Translation – Homily 89 – St Severus of Antioch

On the parable reported in the Holy Gospel of Luke, whose subject is as follows: A man descended from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among brigands. And there is a reproach to those who, as is customary in the middle of the Lent, did not throw pieces of canvas to heal those who are tormented by ulcers of leprosy or some other ailment.

I have suffered a lot in my soul, I have been deeply wounded, I have been plunged into pain, having seen you, on the Sunday before this one, listen with indifference to the holy and divine reading of the Gospel and pass over the power of what is written, which you heard purely and simply with your ears, without having at the same time applied your heart to the words themselves. But, in order not to make my word painful by insisting from the beginning on reproaches, I will first remind you of what has been read and, as far as I can, I will explain it to you with moderation. Then I will come to what my accusation reproaches you, by persuasively bringing you to what is perfect as brethren. But not by means of throwing myself at you or rushing upon you as on culprits in the manner of a judge.

Let us see, then, what the words of the Gospels were and understand what meaning was placed there. A lawyer, that is, one who meditated on the commandments of the Law of Moses and promised to teach them to those who did not know them, questioned Jesus, in order to test him. He said, What must I do to inherit eternal life? Our Saviour replied saying, This is written in the Law, and added, What do you read in it? in order to show his vanity, since on the one hand he read for others and on the other hand he did not understand for himself. The latter, elevating himself out of pride, stated the commandments with his tongue, opening his mouth wide in a very serious way and saying: You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, with all your soul and with all your spirit, and your neighbour as yourself. After he repeated these commandments with a haughty spirit, Jesus, the wise doctor and our God, using gentleness and reproach, commanded him to do what he had said, saying: You have answered well, do this and you will live.

But when the teacher of the Law questioned again, as if he had taken as a pretext the desire to learn, he asked: Who is to be regarded as the neighbour whom the Law commands every man to love as himself? And then our Saviour, putting the very answer to this question in the form of a parable, said: A man went from one city to another city; having been attacked by brigands, he was caught; and, after being stripped of his clothes and covered with wounds and in truth having become completely sore, he lay half-dead. A priest saw this man and having turned away passed by. A Levite saw him, but gave him no care; and, remaining unmoved and with no sympathy, he went past this spectacle which was fit to arouse a pity greater than anything. Now a Samaritan who was on his way found himself in front of him; and it was not with his eyes, but above all with the thoughts and mercy of his heart that he looked attentively at the one who was lying on the ground. Kneeling near him, he applied proper care to his wounds, pouring wine and oil into them and binding them carefully with strips of cloth. And having put him on a donkey, he took him to an inn and there he showed him a great deal of concern.

Say now, without looking at me with scrutinizing and evil eyes, O teacher of the Law, who for you is the neighbour, who else but the one who needed to be treated well and is by the very fact become the neighbour? You, in fact, often think out of ignorance that the one who participates in the same religion or nationality as you is your neighbour. But I say and define that he who participates in the same nature and is man is the neighbour. As you see, in fact, the one who proudly lifted his head as a result of the appearance he had as a person clothed in the priesthood and the one who drew vanity from his name of Levite and fulfilled the functions of the priestly ministry by exercising the priesthood according to the Law, who also boasted, as you also do, to know the divine commandments, did not even think that he who was of the same race as them, who was naked, who was covered with incurable wounds, who was lying on the ground, who was going to die immediately, was even a man. But they despised him as if a stone or a piece of wood thrown away in vain.

And the Samaritan, he who did not know the commandments of the Law, he who has the reputation of being mad and ignorant – for this is how even a sage spoke: Those who are established in the mountain of Samaria and the Philistines and the mad people who dwell in Shechem – recognized his human nature and understood who is his neighbour, and the one who for you, judges of men, is very distant has become very close to the one who needed a remedy. Do not, therefore, enclose in a Judaic smallness and in narrow measures the definition of neighbour, thinking that the parents of your race, as the prophet Isaiah says, are alone those who are very close; for every person to whom the spirit of charity is extended is one.

It is according to this simple meaning, and that which is at hand, that the words of the parable placed before us have this meaning and this interpretation that adapts and suits the words even to those who see only the outside and the surface. But there is in them a deep and very mystical contemplation for those who can spiritually consider the expressions themselves, as far as it is possible to grasp it, for each of them is full, and is full of meaning, because this is also the nature of parables on the one hand to manifest and show a small number of things which are clear to everyone and thus comprehensible and which attract listeners to them and on the other hand to hide and conceal according to diverse senses a large number of things that inspire the desire to seek them.

