Jesus is the Good Samaritan. We can only be Good Samaritans if we share in his divine nature. This is the key medieval reading of the parable, and really the key to all theology.
We are “a certain man” who “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, who stripped him of his clothing and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”
We have turned our back on the city of God, the place of worship, the center of God’s people, and are headed back – down – to the city of man, surrounded by man-made walls and not the mountains of God. Jericho lies just Jerusalem’s side of the River Jordan, and we are on our way to renouncing our Baptism – so different from the days of Joshua, who crossed in the other direction and conquered the city of man on his way up to Jerusalem.
The robbers are the demons, literal and figurative, who have stripped us of the glory we put on when we put on Christ and have left us half dead in the ditch of our sin. How foolish we were to go down that road. But there we are, the race of Adam, poor banished children of Eve, in this valley of tears.
Down come the priests and Levites, who cling to their religious self-importance but turn their back (not their face) to Jerusalem, to the love of God and the love of his people that defines that city. There is no help in religion without love.
But then along comes the Samaritan, the outcast, rejected of men, rejected by those religious folks who turn their backs to Jerusalem. He is a wayfarer – and he sees us and is moved with pity. Splagchnon: his bowels, his viscera, his deepest guts, tremble with mercy for us.
He binds our wounds, pours the oil and wine of the sacraments on us, his healing balms, his grace. He sets us on his own animal, carries us with the beast of his own flesh, bends down under the weight of our sin and our half–dead souls.
And he carries us to the inn – the Church – sets us already in the image of the Jerusalem above, that place where people care for one another. And the first one to care for us there – the Greek means something about looking on us with attention – is Jesus himself. It is Jesus himself who makes the Church, the inn, a place of healing.
The next day he leaves us, always he is on his way, and after a glimpse and a taste of his healing touch, he is gone. But he gives two denarii to the innkeeper, tells him, “Take care of him” (it’s that same word about looking attentively), and adds, “Whatever more you spend, when I come again I will repay you.”
This is the key to the whole parable, what sets it up as a repetition. For we who have been half dead on the side of the road become the innkeepers; the Good Samaritan makes us Good Samaritans, other Christs. Actually, the Greek for innkeeper, pandocheus, means “the one who receives all.” The innkeeper receives all guests – and he receives all payment. And that is what we become.
First we received health, received life when we were dead, were taken to the inn when it was impossible for us to get there ourselves. Then we received the two denarii, a superabundance, far too much, to care for those who come to us. And we receive the wounded the Good Samaritan brings us, because the Good Samaritan himself has given us provision.
And we will never run out. He will be back. He comes back every day, in every sacrament, in every glance at Holy Scripture or his image, every time we call on his name, and says “whatever more you spend, when I come again I will repay you.” We couldn’t afford to receive all these bleeding needy wayfarers, except that his generosity overflows, pays us more than we need, makes us rich in our receiving. We sit down to balance our books, and we say it’s too much, we can’t afford to be merciful, can’t be Good Samaritans – until we remember him, who gives us everything, who gives us far too much.
And he will come again and repay our every good deed. He gives us the strength to do it in the first place and he will repay us when he comes again in glory: “Then the King shall say to those on His right hand, Come, blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in.”
The parable began with a question. We know Scripture says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” But who is my neighbor? “Which of these three, do you think, was neighbor to him who fell among the robbers? And he said, He that showed mercy to him.”
Mercy is the way. Because he has been merciful to us, we can be merciful to others. Because he is the Good Samaritan, we can be.
Where does the call of mercy seem too costly for you?