“Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more,
when I come again, I will repay thee.” (St. Luke 10.35)
The traditional interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan
which comes down to us from the Church Fathers points out that there are
five characters in this story: 1) the poor man who lies wounded in the
ditch, 2) the first passer-by who pays no attention to the wounded man
whatsoever, 3) the second passer-by who notices the man, but chooses not
to do anything, 4) the Samaritan who has compassion on the victim of robbery,
and takes him to the inn where he has his wounds attended to, and hires
5) the innkeeper to continue this care until his return.
The classical interpretation of this Parable further informs us that
the Samaritan, is our Saviour Jesus Christ. He presents himself as a Samaritan
in this parable because like that race, he was an outcast among the Jewish
people. The journey upon which the Samaritan has embarked is the Incarnation:
the Son of God leaving his Father’s side, coming to earth in order to help
mankind, and then returning to his Father, until, as the Creed teaches,
“he shall come again.” The poor man the Samaritan pulls out of the ditch
represents the human race, set upon by robbers, that is to say the forces
of evil, who have stripped mankind of its righteousness and inflicted the
wounds of sin. The Priest and the Levite who pass by represent the attempts
of Old Testament religion to help mankind.
Its help is ineffective because neither the sacrifices of the Jewish
priesthood nor the personal holiness of the Levitical law were sufficient
to rescue mankind from the place of injury and certain death into which
it had fallen. Neither the sacrifices nor the personal piety of the Jews
were in themselves sinful, as St. Paul points out in his Epistle to the
Galatians; but without charity, without love of neighbour, these offerings
made to God were completely ineffective. That is why it was necessary for
him who is both the great High Priest and the fulfillment of the law to
come and give a new commandment: “that ye love one another.” (John 13.34)
The Good Samaritan, who is Jesus Christ, sacrificed himself upon the Cross,
and fulfilled the law most perfectly, for the love of mankind, for the
sake of mankind.
Now, this classical interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan,
which sees it as an illustration of the love of God at work in history
is very important. We should commit it to memory, and meditate upon it
during the coming week.
But the interpretation and understanding of any parable, indeed, any
part of the Bible, should not stop with what it teaches us about
salvation history. We must also seek to understand its relationship
to our personal and individual salvation histories. There is a certain
sense (and when I say “certain,” I mean definite) in which the poor man
in the ditch is each one of us. For which one of us has not suffered as
a result of the assaults of the devil? Which one of us has not been stripped
of our righteousness, that is, which one of us was not born in original
sin? And which one of us has not been seriously wounded by the individual
sins we commit from day to day? Which one of us does not recognize the
need for the help of some Good Samaritan, some Saviour? Those of us who
are of the community of the redeemed, of the number who have been pulled
from the ditch, let us say, know that we have been saved, first of all,
by Holy Baptism. And we know that we have been continually ministered to
by God’s grace working through Holy Communion and the other sacraments.
We experience daily the healing of our injured souls. The Church is the
inn to which we have been carried by our Saviour, and it is in the Church
that we experience his healing aid.
And so our Lord is our Good Samaritan. But there is also a sense in
which we are the innkeeper, the person to whom the Samaritan entrusted
the injured traveller. Having been restored to health by the charity of
the Good Samaritan, we are each called to do the work of the innkeeper.
As members of the Church, we are called to help others who are in need,
those whom Jesus the Good Samaritan brings to us. “Sinners ourselves, now
redeemed, and brought into God’s house, we are commanded to be continually
showing mercy on other sinners.” (John Keble, Sermons for the Christian
Year, Sundays After Trinity XIII-End, p. 23) As a Christian family, we
have a mission to the world, to aid those who are hungry, homeless, and
who have not heard the Gospel. We have a mission within our own community,
within our own parish, to take care of those in material and spiritual
need. “Take care of him,” is Jesus’ commandment to each and every one of
us. To whom can you reach out? the sick in hospital, those confined to
nursing homes or other institutions, the lonely, the single parent, the
student away from home for the first time, the lapsed, the unregenerate.
How can you fulfil the commandment, “Take care of him?”
We must never allow our religion to be like the religion of the priest,
or Levite. Religious ceremony or personal holiness is not enough in itself.
To this must be added the love of neighbour. Remember, this parable was
told in response to the lawyer’s question: “What shall I do to inherit
eternal life?” And the answer which Jesus gives amounts to this: if we
wish to have any part of eternal life, we must be concerned about one another.
Love God, yes; but love your neighbour as well. “This is the Law and the
Prophets.” This is the totality of religion.
Finally, why do you suppose it is that we who have been shown so much
love by God are often so very unloving? Is it because we do not have enough
faith in our Lord? In this Parable, the injured man was left in the care
of the innkeeper, who was given two pence and told that when the Samaritan
returned, he would pay whatever else it cost to take care of the injured
man. This required faith on the part of the innkeeper. He was going to
make expenditures without knowing how much these would be or how long the
Samaritan would be gone. Would he really return that way? And could he
be sure of payment if he did return? The Gospels are full of statements
made by our Lord, both in parable form (such as the parables of the 10
virgins, of the talents, and of the steward) and direct warnings, that
though he is going away, he will return again, to take account of how faithful
those who have been left behind have been in using the gifts with which
they have been endowed. Furthermore, each is going to be rewarded or punished,
according to his desserts. We are assured by our Lord, that whatever time,
energy, or money we expend in the building up of his Kingdom, will be repaid.
“No one who gives up that which is most valuable for his sake, and the
sake of the building up of the Body of Christ will go unrewarded.” (Keble,
as above, p. 29 paraphrased) Do you believe that? Do you trust our Lord’s
promise? If so, you had better do something about it. “Blessed are those
servants” our Lord says, “who when he returns, he finds faithful.” (Matthew
12.37) But woe unto those who have squandered and misused that with which
they have been entrusted.
God has given each of us talents and resources, skills and abilities.
But he has also given each of us a mission to work with him, the Good Samaritan,
for the salvation of the world. Let us, in this Holy Communion, offer ourselves,
all that we are, all that we have, for the fulfillment of this holy calling.