That is why the disciples themselves used to say to our Saviour: Explain to us the parable of the tares and the field. Peter said the same: Comment on this parable, and yet another time, as all the disciples had asked the question: Why do you speak in parables to the crowds? Jesus himself answered: It is to you that it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, on the occasion of this parable that is at hand and that we propose to comment upon, let us also run towards the mystical and hidden side of these senses, asking the divine Spirit, who distributes to each one the particular and proper gifts as he wishes, so that he reveals to us according to the measure of our weakness the thoughts that can be produced so that they might be profitable for those who will receive them, without harming them by their elevated nature.

What, then, is the proper history of the parable? A man was descending from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is with good reason that our Saviour used the designation of the genus and did not say: We were going down, but: a man was going down. Indeed, it was a question of the whole of humanity in truth, by the fact of the transgression of the commandment by Adam. It fell from the abode of Paradise which is high, elevated, calm, free of passion and divine and which on this occasion was rightly named Jerusalem – which means the peace of God – to Jericho which is a city located in a valley, low and suffocated by heat and which demonstrates that the life of the passions of this world separates from God, drags down, causes suffocation by the ardour of shameful desires, produces anguish and determines death.

Once humanity had fallen to this life, it was overthrown and dragged down and gradually it was then led to the lower parts, and as I said, an assembly of barbaric demons attacked it in the manner of a party of brigands. These demons stripped him of the garments of perfection, leaving him no vestige of strength, chastity, justice, wisdom, or anything that represents the divine image; and so, by the repeated wounds of the various sins, they slaughtered him and killed him, to put it briefly, leaving him half dead. And this in truth shows that all history is concerned with contemplation, for brigands and thieves have the habit of first causing wounds to weaken in order then to strip the wounded of his clothes; and that is why, as soon as they are in possession of the clothes, most of the time they have no reason to hurt him afterwards. But the demons, the intellectual brigands, have no facility at all to hurt, if they do not first remove the clothes of the virtues, and after that they wound mercilessly and to the point of death; for it is not our clothes, but in truth it is our loss and our death that they desire; that is why Our Lord said wisely: They robbed him; and then: They hurt him.

So, when humanity was lying on the ground – and had almost lost consciousness and was dying – the Law given through Moses saw him. The latter, in fact, is represented by the priest as well as by the Levite, for the Law is the teacher of the Levitical priesthood. But on the one hand he saw him, and on the other hand he lacked energy and strength, he was not able to bring about a complete healing, and he did not raise up humanity which was lying on the ground; and, having lacked energy, he necessarily left as a result of the unsuccessful outcome. For it was through him, as Paul says, that sacrifices and offerings were presented that could not make perfect in relation to conscience those who performed this ministry, because it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to completely remove sins. That is why our Lord did not say: the priest – and the Levite – having seen the half-dead man who was lying on the ground, passed him by, but he turned to the opposite. He did not pass beyond him, he said, leaving him to one side without seeing him. But he stood near him and saw him, he thought of healing him and touched him, and, having found himself powerless for healing and having been overcome by the gravity of the wounds, that is the passions, he ran back, for this is what the word shows, he turned to the opposite.

Finally, a Samaritan who was on his way came to where he was and, having seen him, took pity on him. Having approached him, he treated him by pouring wine and oil and bandaging his wounds. And here it is precisely that Christ called himself a “Samaritan”. He was addressing, in fact, a teacher of the Law who greatly glorified himself because of the Law. He applied himself to show by what he said that it was neither the priest, nor the Levite, nor, to speak in general, those who believed they were living according to the commandments of Moses, but that it was he himself who came to fulfill the will of the Law and to show by the very facts themselves who in truth is the neighbour and what is the meaning of the word: we will love this neighbour as ourself. He to whom the Jews said insulting him: You are a Samaritan, and you have a demon, he whom they frequently accused of violating the Law.

And in another sense, there is no one who finds that this designation of Samaritan applied to Christ is inappropriate, even though it seems to be insulting. Indeed, when the Assyrian Salmanazar had taken Israel into captivity and deported it to the banks of the rivers of Media, as it is written in the Fourth book of Kings, he sent inhabitants of the land from Babylon instead of the captives and he established them in these cities. And because the lions were killing them on the pretext that they did not live according to the ancestral habits of those who behaved according to the Law of Moses, he sent a man taken from among these captives – this one was one of the priests – who taught them these habits, and in this way the Babylonians occupied these cities, calling themselves “Samaritans” as they were the guardians of the land, because in truth “guard” and “guardian” are also called “schomer” in the Hebrew language. And who would dispute that Christ is not the true guardian of the whole earth and that he does not possess the universe, he in whom we too live, we move, and have our being?

