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“In the twilight of life, we shall be judged on love.”

Lessons for today from the parable of the Good Samaritan.

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

Editor’s note: The following homily was preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (EF), August 23, 2020 at the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City.

Strangely, this parable of the Good Samaritan, familiar to us from childhood, makes no appearance in the three-year Sunday cycle of the lectionary of the calendar of the Ordinary Form of the Mass – although it does appear several times in the weekday lectionary. I say “strangely” because, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in one of his interviews, this Gospel pericope “is particularly attractive to contemporary man,”1 given the highly social dimension of this passage. It’s not a stretch to say that this is also probably the most anti-clerical passage of the New Testament as the representatives of “organized religion” – the priest and the Levite – are cast as the uncaring villains of the story.

This parable is found only in Luke, whom we might dub “the Evangelist of mercy,” but also the Evangelist who stresses, more than any other, the universality of the call of Christ, irregardless of ethnic or social identity. Hence, we find Our Lord setting up as the hero a “good Samaritan,” “good” since no Jew of the first century would expect to encounter any Samaritan who was good because, as a race, the Samaritans had sullied the Jewish blood line through intermarriage with Gentiles and had sullied the purity of the revealed religion of Judaism as well, these points undergirding Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in the Gospel according to St. John (John 4). And, of course, we have the poor old Jewish fellow, who has been mugged by brigands (he would meet the same fate if he were living on the Upper West Side these days, eh?). So, now that we have the dramatis personae in place, where do we go with all this?

Jesus presents this parable because he has been goaded on by a lawyer who asks an important question, not to get a honest answer, but in order to get off the hook, personally: “Who is my neighbor?” St. John Paul II teaches us in Veritatis Splendor: “. . . it is significant that it is precisely the second of these commandments which arouses the curiosity of the teacher of the Law, who asks him: ‘And who is my neighbour?’ (Lk 10:29). The Teacher replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is critical for fully understanding the commandment of love of neighbour (cf. Lk 10:30-37)” (n. 14).

Therefore, from the very start, followers of Our Lord understood what the lawyer tried to evade: Everyone is my neighbor. And thus, charity and mercy have been the hallmarks of the Church as a body and of each of her members as individuals. That’s why Tertullian could recount how pagans were so impressed by the conduct of Christians, of whom they would say, “See how they love one another.” Christian love, however, is not limited to those who can produce a baptismal certificate; it is expansive, embracing every human being because the love of Christ is all-encompassing.

It is significant, but rarely remarked, that once the Church was able to emerge from the catacombs, she engaged in works of charity by founding schools, hospitals, and orphanages – institutions unheard of before the dawn of Christianity. To be sure, you could get a good education in the Greco-Roman world – if you could afford it; yes, you could obtain decent medical care – if you could afford it. That proud Christian heritage continues unabated to the present day; that is why the second largest employer in the State of New York today – after governmental agencies – is the Catholic Church. We can assert, without fear of contradiction, that were the Church to “go out of business” (per impossibile), civil government would never be able to absorb the children we educate in our superb schools or the sick of mind or body tended to in our hospitals, nursing homes, and various outreach programs of Catholic Charities. It could only thus have been immense ignorance (although not necessarily invincible ignorance) that would cause the Associated Press to question why Catholic institutions benefitted from the Paycheck Protection Program. It could only be malevolence of the first order that would try to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to act against their highly formed Catholic consciences.

What the Church does as an institution is possible because believers are convinced of the need to respond with generosity to Christ’s challenge to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, instruct the ignorant. Christian charity, however, is not merely institutional; it is also personal: a slice of pizza and a cold drink to the hungry guy standing on the corner of 37th and Broadway; accompanying a sick person to a doctor’s appointment; manning a hot line for a pro-life outreach; sponsoring a scholarship, so that a needy kid can have the blessing of a Catholic education. We do good, not because our beneficiaries are Catholic, but because we are. That having been said, our works of charity are likewise works of evangelization. Let me offer two examples of what I mean.

