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What must I do for Eternal Life?
Origen. Priest and Confessor
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.
(PG 13, Hom. 34 col. 1886. From the Latin of St. Jerome's translation.)
While many were the precepts commanded under the Law, in the Gospel the Saviour has imposed on us only those, and in a summary form, which lead those who obey them to eternal life. And it is to this that this question of the lawyer here refers, when he says: Master, what must I do, to possess eternal life? And this is the lesson, from the Gospel according to Luke, that has been read to you today. And the Lord answered him in this way: What is written in the Law? How readest thou? Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And He said to him: Thou hast answered right. This do; and thou shalt live.

There is no doubt that if you do this, concerning which the lawyer had questioned the Lord, you shall receive eternal life. At the same time we are clearly taught in this commandment of the Law that we are to love God. In the Book of Deuteronomy it is written: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and the rest; and Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Deut. vi. 4, 5; Lev. xix. 18). And the Saviour has given testimony concerning these commandments, saying: On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets (Mt. xxii. 40).

But the Doctor of the Law wishing to justify himself, and to show that no one was his neighbour, saying; Who is my neighbour? the Lord took occasion from this to speak a parable, which begins: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and so on. And He teaches us that no one was a neighbour to the man who was going down save he who had chosen to keep the commandments, and to prepare himself, that he might be a neighbour to any man who needed help. For this is what He laid down on concluding the parable: Which of these three, in thy opinion, was neighbour to him that fell among robbers? For neither the Priest nor the Levite were his neighbours; but, as the lawyer himself had answered, only he that shewed mercy, only he was a neighbour to him. And accordingly the Saviour says to him: Go; and do thou in like manner.

A certain one of the Elders, interpreting the parable, said that the man who went down is Adam; that Jerusalem means Paradise; Jericho, the world; the robbers, the enemy powers; the Priest stood for the Law; the Levite for the Prophets; the Samaritan for Christ. The wounds stand for our disobedience. The beast, the Body of the Lord. The common house (Pandochium), that is, the inn, which receives all who wish to enter it, is interpreted as the Church. Furthermore, the two denarii are understood to mean the Father and the Son: the innkeeper, the Head of the Church, to whom the plan of the redemption and its means has been entrusted. And concerning that which the Samaritan promises at his return, this was a figure of the Second Corning of the Saviour.

Though these things are reasonably and beautifully said, we must not however believe they relate to every man. For not every man has gone down from Jerusalem to Jericho, nor do all who dwell in this present world; save He Who was sent, Who came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The man therefore who came down from Jerusalem to Jericho, because He willed to come, fell therefore among robbers. And the robbers are none other than those of whom the Saviour says: All others who came before me, were thieves and robbers (Jn. x. 8). But it was not among thieves he fell, but among robbers, much worse than thieves, who, when the man on his way down from Jerusalem fell among them, stripped him and wounded him. What are those wounds? What are the injuries by which man was wounded? Vices and sins. Then because the robbers who had stripped and wounded him did nothing for the naked man, but wounding him again they left him, and so the Scripture says: stripping him, and wounding him, they went away, leaving him, not dead, but half dead.

And it chanced that first a priest, then a Levite, went down the same way, who perhaps had done some good to other men, but not however to this man, who had been on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. For the priest who saw him, let us say, the Law saw him. The Levite, I would say, stood for prophecy. And seeing him they left him, and passed by. Providence was keeping the half dead man for One Who was stronger than the Law and the Prophets; for the Samaritan, which means, a guardian. This is He Who guarding Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. cxx. 4). This Samaritan set out on his journey because of the half-dead man; not from Jerusalem to Jericho, as the priest and the Levite descended; or if He did go down, He went down for the reason that he might save and guard the man who was about to die. To this Man the Jews had said: Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil (Jn. viii. 48). And though He denied He had a devil, He did not deny He was a Samaritan. For He knew Himself to be a Guardian.

And so when He came nigh to the half-dead man, and saw him lying in his blood, moved by compassion He came near to him; to be a neighbour to him. He bound up his wounds; He poured oil into them, mixed with wine; nor did He say what we read in the Prophet: There is no salve to apply to them, nor oil, nor binding (Is. i. 6, Sept.). This is the Samaritan, Whose help and healing all need who are sick. And he above all needed this Samaritan’s help, who going down from Jerusalem to Jericho had fallen among robbers, and, wounded by them, had been abandoned half dead. But that you may know that this Samaritan descended in accordance with God’s Providence, to heal the one who had fallen among robbers, you shall be taught this clearly from the fact that He had brought with him bandages, that He had brought oil, that He had brought wine. And I believe that the Samaritan carried these things with him, not solely for this one half-dead man, but for others also who, for various reasons had been wounded, and would need to have their wounds bound up, and would need both oil and wine. He had with Him the oil of which it was written: That he may make the face cheerful with oil (Ps. ciii. 15). And there is no doubt that He Who had taken care of him, would also soothe with oil the swellings of his wounds.

And, adding something pungent, He cleans the wounds with wine, and places the man who had been wounded upon His own beast, that is, upon His own Body, Which as Man He had deigned to assume. This Samaritan bears our sins, and suffers for us, and lifts up the half-dead man, and brings him to an inn, that is into the Church, which receives all men, and denies its help to no one, and to which Jesus calls all men, saying: Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you (Mt. xi. 28). And after He brought him there, He did not at once disappear, but remains at the inn for a day with the half-dead man, and takes care of his wounds not only by day, but also by night; giving him every care and attention.

And when in the morning He was setting out, He takes from His own honest silver, from His own honest money, two denarii, and pays the innkeeper; no doubt the Angel of the Church; to whom He gives the command to care for him diligently, and bring back to health this man whom He also, because of the urgency of his need, had cared for. The two denarii seem to me to be the knowledge of the Father and the Son, and the knowledge of the mystery of how the Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father, which are given as a reward to the Angel, that he may take loving care of the man entrusted to him. And He promises him that whatever of his own he shall spend in healing of the half—slain man, shall there be repaid him.

Truly was this Guardian of souls, Who had shown compassion to him who fell among robbers, closer to him than the Law and the Prophets; showing Himself a neighbour not only in name but in deed. From the words of Christ that now follow it is possible therefore for us to imitate Christ, to have compassion on those who have fallen among robbers, to draw near them, to bind their wounds, pouring in oil and wine, to place them upon our own beast, and bear their burthens. And so the Son of God, exhorting us to like good works, says, not so much to the lawyer as to us also; Go; and do thou in like manner. And if we do in like manner, we shall come to the possession of eternal life in Christ Jesus, to Whom be glory and honour for ever and ever. Amen.