If we ever find a friend or relative in trouble, we will probably be inclined to help, to do whatever we can. But what about finding a stranger in distress? While it may be relatively easy to care for friends and family in time of need, today the church gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan to remind us of the importance of caring for others, no matter who they are. A certain lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life. This was the right question, the big question. He did not ask to be strong, smart, fast, rich, popular or beautiful. The answer to this big question is found in the Old Testament – and the answer is love. We are to love God with everything we are, and our neighbor as we rightly love our-selves. Then the lawyer asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?” Or as the question is expressed in Greek – “who is close to me?” Loving those like us is not so hard. Loving those who are different than we are is much more difficult, thus Christ tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
We remember that the Fathers of the Church often used different two ways of understanding Scripture – the allegorical way and the more literal or historical way. In the allegorical approach the man coming down from Jerusalem to Jericho is Adam who represents mankind which falls from grace to sin, as life is controlled by the passions; the robbers are demons and devils who attack the man with temptations and the wounds of sin; the priest and Levite are the Law and the Prophets – the Old Covenant – unable to rescue fallen man; the good Samaritan is Christ himself, who tends to the man’s wounds with oil and wine, representing Holy Chrism and the Holy Eucharist; Christ carries the man on his own beast, as he carried our burdens on his body on the Cross; the inn is the Church, the hospital for our souls; the innkeeper is anyone who will preach the good news and the two coins are the Old and New Testaments, showing us how to live. All of this is helpful, but there is much more for us to consider.
In looking at the literal and historical circumstances – there was great ethnic and religious antagonism between Jews and Samaritans — so our neighbor is not only those close to us – those like us – those who share our beliefs, our interests, our social sphere, and our approach to life — my neighbor is anyone God brings near me, everyone I come in contact with. Whether that person becomes my neighbor or not, largely depends on me – will I make room in my heart for that person, do I wish them good or ill — will I see them as a person, as a child of God, or as an unwanted intrusion in my life, even as something to be ignored or misused. I am to be a good neighbor. I can act in such a way that this person becomes my neighbor, or I can cross over and walk on the other side… sparing myself expenditure of self, time, energy or emotional involvement. Sometimes we avoid getting involved because we don’t think it is our place to do so or because we don’t know what to do or say. Sadly, we also encounter con-men asking for help who try to prey on the goodwill of others, and we also find those who would trade whatever assistance is given for drugs or alcohol, so we cannot simply give money without discernment or thought. But as Christians we are called first to care, then to put that concern into action – to reach out as appropriate – to help bear one another’s burdens. If my brother is hurting then I should suffer with him, for we are members of the same body – the Body of Christ and we are fellow pilgrims charged with helping one another along the way.
The one who stopped to help was a Samaritan, one whose faith was less that Orthodox. This reminds us that right faith alone is not enough. We also need to love. We are called to love God and love our neighbor. To love means in part to give of ourselves. Some people, even some Christians, only ask what’s in it for me?, choosing relationships and many other things for selfish motives. Our relationships with one another should be modeled in many ways on our relationships with God. For example: we need to be in Church in order to worship, to give of ourselves to God, to give of our praise and thanks – to give of our time and talent – to give of our energy and resources. Likewise we are to be in human relationships for what we can receive and what can give. In both worship and in our relationships we find that in giving we receive so much in return. St. Paul said to the Corinthians – he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly; he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. Love requires giving of ourselves, thus it always costs us something: time, energy, the work of communication. We are to love others as we love our self – this tells how much – this tells us our goal – and we know how often we miss the mark. So we must keep trying with God’s help, which we know is sufficient for all things.
Our Lord Jesus Christ shows us the way. He has been our Good Samaritan. He has given of himself, He has stopped to care, tended our wounds and healed our injuries. God was not too busy to care for us, nor too preoccupied to love us. He calls us to health, that we in turn, may care for others. We look at the life of Christ and there see how we are to love. Love is not just a feeling or an emotion but an active concern for the good and welfare of the other – love requires that we do what we can, even when we would like to do more. We must strive to love God and to love our neighbor – for this constitutes real life, the way to life with God for eternity. Jesus asked “Which of the three proved to be a neighbor? The answer? The one who showed mercy. Jesus said “go and do likewise.”