The Parable of the Good Samaritan

2On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 3In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

What follows is an example of how the Fathers of the Church read the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit has opened their minds to understand the Scritpures in a deeper way (see Luke 24). Let us learn from them.

The Good Samaritan

Commented by Severus of Antiochia[1]


A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Christ used the denomination of gender correctly: he did not say: “someone was going down”, but “a man was going down”. Indeed this passage concerns humanity as a whole. After the prevarication of Adam, humanity left its elevated and calm environment, where there was no suffering and the marvels of paradise, rightly named Jerusalem – which means peace of God – and went down to Jericho, a hollow and lowly place, where the heat is stifling. Jericho is the feverish life of this world, the life separated from God, which drags us down and brings on suffocation and exhaustion through the flames of the most shameful pleasures.

So, once humanity had turned away from the good route and toward this life, it was dragged downhill from above and carried away on the slope; a savage troop of demons came and attacked it, like a band of thieves. They stripped it of the clothing of perfection, leaving its soul deprived of all strength, of purity, of justice, of prudence, of anything that characterised the divine Image; but by striking it in this way, with the repeated blows of various sins, they struck it down and finally left it half-dead.

The law given by Moses went by; it looked at humanity lying there in agony/ The priest and the Levite of the parable in fact symbolise the Law, since it introduced the levite priesthood. But, although the Law looked at humanity, it had no power: it was not able to procure the complete healing of humanity, it did not raise up the one who was prostrate. Because it lacked energy, it finally had to go away after a vain attempt. For the Law made sacrifices and offerings, as Paul said, “which are not able, in regard to conscience, to make perfect him who is serving“, because “it is impossible for blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”.

Finally a Samaritan came by … Christ gives himself on purpose the name Samaritan. For speaking to the doctor of Law, who made lovely discourse on the Law, he shows by his words that neither the priest nor the Levite nor, in short, any of those expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the Law of Moses, did so, but that he himself came accomplishing the Law and showing by his acts themselves “who is our neighbour” and how to “love him as we do ourselves”, him whom the Jews, to outrage him, had said: “You are a Samaritan and you are a demon”.

The travelling Samaritan, who was Christ himself – because he really did travel – saw the man lying on the roadside. He did not pass him by precisely because the aim of his voyage was to “visit us”, he came to earth for us and dwelled among us. For not only did he appear, but he also conversed with men in truth. He poured wine on his wounds, the wine of the Word; and because the seriousness of the wounds did not support this, he mixed oil with it, and so attracted, by his meekness and his “philanthropy” the criticism of the Pharisees, to whom he had to answer: Go and learn what this means: Mercy I will, and not sacrifice”. Then he placed the wounded man on a beast of burden, – which means that he lifts us up above the beastly passions, he who also carried us himself, making us into “the members of his body”.

Then he brought the man to an inn. – He calls inn the Church, which has become the dwelling-place and the receptacle for all people. Indeed, we do not hear him say, in a restricted sense with a legal connotation and of the liturgy in a figurative way: “The Ammonite and the Moabite shall enter into the Church of God”, but rather: “Go and teach all the nations”. And once they had arrived at the inn, the Samaritan asked that even greater kindness be shown to the one he had saved: indeed, when the Church had been formed by the reunion of the peoples who had died to polytheism (or: who were dying in polytheism), Christ was present  in her giving every grace.

And to the innkeeper – a figure of the Apostles and the pastors and doctors who came after them – he gave – when he ascended into Heaven – two denaries, so that he might take great care of the sick man. We see in these two denaries the two Testaments, the Old and the New, that of the Law and the Prophets, and the one given to us by the Gospels and the Constitutions of the Apostles.[2] Both are from the same God and bear the image of the one God on from high, by the means of the holy words, since one and the same Spirit pronounced them. Let Manes therefore take flight, as well as Marcion, that very impious man who attributed these two Testaments to two different gods! These are the two denaries of one king, Christ gave simultaneously and in the same way to the innkeeper.Now, according to the pastors of the holy Churches who received these two denaries and who increased them through their teaching, with work and labour, after also having payed for their own needs – for the spiritual money, when one spends it, does not diminish but augments, since it is the word of doctrine -, each one of them will say to the Master at his return on the last day: “Lord, you gave me two denaries; while spending them for myself, I earned two more”, with which I augmented the flock. And the Lord will answer, saying: “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful in little things, I will set you over many. Enter into the joy of your Lord”.

[1] Homily 89. Quoted in Henri de Lubac, Catholicisme (Paris: 19474), pp. 377-379.

[2] Saint Augustine explains that these two denaries are the two commandments of the love of God and the love of our neighbour. His interpretation is close to Severus’, for the two commandments sum up the Law and the Prophets as well as the Gospel.