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“Who is my neighbor?”: On the Parable of the Good Samaritan

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.

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

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 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, regardless 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, theologically, 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 in all too many of our cities these days). 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 an 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 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.2 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 for the hungry guy standing on the corner; accompanying a sick person to a doctor’s appointment; manning a hotline 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 could produce someone like his kindly care-giver:

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. 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.3

What he is calling for is the proferring 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 observed 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 linked 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.”

(Editor’s note: This homily was preached on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost [EF], August 28, 2022 at the Oratory of Saints Gregory and Augustine in St. Louis.)


1Interview with Jacques Servais, October 2015.

2“AP: Catholic Church lobbied for taxpayer funds, got $1.4B” (July 10, 2020) by Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes

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

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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 267 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas founded The Catholic Answer in 1987 and The Catholic Response in 2004, as well as the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization, which serves as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.


  1. “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 Ordinary Form of the Mass” The parable is the Gospel for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). We heard it on July 10th of this year.

  2. Without a doubt, Catholics are obligated to care for the poor and the vulnerable wherever they might be found. And that includes the poor beyond the confines of our own national borders (I once had a Franciscan priest from our diocese openly criticize my efforts at Catholic Charities to organize medical missions to Guatemala claiming that there were enough poor in South Carolina to warrant restricting our charitable efforts to only our own State).

    That being said, I have often said that our assistance to all the poor wherever that might be found results in our neglect of those in our own immediate parish communities – our fellow Catholics – who are in dire need of material help. For example, how aware are we of parishioners who lose a job and the ability to support their family? How aware are we of the widows and widower in our parishes who are vulnerable because of the loss of a spouse? How aware are we of the elderly in our parish who are aging at home …alone with no financial help and ongoing support from fellow parishioners to get to doctor’s appointments or for fellowship? Do we have a “Meals on Wheels” program for our parishioners who are sick, disabled or shut in? How effective were parishes in ministering to those affected by Covid among our own fellow parishioners. I just believe that we have an obligation to be especially vigilant about the needs of our Catholic brothers and sisters in our own parishes as we would be about those in our nuclear family.

    And, again, lest I am accused of wanting to ignore our charitable obligations to the larger community of the entire world: I am not advocating same. I just think that “charity begins at home or there is no charity at all.”

  3. Finally, in the third last paragraph, Fr. S. gets to the Fathers’ reading of the parable that the Good Samaritan is Christ, the injured man is all of us, the inn is the Church. Twice today I’ve met this interpretation. That only took about sixty-eight years.

  4. A striking truth often passed over by the devout traditionalist whether Catholic or not. When doctrine binds the wounded soul with compassion.
    Well articulated by Fr Stravinskas. Saint Peter’s on Barclay street was the pro cathedral of New York. A short walk to Battery Park, the sea and Elizabeth Seton’s shrine [where she first cared for the outcast and poor], “a house that was very small, but with ample space for charity, she sowed a seed in America which by Divine Grace grew into a large tree” (Paul VI upon canonization). It’s adjacent to the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary now its rectory.
    When I assisted at St Peter’s I would walk to the shrine, whether real or imagined there was a sense of spiritual presence. Derelicts, homeless white bearded elderly would rise from their park bench kneel and pray bells ringing for the Angelus.

    • I’m a day late, as usual, in reading a CWR story. I nonetheless rushed to what you would say Father given your always insightful comments. I confess to being a tad disappointed considering what I always found striking about the Samaritan story is that popular abuses of what this parable signifies is one of the underpinnings at the core of the crisis of authority in the Church.

      How many millions of times do disgruntled Catholics confuse the human obligations of charity, which are moral law imperatives affirmed in this story, as a basis for dismissing the Church’s moral authority on all things since the parable downplays obligations to ritual loyalties as secondary, which confused Catholics use as an excuse to dismiss any and all forms of what their Church presents as “law.”

  5. Good Samaritan American Tax Payers donate one trillion dollars a year to the poor and needy, Pope Francis and his 2 billion Christians should “Go and do likewise”.

