• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Where Unity is, God is

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard.

Running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.”

“When God’s people live together in unity.”

This psalm should be written on a placard and placed at the door of every church, for it reminds us of exactly what it means to be a church. To say the rosary and to take the Eucharist, without bothering to love your brothers and sisters around you, is utterly empty. If you can’t love the person in front of you, you certainly can’t love God in heaven. This is what’s so wonderful about Christianity. It’s always directly in front of your face, in the person to your left and to your right.

This is why the cross is such a good symbol. The vertical line in the cross shows us that we have to be heavenly minded. The horizontal line reminds us that we must be earthly minded. You can’t have one without the other. We have to love God and we have to love one another.

The images in this psalm are so crisp and tangible. Like oil pouring down on our heads, God anoints us with Grace when we live in unity. Or like dew that covers a field in the morning, when we live in unity God opens up the heavens and rains down His blessings.

Today, in our gospel reading, we’re given a parable of Christian unity and Christian love.

First, a lawyer asks Jesus Christ, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

To which we’re told: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”

But the lawyer isn’t satisfied. I have to admit, I like this lawyer. He asks questions. He wants more. And when we read the Bible we too have to be like this lawyer, striving to flesh out the meaning of the gospel, digging deeper to get to the meat of God’s ways. The lawyer asks Jesus, ‘Alright, so I must love my neighbor, but Who is my neighbor?’

And Jesus Christ responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.”

First, a priest saw him on the road, looked at his bruised body, put up his nose, and quickly walked on. Next, a Levite came to the place, looked away, perhaps stepped across the body, and went on with his business. Finally, a Samaritan who was traveling by, saw the bruised and broken man, and had compassion. He went to him, cleaning his wounds with oil and wine, bandaged him, and set him on his donkey. Then he rode on to the nearest inn and paid the innkeeper to take care of the wounded man.

There are a lot of angles in this story, but one that isn’t so often focused on is the point of view of the innkeeper.

The Saints and Fathers of the Church unanimously interpret the inn as the Church. The journey from Jerusalem to Jericho, they tell us, is our human journey from paradise to exile. Each time we sin we move farther away from God and on that path end up getting beaten by robbers - the world, the flesh, and the devil. The priests and the Levites represent all the promises and philosophies of the world, which, in the end, are bankrupt. They might come in handy at times, but when we’re bruised and broken by life, they leave us stranded. But Jesus Christ comes along and finds us on the roadside, calling out, “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Mt. 11:28). He washes and anoints us, and then brings us to a place of healing, the Church.

The Good Samaritan took the beaten up man lying in the ditch of the road and brought him to the inn, asking the innkeeper to watch over him for a night.

In the same way, our Lord and God brings each of us through the doors of this church, each with our own history of bruises, and asks us to care for one another for a short season.

Can you imagine what the innkeeper must have been thinking? “Why, this man is covered up in blood and stinks to high heaven. What do you think this is? This isn’t a hospital; it’s an inn, and a respectable inn at that.” But the Samaritan hands the broken person over, nonetheless, and the rest remains up to the innkeeper.

In the same way, most people probably desire to serve God and humanity. But it’s all too easy to get caught up in visions of grandeur and dreams of doing great works, while the real work for us is always just in front of our noses. Sometimes, we want to get up and go fight dragons, when really the job that God has given us is to love the person in the same room with us. He walks through the door and brings us exactly what we need. Our only concern is to accept the task and to love one another.

This is why you can’t live a Christian life without living it within a community. Our faith is right here, with God, the saints, the martyrs, and with one another.

Sometimes, the people that we’re closest to are the ones that we are most quick to oversee, to grumble about, or to get frustrated with. It’s easy to walk out the front door and put on our Christian masks, but it’s another thing to look at our spouse, our brother, the person sitting next to you day after day, and see in him and her, the very person of Jesus Christ.

This is what it means to be a Christian. This is a church. It’s that place to meet Christ and to meet one another, all together as one body, striving to encourage, comfort, forgive, and love.

St. Basil once wrote, “Nothing is so in accord with our nature as to live in peace with one another, to need one another, to love our kind. And we need each one of us and the help of one another more than one hand needs the other.”

St. Paul describes the church in a similar way, as a body with different parts, each depending on the other.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’…But God has put the body together…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

This is what it means to be Christian. When we eat the body and drink the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ we are not just communing with God, we are communing with all the saints and fellow Christians before us, after us, and here in the same room. In Christ, we share the same blood. We are one family, and it is within this life as a family that we encounter God.

Remember the innkeeper.

On that day, he heard the door knock and saw the Samaritan carrying a bruised and broken body. He could have turned him away. He could have said, “I’ve got more important work than to associate with this kind of man,” or, “I prefer to chose who to love,” rather than to love whoever steps through the door. But instead, the innkeeper accepted whatever it was and whoever it was that God would bring him. This is our job as Christians, to live together in unity, and to love another at every cost. And we can know without any doubt, that the morning will come when the Samaritan returns to ask about our brother and sister, and to see how it was that we served him or her. Where there is unity, there is also God’s blessings. If we love one another, then we will hear from the lips of our Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309