But it should be known that some say that “Samaritans” are those who inhabit the land of Israel for yet another reason, namely because they occupy the mountain of Samaria that Amri, king of Israel, had acquired after buying it for two silver talents from Somer, the owner of the mountain, as it is written.

We, however, who want to derive from this word a meaning that suits what we have set out to comment on, do not argue about the variable meaning or the reason for which this appellation has been given; for there is in each of these meanings something which can convince, and which is true at the same time.

This Samaritan who was on his way – it is Christ – therefore saw him who was lying on the ground. Because he had really set out, and he did not pass on, because he took as a pretext for the journey the very fact of visiting us, for whom he came down on earth and to whom he has come. Indeed, he was not only seen, but he also lived with men, when he became man in truth and outside all change and all imagination. Because it is the characteristic of true and charitable doctors to live in the company of their patients and not to move away from them before their return to health.

It follows from this that he also poured wine, namely the word which instructs and reprimands upon our wounds. He also gave us to drink the wine of repentance, as the prophet of the Psalms says. Because in truth we could not endure it unadulterated – for the severity, malignancy, and incurable state of the wounds could not endure such great acridity – he mingled oil with it. This is why he also sat at table with sinners and with tax collectors, and with the Pharisees who loved to blame, who accused him and who reproached him for his charity and to whom he said: Go, learn what it means: I want mercy and not sacrifices.

He therefore who had been the object of such solicitude from the point of view of care, he loaded him again, it is said, on a beast of burden. Because truly, as it is written, man, when he was in honour, did not show himself understanding, but assimilated himself to the foolish beasts and became like them. ‘He made himself sick with all the bestial and impure concupiscence, after having made himself the first-fruits of our race, Christ, who does not know sin, first showed in himself that we have ascended and raised ourselves above these bestial passions, once we have trampled them under foot; himself, in fact, he took our infirmities, and he carried our diseases. This is why he said: “Whoever had obtained this care, he made him ride on his donkey”, for it is in himself that he carried us, because we are the members of his body.

Moreover, he also took him to the inn. And he calls the Church an hostelry – which translates as a place receiving all – which has become capable of receiving and which lodges all men. Indeed, we no longer hear according to the narrowness of the legal shadow and figurative worship: The Ammonite and the Moabite will not enter the Church of the Lord, but we hear: Go, teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and: in every nation, he who fears God and practices righteousness is able to be received by him.

And, once he had taken him to the inn, he showed him even greater solicitude. Indeed, after the Church had been formed from the reunion of the nations that had died in polytheism, it was Christ himself who dwells in her and walks there, as it is written, and who grants all spiritual grace.

It follows from this that he had also given two denarii to the one who stood at the head of the inn – let us understand that this symbolized the Apostles, as well as the pastors and teachers who succeeded them when he ascended to heaven – having ordered him to have a very special concern for the patient, and he added: If you spend anything more, I will pay you when I come back. He calls two denarii the two Testaments, the Old and the New, the one given through the Law of Moses and the Prophets and this one given by the Gospels and the commandments of the Apostles, both of which belong to one God, who like the denarii bear a single image of this one king above and who by holy words imprint and mark in our hearts the same royal effigy, because in truth it is also one and the same Spirit who spoke them.

Perish Manes and, before him, perish Marcion, the atheists, who share these Testaments between different gods! Indeed, these two denarii belonged to a single king, and they were given by Christ at the same time and with the same honour to the one who was at the head of the inn. After the pastors of the holy Churches have received them, they have increased them by their teachings at the cost of their work and sweat, and they have spent of themselves and by the expenditure they have instead increased – for such is the intellectual money, which is the word of teaching, that it does not decrease by expenditure, but that it multiplies and increases – when our Lord returns on the last day, each of them will say to him: Lord, you have given me two denarii, behold, after having spent them of myself, I have gained two more by which I have increased and multiplied the flock, and in answer Christ will say to him: Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful in few things, I will set you over many; enter into the joy of your Lord.

After having thus read all of this according to the tradition of the Fathers – I come now to the subject of reproach – the sacred preacher has appealed to you, urging you to pay with small pieces of canvas for the coming of Christ who is so great, for the care and relief of those who are afflicted with the evil of leprosy, and whose bodies are enveloped in rottenness and foul odour as in a living tomb, or those who are afflicted with some other disease. To put it briefly, none of you seem to have heard this call except by chance one or two good women, who having thrown dirty and very torn coins and scraps of old clothes, and all worn out, have judged themselves to have satisfied the law and while only pretending in a hypocritical way to throw pieces, they perform the usual obligation.

