15th Sun [C] 2004

Fr. Charles Irvin

Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the more famous of Christ’s teachings. Indeed, the word “Samaritan” has wide usage in our civil society. Many hospitals, homeless shelters, safe houses and other charitable institutions bear the name. Our legal system has “good Samaritan” laws within it. Many folks who have never read the bible, and others who have never set foot in a Christian church, know about the Good Samaritan and what he represents.


You have, I am sure, heard many, many sermons and homilies about today’s parable and the lessons that can be drawn from it. And so, as I reflected on what I would share with you today in this homily, I wanted to deal with the parable in a fresh new way, in a way you have probably not heard before. I want to share with you now some of the thoughts of the earliest of Christians about this parable. To do that, I am turning to the writings of some of the Church Fathers.


The Church Fathers, sometimes called the Apostolic Fathers, began writing about Christ and Christianity as early as ninety-seven years after the birth of Christ, sixty-seven years after his crucifixion, death and resurrection. To say it another way, Christian writings that did not make it into the New Testament came into existence at the same time as those that did find their way into the bible.


Who are these authors? Well, they are St. Clement of Rome (d. 97), St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107), St. Polycarp (d. 155) and St. Hippolytus (d. 235). A little later on came St. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), St. Gregory of Nazianzen (d. 390), St. Basil the Great (d. 379), St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) and St. Athanasius (d. 373). The Tradition of the Church, along with our Catholic understanding of the content of Sacred Scripture, comes from these men, as well as other early Christian teachers and writers. They wrote many works on the content of the bible and among those works we find what they saw in the parables and how they interpreted those parables. Their interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan gives us some interesting insights, ways of seeing it that you perhaps many not have heard about previously.


According to the thought of some of the Fathers, the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho is an allegorical figure of Adam. The Hebrew word “Adam”, we must note, translates as “man”. Adam and Eve, our “first parents” represent all of us. They did not stand firm, they fell into sin and thereupon were banished from the Garden of Paradise.


The Church Fathers saw the Garden of Paradise as representing the “Heavenly Jerusalem”. Because of their rebellion against God, Adam and Eve “fell down — they “went down” and had to live in the world where they were forced to deal with life’s pain and suffering. For the Church Fathers, the thieves in the parable are a symbol of the demonic powers. They envied God’s love for the human beings He had created. In his jealousy the devil — the Great Seducer — led Adam and Eve into sin. Thus, the man traveling “down” from Jerusalem to Jericho, and who fell in with robbers, is us. His wounds are our wounds, the pain and suffering which results from our being alienated from God.


The priest in this parable represents the priesthood of Aaron; the Levite represents the law of the Old Testament. Moses gave both the temple priesthood and the Law. Neither one of those institutions could save the stricken man.


Now you begin to see that the Good Samaritan is Jesus, God’s Anointed, the Christ, who gave us the New Testament and the grace of God (the oil and wine in the parable) for the healing of our deadly spiritual wounds and infirmities. Oil and wine… are they not allegorical images of the Sacraments?


The inn, you may now recognize, is God’s Church, His hospice, wherein we find everything necessary for our healing and recovery. And so it is that the innkeeper is an allegorical image of the Church’s pastors and teachers, those whom God charged to care for us.


The departure of the Samaritan in the morning symbolizes the appearance of Christ after his early morning Resurrection. The two valuable coins, given to the innkeeper, represent Divine Revelation given us by Christ in his Church’s Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Tradition. Finally, the Samaritan’s promise to return to the inn for a final reckoning is a prophesy of the Second Coming of Christ when He comes to take us back home into the Heavenly Jerusalem.


We must remember that just as the religious authorities despised Samaritans, they likewise despised Jesus. The fact that Jesus was seen in the parable as the Good Samaritan is no accident. The fact that we need to love our enemies and allow our enemies to care for us, as the Good Samaritan cared for the dying man in the parable, is evident.


But we must ask ourselves, is this parable simply about how we treat others, how we treat our neighbors, and how we treat even our enemies? Or is this parable telling us more… a whole lot more?


What about the inn and the innkeeper? Do we see that we need the Church and the Church’s priest? Has Christ given them precious treasures to expend on us in order to bring us healing so that we might be able to get back on our way and continue on our journey through life in God’s way? And what about Scripture and Tradition… can we get along with just one and not the other? Or are they both but two streams flowing forth from but One Source, God’s revelation in His Christ?


Well, you’ve heard the parable of the Good Samaritan many times and you’ve heard a lot of preachers reflect on it’s meaning for you. I hope that today you heard something fresh and insightful, something that is both new and at the same time very old. For these thoughts come from the Early Fathers of the Church, those men who, back in those first years of Christianity, were a whole lot closer to the freshness of Christ’s teachings.


May you and I, because of them, be touched and healed by God’s Good Samaritan, His Anointed one, His Christ. And healed, may we all continue on down through life in His way, in His truth, and in His life.


About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”