Yesterday, the Gospel for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in the Extraordinary Form (traditional calendar) was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Most priests, at least the one that we usually have preaching the homily for this Gospel, who celebrate the traditional Mass will direct the faithful’s attention to the commentary from the Church Fathers on this particular parable. In the Novus Ordo rite, the explanation will often get watered down to helping our neighbor and being kind to the sick and injured like the Good Samaritan did instead of being like the priest and Levite who pass him by without any thought for his needs. But it usually stops there. The commentary by the Church Fathers suggests a deeper, richer meaning and tells that we have a duty to lead our neighbors to truth instead of just helping them out in times of physical illness or crisis.
First of all, the set up to the parable is that a certain lawyer questions Jesus about what he should do to gain eternal life. Jesus responds that he must love God with his whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself. The lawyer responds “But who is my neighbor?” Now, a noticeable difference here from other people questioning Jesus is that the lawyer is not trying to test Jesus or trip Him up like so many others in the Gospels. He genuinely wants to better himself and be a righteous person. Thus, Jesus’s response is to give him something that will really help him and He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. According to the Church Fathers, even the smallest details in the story have significance.
The man who was walking down from Jerusalem to Jericho represents mankind. Even the detail “walking down from Jerusalem to Jericho” has significant meaning. Jerusalem was known as a holy place and represents heaven. Jericho was known as a dark town at that time and it represents hell. Thus, the man was walking “down” from the holy place into darkness. The robbers who beat him and left him half dead represent the devil and his power that has come down on the earth since the Fall of Adam and Eve. This can be manifested in many aspects of our lives today, including our culture and society, as well as in people closer to us who try to lead us away from God. The priest and Levite, who passed by the Samaritan without stopping to help, represent the people of Israel, who were cold and kept to themselves and their own kind, having the mindset of the world. Today, this can refer to people who are cold and closed off from us, keeping to their own cliques and refusing to be helpful and kind to others. The Samaritan who came along represents not just a good neighbor, but Christ Himself, who is not of this world and helps not only His own kind, but anyone who needs Him and calls to Him in faith.
The Samaritan binds the man’s wounds with oil and wine, which also have significance. The oil represents the Catholic sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the wine represents the Eucharist. Jesus pours His Blood into the wounds of man by sacrificing Himself in order to open the gates of heaven for him and give him hope for a life apart from sin. The Samaritan then puts the man on his own donkey and brings him to an inn. This inn is the Catholic Church, the fullness of truth. He tells the innkeeper to care for the man and that he will pay him when he returns. In this way, the innkeeper represents the Pope and all of the clergy. They are charged with leading the faithful through the turbulent waters of today’s ever changing society, keeping them close to and mindful of the teachings of Christ and His Church, which are constant and never changing. They will be rewarded according to how well they have fulfilled this duty when Christ returns at the Second Coming.
So, given this deeper meaning of the parable, how was the Samaritan a good neighbor to the man who was robbed? By offering healing for his wounds inflicted by the evil one and bringing him to the truth of the Catholic faith. This is how we must be good neighbors to others. This is how we love others as we love ourselves. By loving God first and then willing the good for ourselves, which is to be with God and know the truth. Once we can do this, we pass it on by willing this good for others. In this way, we love them as we love ourselves.
The Samaritan was a good neighbor by bringing the wounded man to the truth. At the end of the Gospel reading, Jesus gives us, through the person of the lawyer, the ultimate instruction:
Go and do likewise.