I must begin with apologies to those who have heard this story before but I find I return again and again to my Mother’s actions when one bitterly cold Christmas morning she found a young traveller boy crying outside our front door. He had sprained his ankle and my mother took him in, checked his ankle and would not let him go until she had fed him. She understood that everyone is our neighbour and she therefore could never pass by someone in need.
That is the heart of this Gospel passage. We start with the Lawyer’s question of how we are to attain Eternal life. Our Lord refers him to the Law. The lawyer rightly recites the Shema Israel – the Jewish Creed still recited to this day. This is the path to salvation; honour God and love your neighbour. But the Lawyer wants to cover himself, to set limits and conditions. ‘Who is my neighbour?’ the lawyer asks. He is testing Christ, that is, God-made-man, the very author of all true law and creator of everything. Christ who stands before him is both his neighbour and his God. Our Lord’s response does not change the Law but expands it. He tells the Lawyer and us the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’. In order to understand how shocking this parable is we must replace the Samaritan with another character. We need to replace him with some person or a representative of some group we believe to be unacceptable. WE might call him the ‘Good Unionist’. It is then we can hear what our Lord is saying. There are no limits to love, not the rather confused modern notions of love, but real love, love that is self-giving, self-sacrificing. The Samaritan responds to the need of his neighbour though he is a member of an enemy people. The priest and the Levite, professional religious men, caught up in religious and nationalist issues of purity choose not to reach out to the other and are, paradoxically, breaking the very law they would uphold.
Christ is our Good Samaritan. We were, through our sins, enemies of God and yet He came into the world to save us. St Augustine tells us:
“Robbers left you half-dead on the road, but you have been found lying there by the passing and kindly Samaritan. Wine and oil have been poured on you. You have received the sacrament of the only-begotten Son. You have been lifted onto his mule. You have believed that Christ became flesh. You have been brought to the inn, and you are being cured in the Church. That is where and why I am speaking. This is what I too, what all of us are doing. We are performing the duties of the innkeeper. He was told, “If you spend any more, I will pay you when I return.” If only we spent at least as much as we have received! However much we spend, brothers and sisters, it is the Lord’s money.”
He has brought us to the Church as a place of healing. He has poured over us the purifying wine of His Blood and washed our wounds in Baptism and anointed us with healing oil in Confirmation. He has given us into the care of the inn that is His Holy Church, a place of refuge for those on the journey to Eternal Life. In this holy inn our task is to be the Good Samaritan to others, to be obedient as the innkeeper was and to care for those who are broken and in need. Again as St Augustine tells us:
“He shows mercy to us because of His own goodness, while we show mercy to one another because of God’s goodness. He has compassion on us so that we may enjoy Him completely, while we have compassion on another that we may completely enjoy Him.”
Even when we wander off and are brought down by our sins it is Christ who finds us and with His grace brings us to the Confessional where our wounds are bound and healed. What foolishness it is therefore for anyone to avoid going to Confession or to neglect to confess all theirs sins. Let Christ our Good Samaritan heal you!
There is no private or partial living of the Faith. It must be public above all in our actions. This does not mean that we force our faith down other peoples’ throats but neither does it mean we let them force their faith down ours. Still less does it mean that we neglect to behave or to speak up in ways that make our faith obvious to everyone. Our Lord is telling us that there are to be no limits to love or to mercy. If we find someone is in need then we ought to do what we can for him or her regardless of whether he or she is our enemy and regardless of the cost. This visible proclamation of the Gospel is the most powerful witness of its truth and when we neglect it we are in fact offering a counter-proclamation, a denial that could cost others their salvation.
On the other hand in keeping Christ’s teaching, in extending to others the love and mercy He has extended to us we truly become His disciples and we will one day hear Him say to us “Come, you blessed of my Father, for I was in need and you looked after me. Enter into the joy of my Kingdom!”