Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “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 traveling 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.’
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Pope Francis gave a catechises today on the good Samaritain that focuses on the moral lesson that we should find practical ways to love our neighbour during this year of mercy.
I felt Pope Francis was leaning the teaching towards meeting peoples material needs, which is a topic extremely close to his heart. And while this is an important moral lesson, it does slightly gloss over the fact that the original and contextual question to which Jesus was responding was from a lawyer asking: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
As every good Christian knows, no amount of practical good works will ever take away ones sin. And while there is nothing wrong with it, simply loving ones neighbour will not inherit you eternal life. The only way to inherit eternal life is to recognise and accept the free gift of mercy that is available to us from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
As with all Jesus’ parables, there was learning within learning. There were superficial lessons and much deeper lessons hidden within the deep imagery of the words.
St Augustine looks at the same parable allegorically:
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant; Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jerichomeans the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, an dies.
Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely; of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him half-dead, because in so far as man can understand and know God, he lives, but in so far as he is wasted and oppressed by sin, he is dead; he is therefore called half-dead.
The priest and the Levite who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for salvation.
Samaritanmeans Guardian, and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name.
The binding of the wounds is the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of good hope; wine the exhortation to work with fervent spirit.
The beast is the flesh in which He deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ.
The inn is the Church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed after pilgrimage. The morrow is after the resurrection of the Lord.
The two pence are either the two precepts of love, or the promise of this life and of that which is to come. The innkeeper is the Apostle (Paul).
The supererogatory payment is either his counsel of celibacy, or the fact that he worked with his own hands lest he should be a burden to any of the weaker brethren when the Gospel was new, though it was lawful for him “to live by the gospel”.”
I love this explanation of the parable because like everything Jesus did and said, it draws attention to who He was, and what He was here to do. With this we can see that the Good Samaritan holds a much deeper meaning than just the practical moral lesson of helping the needy.
Perhaps a good exercise is to read over the passage again, placing ourselves in the role of the man who was beaten – keeping Christ as the Samaritan character.
In this way we can see how Satan attacks us, and we become mortally wounded from our own sin.
No rules or regs are going to be able to save us. Only the love and mercy of Christ (as played by the Samaritan) can save us – when we can’t help ourselves. He will pay the price that we cannot pay. He will save us.
All we can really do in this life is to recognise our brokenness, weakness and sinful mortal wounds, and to reach up with all our strength and beg: “Help me!”
Personally I believe the parable of the Good Samaritan to be less of a feel good lesson in helping the poor, and more of a lesson in our radical spiritual poverty and God’s infinite generosity, which is what I feel the year of mercy should really be focusing on.