And yet, after the Law and the Prophets, Christ did not leave us behind, when we had no hope and had already been counted among the dying. But he descended from the heights, when he participated in the same essence as we did with the exception of sin and submitted himself to become man without change, so that he would also accept the trial of the cross, the burial and the descent to Sheol, and this while by nature he is God – while, in the same way that he became man, he endured all of this – and he passed in an impassible way through all these states from which we had to rise, we who had fallen, we whose bones were scattered near Sheol, as the prophet David says. Indeed, because we could not stand, buried as we were by chance below – and why say to us: stand – because we could not even raise an eye to heaven, it was he himself who, as Paul says, after descending into the lower regions of the earth, drew from it those who had absolutely no hope of salvation, when he became very close to those who were very far away. This is why he questions this teacher of the Law, showing the immensity of this charity which surpasses everything: Which of these three seems to you to have been the neighbour of the one who had fallen among the brigands?

But we who hear these words, or rather we who have been judged worthy of these words, we have not given him any piece of canvas, even worn. For he who asked was the same one who said: Verily, I say to you, whenever you have done these things to one of these least of my brethren, it is to me that you did them. Indeed, tell me, how blessed we proclaim Joseph, the man of Arimathea, the counsellor, who asked Pilate to allow him to bury the life-giving body of Jesus and who thus covered him with a canvas cloak. And we forget that having, too, the possibility of obtaining the same honour and the same thanks as he or greater than him, whenever it is now in our power to relieve the Christ filled with ulcers and wounded, we deprive ourselves of these distinguished favours and we push away such a great advantage from ourselves. But, if a king were to stay with us, we would give him all the clothes we had in the house as well as the silk clothes that we would take out of the chests on special occasions, so that he could wrap himself in them, or even so that he could walk on them, even if he used them contrary to decorum and even carried them away, and all that in the hope of some temporary honour. And Christ, the king of higher spirits, of powers and of heavenly hosts, who presents himself to us wounded throughout his body and who for a small piece of canvas promises to give the kingdom of heaven, passes without us having done anything to him. See the greatness and the nature of your madness and bend towards the one who is of our race and who suffers from evil.

Let no one tell me that the day when we had to throw away the pieces of canvas has passed! Indeed, if in the Law there was the command to make the Passover in the first month among the Hebrews and if someone, having abstained from the solemnity for a suitable and just reason, could offer the Passover sacrifice in the second month, how is it not unreasonable that when it comes to commiseration where any time is suitable and opportune, we are restrained and prevented from doing this which is appropriate because the day has passed, when the sacred Books say: Do not prevent doing good to those in need, nor from coming to their aid when it is in your power. Do not say: Go and come back tomorrow and I will give you something, when you can do good. Because you don’t know what will happen the next day. So do not postpone my words to the following year but imagine that today is the past Sunday. And that each of you throw down the cloth hanging from your neck with which it is customary to blow your nose; and you, woman, please Christ by giving the laundry that you bring back on your hand. These objects, in fact, are worth only a few obols; but they bring a heavenly reward, and they deliver from all sickness and all injury both yourselves and your children whose salvation, I know very well, worries you very much. For, if you return to your homes without these pieces of canvas referred to, you will have a host of angels who will come in with you and who will guard your house and also all of Christ himself, the Lord of Gods. angels, who will be inside your mansions.

After doing this, don’t think you’ve done anything great. Indeed, Gideon – he is a judge of Israel – having defeated the Midianites or Ishmaelites who had walked in arms against him, also said after the victory to those who had been saved by him and who had lined up with him in order of battle: I have a request to make to you: Give me each a ring of your booty; the enemies had many rings, for they were Ishmaelites. They said to him: We will give them. And each one stretched out his coat and threw a golden ring of his booty into it. If, therefore, they gave such a quantity of gold to the leader of the battle, and this when they had lined up with him in order of battle, because they had escaped temporary servitude, is it much for us to give a small number of pieces of cloth to Christ, to the one who delivered our whole race from the Slanderer and the demons, these irreconcilable and implacable enemies, and won the fight that we could not win, to the one that the armies that are in heaven also recognized returning from the fight and having won the victory, when after the salutary passion and resurrection he went to the heights, saying: The Lord is powerful and strong, the Lord is strong in battle. Indeed, he pierced the prince of darkness and wickedness with his cross as well as his wicked militia and he also led them in show, as Paul says, when by himself he covered them with contempt in complete freedom. It is to him that praise and power with the Father and the Holy Spirit befits, now and always and in the centuries of centuries. This will be the case!

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