The Good Samaritan: not just a good neighbor
By Dave McClow
Providence is a powerful force — it’s God’s invisible hand guiding our lives. I experience providence in different ways. Most frequently it happens on the phone with my clients, when a story or metaphor comes to mind that I don’t normally use, and it hits home in a way I could not have possibly planned. It happens in used-book stores (one of my vices); I will find a book or an author on a topic I have just discovered and want to explore. Or, in this instance, I found in my library, from three different sources, something new on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Merciful Love, Bishop Robert Barron’s sermon and Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth all interpreted this parable as a beautiful metaphor for God’s mercy. I got the message, and an article was inspired.
In my pastoral counseling practice I have many perfectionists. They are always working hard to do all the right things, yet are never quite sure what the right things are, thus finding themselves in an unsolvable dilemma. They work to be loved and feel they are only as good as their last performance. When they contact me, they are exhausted and suffering in their relationships, including their relationship with God. But our behavior can’t make God love us any more than he already does. We don’t work for love, we work from it (1 Jn 4:19). They have reversed what our faith teaches and bought into a heresy called Jansenism.
Whenever I would hear the Good Samaritan parable I would focus on what I was supposed to do, missing the very rich message of God’s mercy. But with this new interpretation, the Holy Spirit has been bringing some clients to tears — and all to a deeper appreciation of his love and mercy.
A man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. The first surprise from the early Church fathers is that this is man’s journey from the heavenly city to sin city: he is walking away from God. He is beaten, stripped, robbed and left half-dead. This is original sin. The priest and Levite, both schooled in the law and the prophets, pass by and are of little help to the man in original sin.
Then along comes an outcast; a half-breed, a Samaritan. He simply responds to the wounded man, without being asked. But this Samaritan is not just a good neighbor — He is Jesus! As a good father, Jesus is always drawn to the woundedness of his children, even the woundedness of sin: “… where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom. 5:20). In his merciful love, Jesus pours wine — the blood of Christ — on the wound. He puts all the love in the universe into that wine and pours it into our woundedness for healing. Pause and reflect on that; all the love of the universe penetrating your wounds. Then comes the oil, tying in four more sacraments: baptism, confirmation, anointing of the sick and holy orders.
Jesus carries us to the inn. Imagine you are in the arms of Jesus, being carried, half-dead in sin — some of your own making, some done to you — to a place of help. You can rest in his arms. In another surprise, the inn is the Church, the hospital for sinners. The innkeeper might be a priest, family member or friend who helps you through a dark time in your life.
Psychologically, we desperately need another to initiate loving us, and we need to be loved despite our faults and sins so we can feel loved and secure. Thankfully, our Papa obliges us on both counts. He initiates, and our sin does not have the power to stop Him from loving us. He can’t stop being who he is — love. His love, in both forms, is clear in this parable, as well as in the story of our Abba’s pursuit of Adam and Eve after the fall and in Jesus’ pursuit of us, taking on our humanity. He is a good father. When my perfectionistic clients experience this, they work less for love and more from love.
The ultimate challenge
Up until recently, I had always and only heard this parable as a challenge to be a good neighbor. I’ve always had a hard time living up to it. Now we have the rest of the story: The Good Samaritan is Jesus. He always pursues us, even when we don’t ask for it — even in our sins. We must receive the Good Samaritan’s love and mercy first, or we have nothing to give away (1 Jn 4:19). Our response to this love is repentance — going beyond the mind we have now/giving up the lies we believe about God or ourselves — and then going to confession. This is followed by the ultimate challenge: to be that good neighbor or innkeeper, in a world where everyone is wounded by something. Be like Jesus — be a good spiritual father in a dark and lonely world.