As an Anglican clergyman, John Henry Newman was virulently anti-Catholic. As a young man, he and two friends went on a Mediterranean cruise, which included Sicily. Newman remained on and ended up contracting a very serious disease, which he thought deadly (truth be told, Newman was a bit of hypochondriac). At any rate, he was nursed back to health by a Catholic gentleman; that tender, loving care began to open the eyes of the young Newman: Perhaps these Catholics aren’t really so bad, after all. He reflects on this in one of his many poems composed on that trip; quite appropriately, it is entitled, “The Good Samaritan.” He laments the Church’s bad theology (in his opinion, at the time) but he is haunted by the many open churches bidding welcome; in the second verse, he reveals his willingness to consider a religion that produce someone like his kindly care-giver. Take a listen:

Oh that thy creed were sound!
For thou dost soothe the heart, thou Church of Rome,
By thy unwearied watch and varied round
Of service, in thy Saviour’s holy home.
I cannot walk the city’s sultry streets,
But the wide porch invites to still retreats,
Where passion’s thirst is calm’d, and care’s unthankful gloom.

There, on a foreign shore,
The home-sick solitary finds a friend:
Thoughts, prison’d long for lack of speech, outpour
Their tears; and doubts in resignation end.
I almost fainted from the long delay
That tangles me within this languid bay,
When comes a foe, my wounds with oil and wine to tend.

Yes, there comes an apparent “foe, my wounds with oil and wine to tend.”

A similar story is found in the life of Mother Seton. As you will recall, Elizabeth Ann Bayley married William Seton; they were part of the high society of Old New York and parishioners at the very “tony” Trinity Episcopal Street at the head of Wall Street. Quite unexpectedly, William took seriously ill and a change to a more moderate climate was recommended, bringing the young couple to Leghorn, Italy, becoming guests of some of their business friends. Elizabeth was singularly impressed by the kindness, attention and consideration William received from their Catholic hosts, the Filicchi Brothers (Antonio and Filippo) and Filippo’s wife Amabilia, causing Elizabeth to write to a friend, “Oh, my! The patience and more than human kindness of these dear Filicchis for us! You would say it was our Savior Himself they received in His poor and sick strangers.” Unfortunately, William died, however, the Christ-like solicitude of the Filicchi Family opened the mind and heart of the young widow to the Catholic Faith. A year later, she walked the few blocks from Trinity Church to St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street to make her profession of faith as a Catholic.

Cardinal Newman puts a finer point on all this. In his sermon, “Jewish Zeal, A Pattern for Christians,” he acknowledges that under normal circumstances, one might not associate with those whose beliefs do not correspond to our own. However, he maintains that the calculus changes when we find someone in difficulty:

But the case is very different where men are brought into extremity. God “maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” [Matt. v. 45.] We must go and do likewise, imitating the good Samaritan; and as he thought nothing of difference of nations when a Jew was in distress, in like manner we must not take account of wilful heresy, or profaneness, in such circumstances.2

What he is calling for is the proffering of “disinterested” love, not “uninterested” but “disinterested,” which means a love that goes to the rescue without considering the worthiness or unworthiness of the one in need.

Now, we can ask, whence comes our ability to render such disinterested love? Many of the Fathers of the Church reflected on today’s parable in allegorical ways. Thus, the victim of the parable stands for fallen humanity after the sin of our first parents; the Samaritan is Christ, who is likewise the inn-keeper; the inn is the Church; the oil and wine represent the sacraments. Because Christ has come to our rescue – unworthy though we are – saving us by His passion, death and resurrection and tending to our daily needs in and through the Church’s sacraments, we are made whole, indeed, made holy. And so, we are able to perceive anyone in need as our neighbor and to respond with open hearts to the Master’s challenge, “Go, thou, and do the same.”

Again, in Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul observes that “the Evangelist [Luke] echoes the moral preaching of Christ, expressed in a wonderful and unambiguous way in the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:30-37) and in his words about the final judgment (cf. Mt 25:31-46).” Notice how the Holy Father links today’s parable with the final judgment. Simply put: The final exam on the last day will not be a test in dogmatic theology (that’s a given) but a test in moral theology – based on what we did or did not do for the Christ revealed in our neighbor. Or, as St. John of the Cross puts it so succinctly and eloquently: “In the twilight of life, we shall be judged on love.”

Endnotes:

1Interview with Jacques Servais, October 2015.

2PPS 3:13, “Jewish Zeal, A Pattern for Christians.”


