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The Parable of the Good Samaritan-The Difference Between the Nous and the Intellect

November 12, 2012

If we reflect upon the Parable of the Good Samaritan carefully, we will find that it has much more to offer us than merely an admonition to help our neighbors, whoever they may be. Among the myriad of theological and spiritual truths contained in this gem of the Gospel and summary of the divine economy, we see an example of two approaches to life and two sources for thoughts represented by the two figures who stand in such stark contrast to one another: the lawyer and the good Samaritan. Let us posit for purposes of this blog that the lawyer represents those who approach religious issues from a merely rational, intellectual perspective, while the Good Samaritan represents those who approach faith and the spiritual life through that highest part of the soul that is in touch with God, the noetic faculty or the spiritual heart.  Let’s look at the Gospel for a moment and see where each approach leads.

The Gospel tells us that “a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  It’s interesting that the Gospel relates that the lawyer posed the question in order to tempt Jesus-implying the lawyer knew full well the answer to the question.  He posed the question in order to demonstrate his education, his erudition, and his knowledge of the law. In the safe world of his own abstractions, the lawyer always won. And yet Christ did not allow the lawyer to remain with a hollow, easy victory by his smug recitation of the law to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” Jesus called him out of the ivory tower of his mind and into life, telling him, “this do and live.” Out of his comfort zone and desiring to protect himself, the lawyer then asks “who is my neighbor?”  The Lord then poses a parable to the lawyer in which he introduces the Samaritan, an outcast, to the lawyer and relates to him that everyone is his neighbor. And among the many things, Christ taught the lawyer is the teaching that the way to spiritual perfection is not by memorization, careful reasoning, or a quick wit, but by another kind of sensitivity within the human soul.

How different was the Samaritan! He neither spent time reasoning, nor questioning, but acted without hesitation. The Gospel relates, “and when he saw him, he had compassion on him.”  He didn’t think, he didn’t calculate, but instead he saw, he sensed, and he knew. It was not a matter of conception, but perception. There were no aligning of syllogisms and arguments. There were no speculations about religious issues, selfish concerns, or even human rights. Rather from an awareness of God’s presence in his own heart, the Samaritan was aware of the divine presence in another wounded human being.  There was no need for him to refer to the Law or the Prophets, for the Spirit of God that inspired the Law and the Prophets inspired the Samaritan, so that he noetically grasped what was presented to him and acted.  In the Gospel, it’s quite clear that this Samaritan chose the better part.

There is a place for reasoning and careful thought in human life and human endeavors, but in the spiritual life, there is a time when such reasoning needs to be left behind, for the sake of something higher that can give sure direction, unfailing hope, and love unashamed. All too often our Western culture bids us for rational proofs for the existence of God or the basis for prayer and the spiritual life. Yet, this web of rationalizations causes us to be trapped by our own automatic thoughts, our passions, and our desires to control and manipulate our lives and the lives of others.  The nous or spiritual heart has no such pre-occupations, for it is only concerned with being in contact with God in the present moment through the stillness in which God abides if we are humble and repentant.  The Samaritan, just because he was a Samaritan had no social, political or economic status, yet he recognized an opportunity to encounter God in helping a fellow human being. His movements were simple without any unnecessary calculations or deliberations.  These are characteristics of someone whose nous or spiritual heart is in control of life.  As Elder Sophrony would point out, his head was deeply rooted in his heart, where it should be.

From → Spiritual Life

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