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The Heart and the Good Samaritan

On the Readings for July 14, 2019, the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

"Parable of the Good Samaritan" (1647) by Balthasar van Cortbemde [Wikipedia]

• Deut 30:10-14
• Ps 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
• Col 1:15-20
• Lk 10:25-37

“The heart,” wrote St. John Chrysostom, “is the most noble of all the members of our body.” The twentieth-century philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand observed that in Scripture the heart is often contrasted, not with the will or intellect, but with the body. The heart is “chosen as a representative of man’s inner life” and identified closely with the soul.

There are some seven hundred references to the heart in the Bible; the first two are found in Genesis 6, where it states that the wicked “desires” or “thoughts” of man’s heart had grieved the heart of God (Gen. 6:5-6). Few of the numerous references to the heart have to do with the physical, blood-pumping organ, or even with emotions (that would actually be kidneys and bowels!). The heart, in Scripture, is the center and core of a human being; it is a complex and mysterious combination of personality, intellect, character, and will. Whereas in modern culture “the heart” is often related to strong feelings (often romantic in nature), the biblical perspective is far more concerned with moral character, especially with holiness and fidelity.

This is significant for appreciating today’s readings from Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Luke. Deuteronomy (which means “second law-giving”) contains a detailed presentation of the Law given to Israelites, culminating in a series of blessings and curses (ch. 28-30) that God promised would “come upon” the people depending on how well they observed the Law. Not surprisingly, the curses far outweigh the blessing, and today’s reading seems to accept that failure will follow, stating, “when you return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul.” This is a reiteration of Deuteronomy 6:5, which is part of the Shema Yisrael (Dt. 6:4-9), the greatest prayer of Judaism.

God’s commands, Moses relates to the people, are not mysterious or impossible to follow, but are very near, “already in your mouths and in your hearts.” While the heart is the center of a man’s being, the mouth is the gateway or window to a man’s heart and soul. This important concept was used by St. Paul when he told the Romans of the necessity of confessing that Jesus is Lord and believing in “your heart that God raised him from the dead” in order to be saved (Rom. 10:9-10). Far from being an emotional or rash response, this is public action rooted in profound consideration and commitment of the will.

The question asked of Jesus by the scholar of the law was hostile, meant to test him and expose any weaknesses in his stance regarding salvation. As he often did, Jesus answered the question with questions of his own, as if to say, “You are the recognized scholar; you tell me the answer!” The lawyer quoted directly from the Shema and Leviticus 19:18, demonstrating that he had intellectually mastered the answer. But had his heart absorbed the truth and been transformed by what was in his head? Could he, like the Psalmist, say, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psa. 19:8)? And while the words of his mouth met with favor, what about the thoughts of his heart (see Psa. 19:15)?

The scholar sought to justify himself by bringing up a much-debated question: who really is my neighbor? Some Jews said it included strangers and sojourners (cf. Lev. 19:33-34); others insisted that only members of the Jewish community should be called “neighbors”. Some, such as the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, were heartless because they had long forgotten that the Law was actually about loving God and loving others.

When religious practice no longer has a transcendent center—that is, a heart seeking after God—it becomes fearful, selfish, and merciless. Soulless works cannot save us; they actually separate us from the blessings of the divine life. Love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will truly live.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 11, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1163 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.


  1. There is no evidence that the lawyer was hostile towards Jesus. On the contrary, theirs was a lively exchange between a good teacher and a good student. The lawyer was attempting to “justify himself” to Jesus, meaning he was looking for Jesus’ approval.
    There is also no evidence that Jesus was trying to evade the question. He answered it straight up: good Samaritans are your neighbors (all good, kind, compassionate, God-fearing men are your neighbors. Those who don’t measure up aren’t your neighbors). You really should get your nose out of your theology books and pay more attention to what the Biblical text actually says.

    • “There is no evidence that the lawyer was hostile towards Jesus.”

      Not true. The word ἐκπειράζω (test, tempt) used in verse 25 is exactly the same word used in Luke 4:12, when Jesus addresses the devil: “καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι εἴρηται οὐκ ἐκπειράσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου” [And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”]. While some commentators (Craig Evans, for instance) do not see the connection (and, in fact, fails to mention it in his 1991 commentary), others certainly do, including Luke Timothy Johnson, whose commentary on Luke’s Gospel is widely acclaimed.

      In addition, each reference in the Gospels to Jesus being tested is negative, sometimes very negative, as in Mark 12:15: “But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it.'” And also John 8:6, to give another exmaple: “This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.” The word πειράζω (to test) is used in those instances, and while it can be used in either a positive or negative sense, the context of these passages are clearly negative: Jesus’ enemies are trying to trap him in order to discredit and ruin him. And, of course, all four Evangelists, in their own way, highlight the antagonism shown toward Jesus by the religious authorities.