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 162 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

13 Comments

  1. What is love? Asked of disabled children in a Shriners Hosp ad, response similar to Luke’s Gospel ‘canon lawyer’. I don’t know. Probably similar to the young Newman in Sicily, affectatious condescending bordering on obnoxious [see Newman’s collected letters]. Until as Fr Stravinskas tells us the ill, hypochondriac prone Newman received compassionate care. Newman of course grew up, may be said to have become thru suffering calumny a spiritual connoisseur of love. The parable begins the search with, Who is my neighbor? Some argue the Good Samaritan others the victim. John of the Cross added Love can only be repaid by love. We know love in knowing God, primarily in the Person of Christ. John the Apostle of love teaches us God is Love, and that we know love in that he has loved us first. He reveals in that gift his Essence [Aquinas’ early treatise Essence and Existence demonstrates only in God are both identical]. The philosophers primarily Aristotle with embellished commentary by Aquinas initiates love’s definition by describing the Virtues, on a natural level the four Cardinal Virtues Justice [the queen of all virtue since justice, giving the other his due necessarily incorporates all the virtues] Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance. These natural virtues are common to human nature, the Natural Law. Surpassing these are the theological virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit Faith, Hope, and Charity. The greatest of these taught by the Apostle Paul is Charity, or Love. That is Love as revealed, and infused within the soul as a gift of the Holy Spirit. That is why the Church early on in contradistinction to Pelagius and some like minded scholastics who taught we can be saved by adherence to Natural Law, taught that above and beyond any inherent human capacity there are principles of behavior that are necessary for salvation that surpass Natural Law, the Specified gifts of the Holy Spirit. That explains why Catholic Rome was said to be built by the Blood of Martyrs, and why Love of God is passionate love, fiery and vehement, corresponding to Moses who said God is an all consuming fire. The demarcation between self indulgent love of God, that is conceptual love, based on mental image, feeling [although both have a limited function in the real article], whereas love of God is realized in love of neighbor as Christ taught by example of the Good Samaritan. And why during this moment of distancing and confusion contemplative prayer is the entree to God’s wonderful enduring light.

  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 kerbside 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”

    Response
    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 anything 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 Christ.

    • Kevin, a solid and insightful story. Thank you for sharing. Dont judge yourself too harshly. Modern day life often requires split second decisions and many factors go into that, including concern for personal safety, no matter how subconscious. You have clearly learned from the experience, so that reaction of conscience was not lost on you. It has made you a better person , and now you have made the additional impact of sharing the story with others, many of whom will remember it when the time comes and they need it. That is God taking what seemed like a less than optimal response and turning it into something better, multiplied. If Christianity was easy, everyone would do it. It’s not easy. Many of the saints have walked a rocky road to becoming who they want to be ( St. Augustine comes to mind.) All of us hope that one day when we come to be judged by God, he will remember all the good which we did, and be merciful ( and forgetful!) enough to forgive the times we failed. Coming to terms with this episode “in your heart” might not be as healing for you as revealing it in Confession, if you have not already done so.That Confession has fallen out of “fashion” does not make it any less effective. For the record, you sound like a good and thoughtful person.

      • Thank you lj for taking the time while making the effort to respond with your thoughtful and insightful comment, for which I am most grateful.

        Sincerely
        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  3. No, The parable does not teach that “everyone is my neighbor”. The two fellows who passed by are in the story specifically to show who is not qualified to be called “neighbor”. Only persons who behave in a neighborly way are to be called neighbors. Jesus isn’t holding up the Good Samaritan as an example for us to follow; he’s holding the Samaritan up as an example of who our neighbors are. Christians reading the story are to think of themselves as like the beat-up man in the ditch, sorely in need of rescue by a Good Samaritan figure. They are not to see themselves as the potential hero of the story; that is a complete misreading of the parable. “Go and do likewise” doesn’t mean “Go and do like the Good Samaritan did”, it means “Go and do like this story suggests, and love all good men as your neighbors.”

  4. The Good Samaritan gospel does appear in the three year cycle. Fifteenth Sunday ordinary time cycle C
    Thanks for thoughtful refkection

  5. As many of you know, the lectionary has an index by book of the Bible, indicating if/when a particular passage appears. The lectionary I consulted listed verses before and after the Good Samaritan parable, but not the verses of the parable! It could have been a typo problem.
    At any rate, I did say its absence was “strange”; however, I still must say, “Mea culpa!”

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