It seems so simple - just go and do it. But, of course, practical matters are never all that simple. The real question is about the animating principles which move in and through our practical lives. And that is the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. It at once commands us and convicts us; commands us about what we must do, and convicts us that we cannot do this ourselves but only by the grace of God.
The two questions, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “who is my neighbour?” are more than the accidental backdrop to the parable. They are altogether critical to its understanding. They remind us of the priority of the question “what is it good to be?” over the question “what is it right to do?” Christian practice follows upon Christian profession - what we do from what we believe. The radical meaning of the parable is that Christ is the Good Samaritan. “Go and do thou likewise” follows from our incorporation in him.
The parable of the Good Samaritan, like so many of the parables, opens out to us the glorious and grand pageant of Redemption and focuses that pageant in the practical stuff of daily life. Here we have no detailed blueprint for political activity, whether imperial, totalitarian, revolutionary, socialist or democratic. Instead we are presented with the condition of our being in Christ and something of the nature of holy charity. We are given an example to follow and in the example we find our actual incorporation into the life of God through Jesus Christ.
The parable appears as an answer to the lawyer’s second question, “who is my neighbour?”, which question follows upon the great summary of the law given as the answer to the first question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. These are real questions in spite of the hostile intent of the lawyer. They signal the critical point: eternal life and the commandment to love, in other words, the love of God and the love of neighbour, are intimately related. “This do and thou shalt live”.
Christ upholds the righteousness of the law as establishing the condition of man’s relation with God. But how is the law to be fulfilled? The Priest and Levite in the parable attend to the strict letter of the law, as it were, with respect to ritual purity towards God, but in so doing fail to observe the spiritual intent of the law. To put it another way, the righteousness which the law both seeks and requires cannot be accomplished through mere regulatory compliance.
In the parable, Christ gives us an example. The example he gives us is nothing less than a parable of his own incarnate life; in short, to love as he has loved. The love of Christ is the fulfilling of the law. There is in him alone that pure, total and absolute love for the goodness of God and all things for the sake of God.
The law is a commandment to love God “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength and with all our mind and our neighbour as ourself”. We hear these words at the beginning of the Communion service. They present the truth of our humanity - what is most wanted - and convict us of our untruth - what is far from us in ourselves. There is not in us of ourselves that pure and spontaneous and total love of God for his own sake and the love of all other things for the sake of God. It is what we most want but we constantly fall short of what we would be.
In Christ the love of God and the love of neighbour meet. The charity of the Good Samaritan is the charity of Christ in operation. That charity must be before us as an example and it must be in us as the truth of our lives and our loves. “All our doings without charity are nothing worth”. All charity is Christ.
Would you see the glorious and grand pageant of our redemption in this parable? Behold the themes of the Fall, the Incarnation and the Church. Christ is the Good Samaritan who has come to where fallen humanity lies half-dead in the wounds of sin which make us strangers to all and everything. The law in the letter of ritual intent passes by in the garb of Priest and Levite. But Christ our great high priest has compassion and comes to where we are. He sees the wounds of our unrighteousness and he binds them up. He restores us by pouring in the anointing oil of his eternal messiahship for our comfort and the strengthening wine of his divinity for our joy. He sets us upon the beast of his own body which freely bore the sins of the whole world. He takes us to the inn of his church - not just a hotel for saints but a hospital for sinners, a veritable hotel de dieu. There he continues to provide himself for us and for our salvation with the two denarii - the two coins - of the sacraments of holy Baptism and the holy Eucharist until he comes again. In every way Christ is the love of God.
Would you see the point of the parable for you in the stuff of daily life? Let the charity of Christ move in your hearts. Every day there are the opportunities for kindnesses towards others. Our life and death are always with our neighbour. The school of divine love is common charity. It takes us out of ourselves and moves us towards one another. It is the love of God in us.
What we are given to do are really “the works of corporal mercy” - works done out of a love for Christ in the body of Christ and for the body of Christ. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the ultimate paradigm - model - for the works of corporal mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick, burying the dead, clothing the naked, ministering to prisoners, and harbouring the stranger. They are “bodily” works, as it were. They belong to our life in the body of Christ. They are about the mercies of Christ in us and for one another. “Out of the love which Christ bore springs our love both him and to our neighbour. We love him because he first loves us; and our love for others is the necessary fruit of our love for him”, as Augustine puts it.
The point is wonderfully and finally captured in another phrase:
In Christ you have all. Do you wish to love God? You have him in Christ. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”. Do you wish to love thy neighbour? You have him in Christ. “The Word was made flesh”.
Christ is the charity of God without whom all our doings are nothing worth. It is Christ whom we serve when we are bidden:
“Go, and do thou likewise”
Father Ed Bakker, Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne Launceston TAS Australia