Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Rediscovering the Parable of the Good Samaritan - By Request!

Bonus entry this week…. Yesterday at Holy Mass we read about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Every time this parable comes up, I give the same homily—taken from the writings of Origen and also Pope Benedict XVI. And every year, I think the homily is a flop, but then I have bunches of people who want me to preach it again or to post it online.

That being said, I am going to post here my notes on this parable. Most of these notes are “free-writing,” so pardon the lack of continuity, grammar errors, etc….


If you are reading this, it’s likely that you have heard the Parable of the Good Samaritan—the parable about how a man is robbed and nobody helps him except for a good Samaritan. The moral of the story is that we are supposed to be kind to others and help those in need. The End.

But is that it? Is that the deep treasure of this parable? Hasn’t Jesus told us this lesson—namely, “be kind”—many times before? Why does He employ an elaborate parable to highlight that point?

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Modern-day tendencies in preaching and teaching have led us to to interpret Scripture firstly in terms of what I have to do instead of who Jesus is. In homilies, for example, more often than not we hear exhortations about being good instead of lengthy reflections on Jesus who is Himself the Good. That’s a problem because when the focus is simply on what I have to do (morality), it is so easy to lose the reality of who Jesus is. And more, when we lose who Jesus is, we actually lose the actual meaning of what we’re supposed to do. In other words, lose Jesus and you lose correct morality.

So, when it comes to scripture, we must try to see Jesus first, then morality.

Of course, when it comes to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we tend to do exactly the opposite: we see the moral lesson first and tend to overlook Jesus. We say, “I must be like the Good Samaritan and help others” instead of first realizing that Jesus is the Good Samaritan and going from there.

If we see that line of connection, that Jesus is the Good Samaritan, then it naturally follows: Is Jesus drawing other lines of connection? For example, who is the man who was robbed? who is the man at the inn? And so on.

This is where we begin and we realize that the parable is not just simply about a moral exhortation to be nice, but a sweeping summary of salvation history.

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So... the man who was robbed... Who is he? 

He is Adam—and, by extension, all of humanity. And the robbers? They are the devil and his legion of fallen angels.

Of what did the robbers—the devil and his legions—rob humanity? Eternal life. Hence, the man who was robbed is left for dead, “half-dead”—meaning in the deadly state of sin, but still redeemable.

Is your mind blown?

Think back for a moment: what was the question that precipitated Jesus’ parable? A lawyer had approached Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” See the connection?

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So what must I do to inherit eternal life? 

At this point in the parable, the answer is nothing: Man can’t do anything on his own for salvation. Hence, in the next scene of the parable, we see a priest and a Levite passing by the man without helping him. This has a deeper meaning too.

The priest represents the Old Testament temple sacrifices. 

Could those sacrifices redeem humanity and bring eternal life? No. Hence, the priest passes by on the other side.

The Levite (a scholar of the law) represents the Old Testament Mosaic Law. 

Could this Law redeem humanity and bring eternal life? No. Hence, the Levite passes by on the other side.

(Pope Benedict XVI is quick to point out, therefore, that we must not be too quick to judge the priest and the Levite for passing by—for such a judgment is to look back on them from the higher perspective that we have been given in Christ. Indeed, Pope Benedict points out that their passing by would have likely been out of love for God and the temple—misplaced as we now see it—because, they, knowing well the Mosaic Law, would have known that to touch blood or a dead man would defile them and keep them from temple worship. The very fact that Jesus uses their deep love of the temple as a critique of their uncharitable actions towards their neighbor highlights the Old Worship and the Old Law as being an incomplete love and thus clearly unable to save Man).

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So, there is a third man that comes, a Samaritan. 

There is some history here. When the Jews were taken into exile centuries earlier, a few Jews were left behind. Many of them married with the pagan peoples (known as Gentiles) who had moved into the land. This new “race”—an admixture of Jew and pagan—were the Samaritans, many of whom worshiped the five gods (Ba’als) of the area (cf. Jn 4, The Woman at the Well). Long story short, the Samaritans were seen as spiritual harlots having cheated on the One True God—and could therefore do no good.

This is why it would have been a total surprise for the parable to be about a GOOD Samaritan-- much less for Jesus to use a Samaritan as the protagonist on a lesson about loving God and neighbor—and about entering eternal life.

It was a shocking as, say, God becoming man. As shocking as Jesus being God. (For “what good can come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46)).

The Good Samaritan is Jesus.

