The Gospel lesson appointed for this week is one of the best-known
passages in the New testament: Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.
It's a well-known story, certainly, but perhaps not always
well-understood. The interpretation of the parables is, in
fact, a tricky business: under the surface of simple stories, there
are deep layers of meaning for those who have eyes to see.
Today's parable, for instance, could be read on several different
A contemporary reading of it might perhaps see it as a kind of
cynical anti-establishment fable: the priest and the Levite,
recognized officials of Jewish society, custodians of religious and
moral authority, appear in a very uncomplimentary light. They
see the wounded man by the wayside, and they pass by on the other
side. It is left to the Samaritan, the despised heretic and
outcast of society, to act with a compassion and a generosity which
put the establishment to shame.
Such an interpretation would not be entirely wrong: there is
certainly present in the story that element of hostility towards the
officials of Judaism. But that's not the whole point; and it's
surely not the basic point. A parable is, after all, a
symbolic or illustrative story, and one must look beneath the
surface; one must look beyond the sign to what is signified.
And if one does that, one may find (as ancient interpreters did) a
more universal theological and religious meaning.
Who is the wounded wretch, lying by the wayside, stripped of his
raiment, and half-dead? Who is this but lost mankind, wounded
by sin, distracted from his road of pilgrimage, stripped of human
dignity, and deprived of truly human life? And who is that
magnanimous Samaritan, that despised outsider, who brings solace and
healing, who binds up the wounds, and makes provision for the care
and convalescence of the traveller? Who is this but Christ
himself, who comes here from outside, as it were; who comes in mercy
and forgiveness, and makes provision for our new life in grace, with
the two-fold coinage of word and sacrament?
Then comes the final admonition: "Go and do then likewise." It's
an answer to the lawyer's question about how to attain eternal life.
"Go and do thou likewise." Go and act with the
magnanimity - the greatness of soul, the compassion and generosity -
of Christ the Good Samaritan. That is, after all, the Law:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all they mind, and
thy neighbour as thyself...this do and thou shalt live."
But what about this final admonition: "Go and do thou
likewise"? Is what we're left with in the end simply a
moral exhortation which any liberal humanist - ancient or modern -
would certainly applaud? Moral exhortation, as Aristotle long
ago explained, and as we all know perfectly well from our own
experience, is of very limited use: the more fundamental
issues have to do with moral perspectives and motivations. We
can "go and do likewise" only insofar as we ourselves become
good Samaritans, and that is possible only by the Good Samaritan's
gift. And it is that aspect of the matter that today's Epistle
lesson (from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians) insists upon,
speaking of goodness as the "fruit of the Spirit." [The
Epistle appointed in the 1962 Cdn BCP]
In the Epistle lesson, one finds the typical Pauline opposition
between Spirit and flesh; and that is so open to misunderstanding
that we had better spend a moment or two thinking about it.
It's important to see that it's not an opposition between
Spirit and body. (Some of you will perhaps recall how St.
Augustine, in Book XIV of the City of God, interpreting these
Pauline texts, makes precisely that point against Virgil.
Virgil, says Augustine, blames all our ills on the body - the
cloddish clay by which the pure spirit is degraded.) St. Paul,
on the contrary, sees all our sins as generated in our souls: the
works of the flesh are not the works of the body essentially,
but worldly, fleshly preoccupations of the soul. [e.g. "wrath,
What is required, then, is not a new law, nor a new
moral exhortation, but an inner renovation of the mind.
"Walk in the Spirit", says St. Paul, "and ye shall not fulfil
the desire of the flesh." In this perspective, our Gospel
parable is not simply about moral exhortation, but is more
fundamentally about inner spiritual transformation: renewal of the
mind. "Go and do thou likewise" means "Let this mind
be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," and as St. Paul says
at the end of our Epistle lesson, "they that are Christ's have
crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts."
Now, all of this belongs, of course, to the ordinary teaching of the
Church for this thirteenth week of the Trinity season, but I think
we can also relate it particularly to the life of the University,
and suggest its relevance especially for those of you who are new
here. The whole point of the University is renewal of the mind
- a renewal which involves the discovery of the sources and springs
of moral and spiritual life. We live in an age which has to a
very great extent forgotten those sources and springs, and I think
the "fruits of the Spirit" will not long abide in a world
from which the Spirit has been banished.
University education is, of course, many things: skills, and
techniques, and knowledge of all kinds; but, above all, it must be
about the recovery and repossession of those sources; about the
discovery and nutriment of the life of the Spirit. If our
university and its chapel can help you to make such discoveries and
find such nutriment; to find, indeed the bread of life, your time
here will be well-spent. God bless you in the undertaking.