone in need that I can assist.”

Even the unknown person. Even the person that hates us.

We are their neighbor and we are to love them. And if we don’t love them – if we don’t love them – then maybe we have to question our own faith in Christ.

Think about the people who dislike us. The people who dislike the “category” or “group” we belong to – whether it be religious, or social, or economic, or racial.

If we don’t care for them, as persons made in the image and likeness of God, then we become them. We become those who hate us. If we don’t care for them, love them, attend to their needs, we are like them.

We are them.

The saint we celebrated on Friday, my patron saint, is St. Martin of Tours. The story goes as follows:

Martin lived in the 300s and is the first saint venerated in the west who wasn’t martyred. He was the son of a Roman soldier and so when he was a teenager, he was conscripted into the Roman army, reporting directly to Caesar. One day he happened upon a freezing beggar and took his cloak, the garment that signified his imperial rank, and split it in two, so that the poor man could find warmth. That night in a dream he saw Christ who stood before him and said, “Here is Martin, who has clothed me.” Martin was a catechumen at the time, and this encounter with Christ spurred him on to get baptized.

Perhaps overlooked is that he gave the beggar half of the cloak that signified his imperial service. He destroyed his uniform to provide warmth for a beggar – the lowest classes of his day.

St. Martin was a neighbor. During the middle ages, St. Martin’s torn cloak (capella in Latin) was often carried around as a relic. Wherever it went, a small structure was built to house this relic, which came to be called chapels, named after the capella. The keeper of the capella was referred to as a chaplain.

This small act by St. Martin, this neighborly act by a teenaged Roman conscript, was used by God in a magnificent way, and we gained new words and concepts in our language – chapel, and chaplain.

Perhaps we need to contemplate the questions we ask. Instead of “who do I have to love?”, maybe we need to ask Jesus to show us the needs we can meet.

Perhaps instead of “who is my neighbor?” we can consider everyone we encounter as our neighbor. Someone bearing the image of God, an icon. Someone worthy of respect and honor.

Someone worthy of our love, and of God’s love through us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.