    Jesus never condemned Caesar on his wars, crucifixions, or welfare programs. Caesar would have killed Jesus if He had done so. Instead, Jesus gave His followers parables like The Sheep and the Goats, The Rich man and Lazerous, and told the rich man to sell everything and come and follow Him, if he wished to enter into eternal life. God the Father had Commanded His Faithful to tithe to care for the needs of the poor. Jesus reiterated His Father’s Commandments to care for the poor.

    I grew up in an era, 1960s to today, where my priests primarily only focus on secular social justice issues. Let’s face it, Catholics ‘Do Not Like It!’ when priests talk about money.

    I figure that God’s Commanded tithe on our 2 billion Christians of today, is about a trillion dollars a year. I think a trillion dollars a year, from today’s Christianity, out of love for Jesus through caring for the least of Jesus’ brothers, would end world poverty. I figure our 2 billion Christians of today only give 20 to 40 billion dollars a year to care for the world’s poor Lazerouses. I figure Pope Francis and his 2 billion Christians genocide millions of poor Lazerouses a year through lack of proper Christian tithing.

    MATTHEW 25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink… …’Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    I figure Millions of poor Lazerouses are murdered a year through lack of proper Christian tithing. Jesus tells His Followers that He is going to burn them in hell for not properly caring for the poor. So why don’t we hear Pope Francis preaching to his 2 billion Christians to repent? Preach repentance to save millions of poor Lazerouses from being murdered by Christianity’s lack of proper Christian tithing, and preach repentance to save rich Christian’s souls from Jesus having to burn them in hell for their hatred toward Jesus, through failing to love Him through caring for the least of Jesus’ brothers.

    Pope Francis, and his 2 billion Christians, are like the Priest and Levite in Jesus’ ‘Good Samaritan’ parable. 330 million Good Samaritan American Taxpayers are presently donating a trillion dollars a year to help our domestic poor, and 48 billion dollars a year in foreign aid, while Pope Francis leads his 2 billion Christians to the other side of the road and passes the poor by.

    Luke 10:29 The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them… …Which of these three, in your opinion, who was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

    LUKE 16:19 The Rich Man and Lazarus
    “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’

  6. Re Deacon Peitler’s second paragraph above – Food for thought. Our parishes need to become the Benedict Option (Rod Dreher).

  7. While can’t argue against charity. No doubt many Catholic charitable initiatives have changed the world. I wonder if in some cases the Church is just considered an NGO. In my parish there are many charitable activities. Unfortunately Catholic prayer activities are not given the same attention. For example, a weekly Eucharistic Devotion Hour of Devotion has limited (10 people or so) attendance, there is no 40 hr Devotion effort, declining Church attendance etc. More attention to solid Catholic teaching is needed – the importance of the Mass, available weekly confessions, emphasis on prayer, Eucharistic Devotion etc. In the end effective Catholic charity starts with a solid Catholic base devoted to the Mass, sacraments and prayer etc.

  8. That is a good point, Grand Rapids Mike. The Church does not have a problem of Charity, but the problem of uncharitable hearts that are not embalmed with The Holy Spirit- The Love of Christ in our hearts. Once that is not emphasized are exhorted as in Adoration of The Blessed Sacrament we fall either into humanism and progressively grow dry, cynical and even empty. Charity does not begin at home. Charity begins with Christ, us inviting The Lord in Prayer and Opening Our Hearts for His reign.

    For some emphasis I have cursorily noted that the key ministries in Justice and Peace; Family and Life and even Choirs are in terms of age below replacement ratio. By replacement ratio we can take ratio of those under 45 years of age to those over, say over 50. The result is not that parishes have become morose retirement villages, but we are not developing contemplatives, Social Healers and True Healers in an age where the devil is not only swirling the Church, but has in religious syncretism under the guise of appeals to “success”, “inequality” even taken hold of many in the Church.

    We need replacement ratios of about 2, rather the 0.7 average that I see. This does not mean attracting young people into the Church or back in.

    In True Eucharist Adoration it entails, that Christ is succeeding in transforming those of us with privilege for Daily or Weekly Mass into Himself. The Samaritans will then follow rather than to accuse the lack of charity which never sank in because it was never fully received to take root in hearts.

  9. Grand Rapids Mike – “In the end, effective Catholic charity starts with a solid Catholic base devoted to the Mass, sacraments, prayer, etc.”
    No argument from me. Martha and Mary.

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