In the Gospel for Mass this Sunday we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. Among the most well-known parts of the Lord’s preaching, the Good Samaritan has captured the imagination of Christians throughout the ages.
Despite being so well known—the term Good Samaritan even has entered our common parlance—this parable may not be so well-understood. Many conceive of the Good Samaritan as principally an impetus to serve our neighbor and look after the unfortunate. While that is all well and good, the truth of this parable expresses much more than that.
If this was simply a moralizing tale—be good to your neighbor—would it really have the staying power throughout the centuries that it has? Instead, the parable of the Good Samaritan captures the whole of the Christian story. It doesn’t so much tell us what we are to do but, more important, it tells us who we are. It isn’t so much that we are supposed to be the Good Samaritan, as it is that we are the man in the ditch.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains: “man lies helpless on the roadside of history and [in the Good Samaritan] God Himself has become his neighbor in Jesus.” The Good Samaritan is Jesus Christ. He is the foreigner who has come down from Heaven. He who was distant has come close.
We are the ones who have fallen into the ditch of sin and death and cannot get out on our own. All those who came before Christ—like the priest and Levite—and truth to tell all others who walk by now—secular philosophies, worldly wisdom, false religions—none can save us. Only Jesus, only the Good Samaritan, the one from a far-away place, can lift us from the ditch of sin. Only Christ the Good Samaritan can set us free.
And there is more. Today’s Gospel explains that the Samaritan takes the fallen man to the inn, that is, he takes him to the Church. He promises to return, like Jesus at the end of time. He will be the one to pay the debt in full. The injured man is restored to life through oil and wine, that is, the Sacraments of the Church. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the story of our life in the Church. We are not saved off on our own—we are not left in the ditch—but are restored and brought to life through the Sacraments in the Church.
Meeting Christ in the Church, especially in the Sacraments, is the way out of the ditch. In fact, as far as we know, it is the only way out. The story of the Good Samaritan tells us how Jesus is the one who gets us out of whatever ditch we’re in. There is no sin, no difficulty, no ditch in the world too much for Jesus. Out of the ditch of suffering and sadness, there really is a way out.
Here are Saint John’s Seminary we form priests with the heart of the Good Samaritan. The men of Saint John’s seek to draw everyone to the inn that is Christ’s Church. Here in the Church of Christ everyone can receive the oil of new life in the Sacraments. We are grateful for your generosity and prayers for this important task.
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