|Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants|
Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37
The familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, which the Church calls to our minds this weekend, is one of the many places where Our Lord stirs things up a bit for the Jewish community. If one were to ask a good and faithful First-Century Jew “Who is your neighbor?” they would likely have responded that any other Jewish person was their neighbor, regardless of any familial connection. But when the scholar of the Law asks this of Jesus, He gives a much more inclusive answer and expands the requirements of love of neighbor to include all of humanity, not just one’s own self-defined group. The radical call to love was revolutionary and many took offense at what Jesus suggested to them. It was too difficult, too much to ask. And the reality is that we still struggle with it today. Even for us Christians, it is still a difficult task to love without boundaries. And yet the challenge remains.
When we hear this parable, because of the radical call to love that we all still struggle with, we naturally tend to look at the scene and try to discern which of the three people we are. Are we the priest who was so caught up in rules and expectations that he failed to help the dying man? Or are we the busy Levite who could have helped, but didn’t want to take the risk? After all, this game of playing sick or dead was a common trick to lure people in only to rob them and leave them sick or dying. Or maybe we are the Samaritan who takes the risk to stop, showing love to one in need and caring for them? Maybe we’ve been all three at different times in our lives. But today I want to suggest to you that we are none of them. Instead, each and every one of us is the man who has been beaten, stripped, and left for dead. And that’s a scary place to be.
While we can and should spend time reflecting on how well we live the call to love of neighbor, this story also speaks to us of something much bigger – the story of salvation. We all know the basic story – Adam and Eve were created but fell into sin and merited death for all of humanity. In need of a savior to save us from that death, the world anxiously awaited the Christ, Jesus. After taking up our flesh, offering Himself on the Cross, and rising in Glory, He won for us eternal life. It’s us to us to receive that life and strive for Heaven.
If you look closely, the story of the Samaritan is much the same.
The anonymous man who has been beaten, stripped, and left for dead is humanity as a whole, as well as each of us as individuals. We are bound in sin and are unable to help ourselves up; we cannot save ourselves from eternal death. As Psalm 49 bluntly puts it: no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life. And so all of humanity and we as individual must await a savior, someone to rescue us. The world offers so many alternatives that say they can help us become better people or can bring us true joy, but they fail to satisfy. These are like the priest and Levite who pass by; they cannot and will not help. But there is one that can help – the Good Samaritan, the Savior, Jesus. To broken and sinful humanity Our Lord comes to bring healing, strength and life. And how does He do it? With oil and wine. The oil is symbolic of baptism and confirmation, when we are sealed with the Sacred Chrism, marked for Christ, and given strengthened to fight against sin. The wine is symbolic of the Eucharist and Confession, where the ‘wine of salvation', the Precious Blood of Jesus, is poured over our wounded souls and we and we are healed. Furthermore, the Samaritan, when He goes away leaves two pence with the innkeeper to continue the care for the injured man, for us. St. Augustine suggested that he innkeeper is the Church, who cares for our souls while the Lord has gone to prepare our places in Heaven and the two pence given to the innkeeper, the Church, are the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments wherein the Inspired Word of God continues to strengthen us and provide us nourishment until the Lord comes again in His Glory.
My dear friends, fellow sinners left for dead in our sins, if we want life we must come to the sacraments and allow Christ to save us. In our humanity we like to think that we can fix ourselves, that we can work out our own problems. But the fact is that we are unable even to stand on our own two feet without the help of Jesus, much less heal our wounds. The regular and worthy reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession are absolutely necessary if we want to live, as is our immersion in the Divine Word in Sacred Scripture. To fail to make use of them is to reject the charity of the Good Samaritan and willingly remain broken and dying in the road that is this world. We were created for much more than that. We were created for eternal life.
The call to radical love of others in imitation of Jesus, manifested in this parable, is something each of us must hear and heed. But, too, we must also recognize that before we can really help to heal others, we ourselves must first become like that man left for dead – aware of his brokenness and need, he let himself be cared for by the Samaritan. To this also Jesus speaks to us and challenges us: “Go and do likewise.”