Now comes the crux of the story. Jesus is the one who is able to restore the robbed man. It is Jesus who is able to bring eternal life. So, the Good Samaritan, Jesus, reaches into the man’s half-dead state and lifts him up.

And that's The End, right?

For many Christians who are not Catholic, the rest of the story simply seems to be a commentary on the Good Samaritan's love: the Good Samaritan fills the man’s wounds with oil and wine, binds them with bandages, lifts him up, takes him to an inn, gives coins to an innkeeper, and instructs the innkeeper to take care of the man until he returns. 

But that's the whole second half of the story! Is Jesus simply wanting us to gloss over this as simply a moralistic exhortation to not just "be kind," but "be really, really kind." It would make sense to some degree, to see the superabundant charity of the Good Samaritan and do likewise.

But... there’s more.

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Just as the characters in the first half of the story are connected to Old Testament figures, so too the actions and items of the second half of this story are connected to the New Testament.

What do the oil and the wine and the bandages represent? The Sacraments. (…!!!)

Oil is used at the anointings in Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, and the Sacrament of the Sick. Wine is used for the Eucharist and at Marriage (cf. Jn 2, Cana). The bandages—the “binding” (Mt 18:18)—represents the Sacrament of Confession.

There, all seven sacraments.

This is how Jesus is going to heal the man. But there is more.

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He takes the man to an inn. (And there is plenty of room (unlike Lk 2:7)). The inn is the Church. Jesus brings humanity to the Church and then gives to the innkeeper two coins by which the innkeeper is to take care of the man. The coins are treasures of grace: the Holy Spirit, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and so on.

And who is the innkeeper? The steward-- that is, the Pope.

And what is the innkeeper-Pope supposed to do? To take care of the Man until Jesus returns—at which point the innkeeper will have to give an account of his stewardship.

That, my friends, is called the Second Coming.

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So, let’s go back to the questions that precipitated this parable. The lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responds by giving the man a veiled summary of salvation history—the “lesson” being that eternal life is a totally undeserved gift which we ourselves cannot “do,” but must first receive.

It is a total divine initiative.

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It is only then that Jesus concludes the lesson by saying, “Go and do likewise.”

Here begins the moral exhortation. And He doesn’t simply mean “be kind” or “be really, really kind.” There is actually some specificity to what He means when He says “Go and do likewise”—and we know that there is specificity because Jesus has given us a lot of specific details through this story. They can be summarized as follows:

First, we have to receive the Good Samaritan in our lives; realizing that we are the man half-dead. We have to let Jsus pick us up from our “half-dead” sinful state. We have to let Him take us to the Church and fill us with the Sacraments and be cared for by the “innkeeper.".

In such ways, we are transformed to become another Christ—another Good Samaritan who can go and do likewise. This “go and do likewise” sounds much like the dismissal from Catholic Mass. 

What does it mean?

It's specific.It means:

1)      placing ourselves into the very lowliness of the man who is half-dead in sin and not passing by;
2)      lifting him up—through prayer, sacrifice, and the hard work of heavy-lifting charity;
3)      bringing him to the Church. It is not enough to just do social justice. We must bring people to the faith and to the Sacraments;
4)      which presupposes that we ourselves have received (at least to an initial degree) these graces from the Good Samaritan.

In this way, Jesus answers the lawyer’s second question: “And who is my neighbor?”

The answer to that is “everyone”—for “whatever you did to these least among you, you did to me.” (Mt 25:40). You see, Jesus is the Good Samaritan AND, by taking on humanity's lowly state, has become one with the man who was robbed, beaten, stripped, and left for dead.

Eternal life, therefore, is tied up with receiving the divine offering of charity from Jesus, the Good Samaritan (grace) AND in being transformed into Him, so as to see Him in our neighbor, and thus making us one in charity with the Good Samaritan and each other.

Hence, when Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” He is inviting us to a radical union with His divine life, a life of charity, which brings eternal life for many.


  1. Thank you, Father! Would you give the source of the references from Origen and Pope Benedict? I would like to read more about this..

    1. Sure! See Origen's Homily XXXIV on Luke (an excerpt can be easily found here: https://frted.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/origens-interpertation-of-the-good-samaritan-parable/) .... As for Pope Benedict, you can find his treatment of the Good Samaritan in his book Jesus of Nazareth (Part I), pp 194ff.

  2. Well said and understood.

  3. Thanks for putting it in context. I've heard some of these in bits and pieces over the years, but never the Innkeeper and church and never in the entirety.