This Sunday’s Gospel reading in Luke 10:25-37 is frequently referred to as the story about “The Good Samaritan.” Interestingly enough, the word, “good” appears nowhere in the passage. I think the word “good” is understood today as a fairly weak word — something like “nice” or “okay.” So we might not think the Samaritan did anything too special just by using the description of “good.” In fact, the Samaritan man did far more than something nice for the person who was dying on the side of the road. He not only went out of his way to help, but he saved the man’s life through his own sacrificial efforts.
Let’s consider this story another way, such as how St. Augustine interpreted this passage. St. Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo in North African in the 4th/5th centuries. He liked to interpret Scripture using allegories, which were hidden spiritual meanings. Augustine understood that the Good Samaritan in this parable was representing Jesus Christ, who offered Himself as a sacrifice to humanity. Augustine thought the man going from Jerusalem to Jericho was Adam, who represented fallen humanity. This man was beaten nearly to death by an evil person, whom Augustine saw representing Satan & his demons. Christ (in the person of the Samaritan) bent down to bind the wounds of suffering humanity, brought him to Inn for healing (which Augustine saw as the Church) and gave two coins to the innkeeper. What do you think the coins represented to Augustine? He thought they represented the two commandments of Christ to love God and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self, and of course this is the moral of the parable! Love God, Love Neighbor.
The two commandments that can be represented by the two coins are listed at the beginning of the passage at Luke 10:27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and ‘your neighbor as yourself’.” So, let’s ask the question, who is our neighbor? Did the priest of Levite in the story stop to help their Jewish brother who was badly beaten and dying? I would’ve thought at least these people were neighbors to this man who needed help! But they didn’t stop, and only a Samaritan man stopped to help. What makes this story so special is the Samaritan man was generally not liked by the Jews, because people of Samaria weren’t fully Jewish from their origins or practices. In a way, the Samaritan man stopping to help the injured Jewish man would have been considered radical. This radical and sacrificial act performed by the “Good Samaritan” is an exemplary example of loving your neighbor and seeing the image and likeness of God in someone else. The Samaritan showed mercy to the dying Jew, performing a helpful act while showing faithfulness, grace, kindness and love. St. Isaac the Syrian defined a merciful heart as a heart burning with love for all creation, human beings, animals, birds, even devils, a heart which cannot bear injury or anything hurtful in creation without shedding burning tears of love.
Christ is called the Merciful One in our prayers and hymns of the Orthodox Church. Christ is the embodiment of sacrificial love, a love that cannot bear the suffering of humanity but comes to the world to redeem humanity from the slavery of sin even through the cost of crucifixion. Now, from the parable of the Good Samaritan, we even get confirmation at the end in Luke 10:37 that the Samaritan was the one who showed mercy to the Jewish man. This about times in life now where we pass by people in need, and we are moving so fast that sometime we don’t even acknowledge them. The Samaritan stopped, took time out of his day, used his belongings to care for his wounds, and then hoisted him upon his animal to take him to a save place for further care. He even gave money for a man he didn’t know, so that we could well.
So, back to the title. If Jesus Christ is the embodiment of sacrificial love, and we call Him “Merciful,” maybe a better way to describe this parable is “The Merciful Samaritan?” What do you think? How can your family offer mercy to a friend or neighbor in need? This is the perfect time of year to have those kinds of discussions with your child and make a family plan to consider neighbors in need. I pray you find opportunities this month to give back to those in need, especially this November 22nd when we help feed the homeless as a community.
With love in Christ,