Christ, the firstborn of all creation, is the only one who can heal and save our broken world

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15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: July 11, 2010
Deut 30:10-14; Ps 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37; Col 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

The members of the church, there in Colossae, were confused. And it was causing them problems; which is why St. Paul wrote to them, in this letter from which we hear in the second reading. We can tell as we examine the letter that they had come to be sort of fixated on certain beliefs about angels or other supernatural beings—so much so that they were degrading and lowering the importance of Christ. That they were in fact confused about who Christ was.

And so we see this even in this passage today, where St. Paul seems to be quoting a poem or a hymn. Perhaps it was one he wrote himself; perhaps it was one that was in use around him. But, in the midst of this letter, as he sometimes does, we realize that we are going into a intensely rhythmic and image-filled passage, that stands out from the rest. And so he goes into this, telling them who Christ is. And so he begins with this hymn:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,

—and here he begins to address this thing that was eating at those Colossians—all things,

the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;

—and all of these were naming different angelic or supernatural groups; all these things that the Colossians had become far too interested in, and that were blocking their view of Christ. All things—thrones, dominions, principalities, powers—

all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.

This is the first part of this hymn that he quotes. And he calls us, as he called the Colossians, to recognize the majestic greatness of our Lord; and to realize, for them, that nothing that they were concerned about, with angels or demons or whatever supernatural entities they were concerned with—nothing held a candle to who Christ; to what he had done; and to what he was doing in their lives.

Now, for us, here in the United States today, probably different classifications of supernatural powers is not what it is that we are concerned with. Instead, perhaps for us St. Paul’s message would be addressing the situation where so many people today hold everything in a certain relativity, where they are simply wanting to say: “Well, I have my truth, you have your truth; I have my way, you have your way. Yes, we believe in Jesus and it does good things for us, but other figures, other ways, are just as good.”

And St. Paul therefore strongly, beautifully, clearly calls us to confront this truth. For we all know that we saw Jesus Christ walk as a man upon the earth; teach; do good; have followers; try to teach things, including many of the things that are common among many peoples, many philosophies, many religions. To teach goodness, the natural law—these things that, as Moses said in the first reading, are not far away; they have already been revealed to us. It is not that we have to discover them; we know them already; we just have to carry them out. Yes, Jesus did teach these things. But it is not in these things that are commonly shared that Christ’s uniqueness is found. It is in who he is. For who he is is something that cannot be duplicated, and that stands far above and far differently from what any other human being—no matter how well-intentioned or wise or good—could possibly compete with.

Human beings have insights; but Christ is the firstborn. Human beings seek God; but Christ is the eternally begotten Son of the Father. Human beings are part of creation and interact with creation; but Christ is the firstborn of all creation. Human beings seek to repair the sin, the wounds, in our lives; but Christ is the one who created the universe good in the first place. And therefore it is he who can come to give his supernatural being, his supernatural grace, to accomplish the repairs, the salvation, that none of us in the creation can accomplish on our own; but which he can accomplish in us, and therefore lead us and this entire broken universe through a transformation into the New Creation.

Now, how he does this is illustrated in our gospel reading today. And we’ll take a bit of a tangent to explain, and then come back to the main path of this homily.

In our gospel reading today we hear the well-known story of the Good Samaritan. And in it Christ is answering the question of this scholar of the law—who, having affirmed that what he needed to do, according to the law, to inherit eternal life was to love the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his being, with all his strength, with all his mind, and his neighbor as himself—now is focusing in on one part of that: “Who is my neighbor?”

What he meant by that is a matter of interpretation—as with any interpretation when you are trying to grasp at what someone’s possible motives are. We can well imagine that he may have been trying to lower the requirements of what he had just said; that he is trying to narrow who his neighbor is and thus lower the requirements of love. And if that is what he was doing, then we see that Jesus completely turned it around in his answer. But it could also be that it was a sincere question—that he, amongst all the divisions among human beings, that were made then and still get made now, that he wanted to know, “What is it that this commandment of the Law is asking of me?” And there too, if it was a sincere question, and if it is a sincere question for us, then Christ answers that too.

