“Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”
The lion’s share of the Gospel today may be the best known and it is probably the most exploited parable that Jesus every told – the parable of the Good Samaritan. The much-loved bourgeois interpretation that awards the title “Good Samaritan” to every charitable act without the slightest reference to the truly disturbing elements of the story is possible only by ignoring context. Last week as fashion student in New York City fainted on the subway tracks and the newspapers say that a quick thinking “good Samaritan” brought the train to a halt before she was hurt. And you’re protected under the law in the Commonwealth of Virginia for being a Good Samaritan – as the Commonwealth defines what a Good Samaritan is. Well, I could go on, but I do not want to focus on this parable today, I want to focus on the words of Jesus that preceded it:
“Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them…”
What was Jesus talking about, what had the disciples seen? One of the first things that we can say about this is that it is a blessing; “blessed are the eyes which see.” Furthermore it was a peculiar blessing upon those who were actually there with Jesus and were in fact eyewitnesses. His disciples saw things prophets and kings had longed to see, but had not seen. This is a blessing that cannot possibly extend to the whole Church. Other blessings that flow from real-time events in our Lord’s life extend to the whole Church in time and space. Recall, for example, Thomas who missed out on Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to his disciples. A week later Thomas saw the Lord when he appeared in the Upper Room and Thomas believed. Jesus spoke directly to:
“(Thomas) have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
The blessing of salvation is not a matter of being an eye-witness; those who saw him that first Easter morning believed and are blessed with salvation and those who have never seen him in his flesh and yet believe – yesterday, today or any other time are blessed with the same salvation. But the event preserved for us in the Gospel today is not like that. Jesus is saying that those eyewitnesses are blessed in a way that only those who were in the right place at the right time could have been blessed:
“Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see…”
This was an unrepeatable blessing, but we still do not know what it is that they saw that prophets and kings longed to see and yet did not. In order to discover that we have to go back to the beginning of the Luke 10, which preserves an account of a turning point in our Lord’s ministry that has come to be known as the sending out of Seventy. Jesus sent them out two-by-two into every village that he was about to go himself. He gave them authority to heal the sick in his name and to tell the people, “The Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Later on when the Seventy returned from the mission they were euphoric and could not wait to tell Jesus the good news: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.”
Jesus immediately provided some instruction and pastoral care to his disciples: “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening. I have given you authority to trample serpents and scorpions. I have given you authority over the power of the devil, but do not rejoice that spirits are subject to you. Do not fall under the spell of power. That is what Satan did. Instead, be happy that your names are recorded in heaven.”
When Jesus sent the Seventy out he said:
“Heal those who are sick and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come upon you.’”
By healing the sick, but especially by casting out demons, Jesus and his disciples gave proof that the Kingdom of God had come upon the world – starting right there in Israel with his chosen band of preacher and exorcists. In an argument with the Pharisees Jesus would later say:
“If I by the finger of God cast out demons then the Kingdom of God is come upon you.”
When Jesus told the Seventy that he had given them authority to trample serpents, they would have been reminded of Genesis and what God said to the Serpent after the Fall:
“I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
Not only did Jesus, the seed of the woman, crush the head of the serpent, but he also gave his disciple his authority to crush the serpents they encountered. Obviously the serpent in Genesis and here in Luke are not merely reptiles, but represent Satan and his angels. By giving the Seventy his authority to join him in crushing the serpent’s head, Jesus is reasserting humanity’s vice-regency in creation. In Jesus war against Satan, Luke 10 is D-day. These Seventy preachers and exorcists were the first wave of Christ’s faithful soldiers, the warriors of the Kingdom of God, hitting the beach. And that is what Prophets and Kings longed to see, but did not see: the Kingdom of God coming into the world and trampling down death and sin. And please note that it is not that the Kingdom is coming in the future, not that the Kingdom has come in part, not that the promise of the Kingdom has come. No. What Jesus proclaimed is that the Kingdom of God has come. A new and happy state of being has come upon all creation through Jesus. All that the prophets and kings longed to see had come: The Kingdom of God was coming upon the world and the creature himself was joining God in his war against the dragon and Satan.
It is at this point that Luke records the most remarkable thing:
“In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou has hidden these things from the wise and the understanding and revealed them to babes…”
After hearing the report of the Seventy, Jesus himself is “in the Holy Spirit.” When St. John wrote the book of the Revelation he began by saying “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…” John received the Revelation, but Jesus had no need of a revelation and was rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. This was a key moment in his ministry and his response, rejoicing, reflected his own teaching to his disciples. “Rejoice in God, not in power.” As he contemplates the work of God in bringing his perfect will to pass and making man his vice-regent again, Jesus is suddenly and profoundly moved emotionally in his humanity. The word used is so strong that it conveys the experience of exuberance and liveliness that would have been physically manifested to him and everyone around him. There was in all likelihood laughter and even tears. Jesus is no guru. He is no detached Buddha. Jeremy Taylor, a great Anglican divine who was executed by Cromwell, wrote: “We never read that Jesus laughed but once he rejoiced in the Spirit.” I think Taylor is too shy. Jesus’ joy is perfectly natural and at the same time perfectly supernatural. As the son of Mary the Holy Spirit enables his very human joy that cannot but express itself in his body; as the Son of God his joy is his knowledge of the Father. As the son of Mary his joy is charged with our common human emotions – he is ecstatic! As the Son of God his joy is the perfect response to what he knew was coming all along.
Our joy often comes as a surprise. C. S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book titled Surprised by Joy. Our joy is frequently a surprise. Jesus’ joy is his knowledge of his Father and his Father’s will. A mother and father rejoice like never before at the birth of a child. The birth of their child is not a surprise. Parents prepare for their child’s birth for nine months, but when the day comes and the child is born, their joy is released as though it is brand new. It is released upon the child and upon one another and in some ways it is released upon their whole world. So it was with Jesus. The Kingdom did not surprise him, but when it came forth his human and divine joy was released. The joy of the Blessed Trinity was released upon creation and it is released upon the Persons of the Trinity. The Father pours his joy into the Son; the Son receives the Father’s joy and pours it into the Holy Spirit and upon his disciples. This experience of joy, physically manifested, is the experience of the Word made Flesh. And he emptied his whole life, his whole experience of joy, his very human, physically manifested joy – he empties all of that into the God the Father and upon all creation.
“In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit …”
It is then that Jesus, full of joy in his Kingdom, turned to his band of preachers and exorcists and declared:
“Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those thins which ye hear, and have not heard them.”
This is the context of the Good Samaritan and that means that the Good Samaritan is not a story about merely being kind and considerate, but it is rather a Kingdom parable. In light of the fact that the Kingdom has come and Jesus’ disciples have authority over evil and God has reinstated humanity’s co-regency over creation this is how we are to live. The question is not “who is my neighbor,” but rather “how does a child of the Kingdom live?” In the story only the Samaritan is living in the new day of the Kingdom while all the others in the parable, the priest, the Levite and even the robbers and the innkeeper are stuck in Israel’s past. What about you? Listen. Power is not the important thing. Be happy, not in power, but in your baptism. Fight as Christ’s faithful soldier, yes. But be happy.