Today marks the beginning of Advent. For many, the occasion has been lost to the commercialization of Christmas, but in essence, it is foremost a time of fulfilled expectancy. In Jesus, we have the convergence of man’s collective longing with God’s eternal love. During His ministry, He often said He came to seek and to save that which was lost. As bearers of the imago Dei, the very image of God, man intrinsically understood his connection to the eternal, but his soul was darkened by the sin in which he sequestered himself.
On the parable of the Good Samaritan: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?
― Martin Luther King Jr., from Strength to Love
When Jesus taught us how to pray, He included this mysterious phrase: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He taught that our priorities and the direction of our lives should be based on this commandment from Matthew 6:33 –
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
If we are to pray for God’s kingdom to advance in this world, how should we then live? The question can only be answered by understanding the essence of God. Just who is this King and what is the nature of His kingdom?
The Apostle John states it clearly in 1 John 4:7-11
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
We celebrate the willingness of God to step into the broken lives of His children. Abandoning heaven, He emptied Himself and embraced the poverty and vulnerability of a manger. His love is one of inconvenience, commitment and sacrifice.
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our being and likewise to love our neighbor as ourselves. The story of the Good Samaritan was told in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” and therein we find the essence of God which we are to embrace.
The Good Samaritan was simply going about his business, having a normal day when suddenly he was offered an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. Jesus noticed his response.
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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Dig Deeper – The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
One of the most famous depictions of the parable was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in May 1890. It is based on an earlier work by Delacroix in 1852, which shows the Samaritan straining to lift the wounded traveller on to his horse. Delacroix used dark colours, except for the Samaritan’s robe, which is painted in a brilliant red. Van Gogh replaced Delacroix’s dark palette with brilliant light hues, allowing every detail of his active brush strokes to be seen. Our attention is first claimed by the Samaritan himself, and his wounded passenger. Around them, we see a great gorge, through which a torrent of water cascades. Then our eyes stray to the left, where we see the priest and the Levite disappearing into the distance. Van Gogh does not suggest that they are running away from the wounded man. They just pass him by, without a thought, as they proceed on their journeys.
Van Gogh hints at the extent of the care which the Samaritan bestows on his patient through the box to the lower left of the painting. It is fitted with secure fastenings: its contents are precious. The story itself suggests that the box contained ointment and bandages. It now seems virtually empty, its contents having been lavished on the wounded man. The Samaritan has also relinquished his place of relative comfort and safety on his horse to the stranger. As the Samaritan raises the man, single-handedly, on to his horse, we notice his flimsy, loose sandals. The remainder of his journey over the rough, rocky terrain will not be comfortable.
~Alister McGrath, from Incarnation
There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.
Our lives, like the characters of Dickens’ finest novel, are filled with great expectation. We likewise are often disappointed – in spite of our tenacious optimism – because life rarely matches the lofty dreams of our youth. Adults whose childhood dreams took them to riches and glory are soon resolved to lives much dimmer than their grand imaginations.
Our hearts yearn for God and the grandeur of His company, but His voice is still and small. We expect majesty, but He comes to us as the hungry, naked or imprisoned stranger. Rather than a throne, we find a manger.
John Henry Newman put this point well in the great hymn of the Angelicals, part of his Dream of Gerontius, but familiar to congregations across the world as Praise to the Holiest in the height
And that a higher gift than grace
Should flesh and blood refine,
God’s Presence and His very Self,
And Essence all divine.
As Alister McGrath wrote in Incarnation
The image of a vulnerable child has always served to emphasize the humility of God, both in entering this world in the first place, and in such a menial situation in the second. For Christian artists, the point is simple: the more we trust that God really did enter into our history as one of us, the more we can be reassured that we shall finally be raised up into those heavenly places in which the Christ-child now reigns in glory.
Yes, majesty awaits and accompanies His glory, but our eyes are blinded by lesser lights of the temporal, the profane and the empty promises of the world. Our hearts were indeed created to long for Him but wisdom prays for open eyes.
It is expectancy rather than expectations that guides us home.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Literature, Liturgy & The Arts
Homelessness in America
Tom Darin Liskey
Tom Darin Liskey is an author, poet and photo-journalist. More than twenty years of international journalism and business experience gives Tom a unique perspective. That experience abroad has given him a keen eye to appreciate different cultures and locations. His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry has been published in literary magazines, both in the US and abroad including two published books.
All images © Tom Darin Liskey