And in this story that we hear—as commentators bring to bear different details of the time, the history, the geography—we discover several things. “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Jerusalem is high on a mountain; Jericho is actually below sea level. And so we read that, in less than 20 miles, there is a drop of something like 3000 feet; that it was a very steep, rocky, narrow path; that it was a great place for robbers to hide; that they did it all the time; that, in fact, if a man by himself made this journey, he was just asking to be attacked; that no one did this, that everyone went in groups in hopes of not being robbed on this treacherous journey. But in Christ’s story, it is a foolhardy man, who goes off by himself and gets attacked, stripped, beaten, and left half-dead.

And three figures pass him by. A priest and a Levite first of all—who do not stop but pass by on the opposite side. Now we know, just from the setting, that such men, first of all, would have been preserving their own safety. For we read that leaving someone who appeared to be a victim might be a perfect trap for a group of robbers to set. These things happen even today in places where tourists go and pickpockets are ready to pull off tricks to leave them vulnerable and take their wallets when they are not looking. Similarly, to stop and help someone lying on the ground might leave you vulnerable to that attack.

But, in addition, the priest and the Levite, as everyone at the time would know: if they came into contact with a dead body—and from a distance they wouldn’t know if this man was half-dead or fully dead—if they came into contact with a dead body, that would render them ritually impure for a period of days, which would mean that they would not be able to carry out their scheduled functions in the Temple during that time. And so we understand why this priest, this Levite, might have been cautious, might not have wanted to take the risk, might not have wanted to risk either their physical safety or their ritual purity.

But we see this Samaritan. The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along; and therefore the figure of one Samaritan in the midst of Judea would not have been a welcome figure there at all. But it is he who puts himself out to care for the victim; who risks his own safety; who gives of his possessions, his oil and his wine and the bandages that he has with him; who gives of his time and effort to take him to the inn, to stay with him and care for him for two days; and then finally who gives of some of his money in order to make sure that he will receive the care that he needs. This is what Christ sets out as a model for us.

Now, from some of the earliest centuries of the Church, theologians like St. Augustine and others have seen in this story—even though Christ is using it directly as an answer and illustration of how you love your neighbor—nevertheless they have seen in the story of the Good Samaritan an allegory of Christ himself. For they say that the man traveling is Adam, or indeed any one of us. And being attacked, stripped, beaten, and left half-dead, is the state that we are in as a result of sin and the devil; and that lying helpless and wounded on the road is exactly our moral and human state. And the figure of the priest and the Levite are figures of the helpful and instructive commands which God gave to show us the way to go, but which were not enough; which we could not follow; which were not enough to heal us and lift us out of that wounded state.

But the Samaritan is the figure of Christ: someone who, from being the exalted Son of the Father that St. Paul describes, came down and passed by on the road where we lay; took the risk, reached out, gave of his possessions, gave his time, gave his money—and brought us the healing that no one else could give. And indeed—whereas in the story the Samaritan was taking a risk to his own safety—but this did not go badly, in that he himself was not attacked and beaten by robbers—Christ took that risk, and it did go badly. He was attacked and stripped and beaten; and not left half-dead, but brought all the way to death. That this is what he gave for us: more than the Good Samaritan in his story; more, he gave in order to raise us up.

But then he made his death a passageway to his resurrection. And in that he pours out for us the grace that will be our healing. And he also opens for us the New Creation. For this hymn that St. Paul quotes moves from the first part on to the second part. St. Paul had begun by saying that Christ was the firstborn of all creation, and expounding on what that means. And then he comes to the second part: the New Creation.

He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

Previously he was the firstborn of all creation; now he is the firstborn from the dead.

that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Only he, who was the eternally begotten Son of the Father, and the firstborn of all creation—only he could come and give himself and make a way through to the New Creation—to the transformation of the resurrection, of which he himself was the firstfruits. And no other human being can do that.

Probably all of us here today have been baptized into him. We have entered into that Body of which he is the Head. We have entered into the Way that he is, that leads to the Resurrection. But surely we need to be reminded of who he is and what that path is. We do well to be reminded that there is no other path but him. We do well to be reminded that the path on which he leads us is a path in which we are made like him in his suffering and death, so that we may be made like him in his resurrection. We do well to be reminded, so that, when that path is difficult to make out with our human eyes, nevertheless by the eyes of faith we may see who he is, and so see and trust that he is leading us in that Way, to the Resurrection.

Let us this day renew our faith and our trust in Christ, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead; he who is the Way, through suffering and a cross like his, to a resurrection like his.

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Published in: on July 11, 2010 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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