      “There is also no evidence that Jesus was trying to evade the question.”

      I never wrote that Jesus tried to evade the question, did I? No, I wrote that he responded to the question with a question. Actually, with two questions: “ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τί γέγραπται πῶς ἀναγινώσκεις” [“He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read?'”; Lk 10:26].

      “You really should get your nose out of your theology books and pay more attention to what the Biblical text actually says.”

      Your animosity is strange. Why so snotty about this? And what do you have against theology? Strange. Further, why so sure of your criticism when it is so clearly ill-founded? While I am not a professional Scripture scholar, I have been reading and studying Scripture for 45 years, studied Koine Greek in Bible college, took several courses (at undergraduate and graduate levels) in Scripture, have taught a weekly Bible study in my parish for twenty years, own hundreds of books/commentaries on Scripture, and wrote a Scripture column for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper for nine years. For what it’s worth.

  2. Jesus leads us into self-knowledge, humility (St Bernard-Humility a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is abases himself) before our Father in heaven.

    A Samaritan (Christian) set out on his journey to Jericho (Any City). It was the same journey that he had made many times before, it was a glorious summer’s day, as he/she entered one of the main through fares in Jericho, next to the shopping mall; he froze, as he had to confront the reality of his /her/my own heart.

    Filthy garb course and hard
    Vomit and spittle on course bristle,
    Urine pool shadow of gloom,
    Stink smell as well
    Alone, protruding skin and bone
    Eye lids closed, some mother’s baby in repose.
    Bussing fly all pass by, no sigh or cry
    In justification (excuse)
    “I have someone with me in my care;
    I remove my stare,
    Cram and jam one of the passers-by I am.
    It was the night before the Samaritan set out on the journey to Jericho again.
    From bedroom floor he opens quite door
    Reflecting thought, the truth is sort,
    Shameful sin now also an act of omission I do bring
    “Father” it’s me again I bring my shame,
    With my daily bread, your mercy I would be fed.
    To the Christian name, today I brought shame.
    With the bright morning dew I arise anew
    In the journey of the heart
    I make a fresh start
    Taking the Jericho way,
    The walls of clay fall away.
    At curbside my face I do not hide,
    There is not a lot I can do
    But to my heart I will be true
    Lifting head, my jumper is fed,
    Not all passers-by shield their eye,
    One comes forth, a gentle hand that understands
    No longer alone, now an ambulance is shown
    With the gentle hand I stand
    She looks in my eye, we say good bye,
    She gives a sigh

    kevin your brother
    In Christ.

    • The above post was made some time ago and I received the implied comment below a few weeks later

      “Truthfulness places an obligation on all to learn to experience life as it really is, not dressed up in flights of imagination.
      We need to promote respect for truth as a deep value, needing much revival today. Telling the truth is not merely saying what one feels, since this can be subjective, but it goes deeper and first tries to see things as they really are or as they actually happened. Only such truth is worthy of communicating. Truthfulness urges us to see and experience life as it really is, and to distinguish this from those flights of imagination that also have a place in entertaining each other. People need to know whether we are communicating about real events; we need to share, as truly as we can, our insights about life and about the things of the spirit”


      I posted (shared) an account of a scenario in relation to the parable of the Good Samaritan. It may have been misconstrued as a flight of imagination as it is not in chronological order. It was meant to be a reflection of one’s conscience before the light of Truth. To clarify for those who need to know if it was a real event.

      Many years ago on a Saturday I was walking through the centre of Leeds, near the Corn Exchange there is an open space with several bus stops, it was very busy with pedestrians, in the centre of this space was a very over weight middle aged woman shabbily dressed laid on the pavement, in great distress having a fit, no one stopped to help her I went over lifted her head off the ground to save her from further damage to herself, from within the crowd a young woman then came forward to help until an ambulance arrived.

      Last year to my shame I walk by a man in a City centre in great need (I realized afterwards he could have died on his own vomit). At the time I justified this inaction within my heart, by say to myself that I was caring for someone else who was in need, but this stranger should have taken priority. As I walked away from this man I knew that I had sinned. I am not Mother Teresa, or any thing like her, I pass by many people living with different types of difficult situations. I know on this occasion I broke trust with my conscience, I have come to terms with this in my heart before our Father in heaven, and with His grace I pray it will not happen again.

      kevin your brother in

      • Thank you Kevin for the poem that you wrote and I understand that it may have been not understood entirely as there was not a preface to introduce the poem but I think that is is truthful and reveals an act of mercy and compassion that we need to do and that we all may hope be accomplished for ourselves one day in our own need.

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