Christ is Passing By

This homily was given at Byzantine Divine Liturgy at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, November 13, 2022. The audio is available here.

It didn’t have to happen this way.

God could have prevented this man from falling victim to the robbers.

He could have intervened!

He might have sent the good Samaritan down the road just a little sooner, with an escort of angels at his side, to drive the robbers away.

But instead, by the time the Samaritan reaches him, the robbers have done their work, and left him for dead by the side of the road.

St. Ambrose of Milan says this man is Adam, our forefather, and summed up in his miserable condition are all his sons and daughters.

Jericho is the city of sinful Man, the image of this fallen world, and Adam is going down from the city of God—from Paradise, the Jerusalem above—into this present darkness, into exile, by his own free choice.

Having turned from the law of the Lord to the sin of this world, it’s no wonder Adam falls victim to robbers, “the spirits of night and darkness,” who first steal the garments of grace we have received from God and then beat us up for good measure, leaving us wounded, humiliated…

But not alone.

Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, is passing by, and He is not too late to save us.

Yes, He could have prevented us from falling victim to sin and death.

And by the gift of His prevenient grace, He does prevent us from falling victim to many, many sins which might otherwise have ensnared us.

The spiritual director of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus attested that she never committed a mortal sin. 

But Thérèse herself was certain that if it weren’t for God’s prevenient mercy, she would have been the worst sinner who ever walked the earth!

The sins we do commit fall within the realm of God’s permissive will.

To be sure, Adam would not have fallen among the robbers if he hadn’t first strayed from God’s commands and made himself vulnerable to them.

God is not the author of sin; we are. 

But God permits that we fall, just as He permitted Adam to fall.

He allows us to turn from Him, to listen to the Devil, to fall victim to the demons, to choose Jericho over Jerusalem, sin over grace, death over life.

As a holy Archbishop said to me, “God knows I have many faults, but I love Jesus Christ with all my heart … and if it weren’t for the sins that have humbled me, that have left me powerless and dependent on on his mercy, I would not love Jesus and trust Him as much as I do now.” 

St. Thérèse says much the same: “The memory of my faults humiliates me, it brings me to never lean on my own strength … but even more this memory speaks to me of mercy and love. When you throw your faults with total, filial trust in the burning all-consuming brazier of love, how would they not be consumed without coming back?”

God permits us at times to fall among the robbers so that even our faults, even our sins, may become fuel for the fire of love and trust in Jesus.

For love and trust is the fulfillment of the law and the way to eternal life.

Here, now, at this Divine Liturgy, Jesus Christ is passing by. 

Whatever sins, whatever wounds lie in our past, whatever we have done or failed to do, we lay bare before the gaze of His saving mercy … and forgetting what lies behind us, placing all our trust in Jesus, we get up and set out for what still lies ahead.

There, in the new Jerusalem, we shall rejoice with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and our joy shall be full, for we shall know Him as we are known and loved, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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