A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
The Church has traditionally (and rightly so) interpreted the beloved parable of the good Samaritan to see the poor beaten man as a figure of our fallen condition, and the merciful stranger as our Lord. In our wretchedness Christ comes to minister His gifts of healing and redemption, and restores us to new life at His own expense.
In other words, it would be a mistake simply to take the story as a moral example, told to expand our sense of what it means to care for one and other. Certainly it does have that effect, ultimately, but not merely by way of example; and the story itself is at pains to make that clear, in the figures of the priest and the Levite: together they represent our obedience, our commitment to, both the law and religious life. In other words, they represent our best interests, and our best intentions. And according to those forms of righteousness, Jesus says, there will be no new way or life. Or, to use Paul’s language, there is no fruit of the spirit according to the letter of the law; the righteousness of the Pharisees is merely opposed to the ways of the flesh—justly—but it has no vision of a goodness free to minister grace to them wounded by this wicked world. We may have the will to avoid the darkness, but that is the best we can do, by ourselves.
But ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In Him was life, and the life was the light of men—and the light shines in the darkness, and is not overcome’. Jesus changes our story. That is the Gospel. He doesn’t merely teach us a better way, or point us back on the right path, which we have lost, and need to be reminded; Jesus is the new way. What he teaches is simply an outward expression of His own gift of Himself to us as His people. The healing miracles, in other words, are signs of His power to heal our souls. The radical humility and forgiveness He teaches are the principles of His own mercy towards us. It is Jesus, first of all, who turns the other cheek, literally. It is Jesus who gives up His coat, and His shirt also. It is Jesus who loves His enemies, because it is Jesus who loves you and me.
So as we read the story of the merciful Stranger, it is crucial that we take its meaning personally, more personally than anything that has ever happened to us. We lie in the ditch, beaten and dying. What does that mean? Only you and I know, for ourselves. Only you and I can meet the stranger in His love, utterly particular to my story, and receive His gift. And there, as we do, we begin to know what we could not know until then: the knowledge of the love of God, bearing in us the fruit of the spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” And only then can we know what it means, to ‘go, and do thou likewise.’