Today we will talk on Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan.
As you know before Great Lent some of Christ’s parables are brought to our attention: the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector, and the parable of the Prodigal Son.
But it is less known, that the weeks of Great Lent (starting from the 3rd week) are also dedicated to some Gospel parables. The 3rd week is dedicated to the parable of the Prodigal Son, the 4th week, the week of the Cross, is dedicated to the Cross and the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector; now the 5th week, which we have entered, is dedicated to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Those who were present today at matins may have noticed many references to this parable while listening to the canon.
Let us now read the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10, 25-37)
And, behold, a certain teacher of the Law stood up, and tempted Him, saying Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said to him, What is written in the law? how read you? And he answering said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself. And He said to him, You have answered right: this do, and you shall live.
Since that man was a teacher of the Law, the Lord offered him to answer this question himself, and the lawyer gives a correct answer. I.e. to inherit eternal life one should keep commandments of love of God and love for one’s neighbour. However, a new question emerged:
But he (the lawyer) willing to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
Indeed, what does “neighbour” mean? Is it someone of the same race, or from the same city, or of the same social status? Or maybe our neighbours are our loved ones and our close relatives? The Lord answered him with the parable:
And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise, a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him; and whatever you spend more, when I come again, I will repay you. Which now of these three, think you, proved to be a neighbour to him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus to him, Go, and do you likewise.
The Lord after telling the lawyer this parable asks him again: “Which of these three proved to be a neighbour to him that fell among the thieves”?
Look, how he changed the question. The lawyer asked, “who is my neighbour?” But Christ turned this around, saying: “Who proved to be a neighbour to him?” I.e. don’t ask: who is my neighbour, but rather become yourself a neighbour to every man whom you meet on the way of life.
Christ’s parables have a simple meaning, obvious to all, but they have also mystical meaning. The Gospel says that Jesus Christ spoke to people in parables, but to His disciples, He in private interpreted these parables. Some interpretations we find in the Gospel, but some parables are left without interpretations. For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan has no interpretation in the Gospel, but we find its interpretation in the church hymns, written by the Holy Fathers, in particular in the church hymns of the 5th week of Lent. The icon depicting the parable of the Good Samaritan (a modern copy of a 16th century fresco) closely follows the interpretations of the Holy Fathers.
Who is this man who goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho? – This is Adam, our forefather, or the mankind, or every man.
“When Adam fell among the robbers of thought, he was robbed of his mind; his soul was wounded, and he was cast out naked and without any aid. The priest who came before the law did not listen to him. The Levite who came after the law had no compassion on him: only you, o God, who came not from Samaria but from the Theotokos! O Lord, glory to you!” (Stichera. Monday of the 5th week of Lent)
What does this mean that he goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho?
Jerusalem – the holy city of God, the place where it is ought to serve God and to bring Him sacrifices. Jerusalem is an impregnable stronghold, situated in a hill country, where soil is stony and barren.
On the contrary, Jericho lies below the sea level in the Jordan Valley, very fertile and rich in vegetation.
“I had left Jerusalem, the way of Your divine commandments, and had reached the passions of Jericho…” (Stichera. Friday of the 5th week of Lent)
So Jerusalem signifies Divine Commandments. Why is this so?
– Commandments, as the walls of a city, limit us, our desires, on all sides, at the same time creating, so to speak, a safe living space, where we can live unharmed by sin.
A man being seduced by earthly pleasures, signified by Jericho, goes out from Jerusalem, the stronghold of Divine Commandments. (Let us remember Adam and Eve).
But the robbers control this way. Who are the robbers?
We are created to live in blessedness and joy, and we naturally seek blessedness. The source of our blessedness is God Himself. But man abandoned God, the source of blessedness, and started to seek blessedness elsewhere: in humans, in things, in bodily pleasures.
At first the way of bodily desires appears to man as full of joy, but as time passes, indulgence in passions becomes a heavy burden on the soul; in place of pleasure it becomes endless slavery. A man realizes that he has lost his freedom and became a captive of his passions. A soul blinded by passions and wounded by sin becomes incapable of any spiritual activity. Before God such a man is half-dead.
Christ took His parables from everyday life: the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, which goes through a desert, is quite lonely even in our time. And in that time it was plagued by highway robbers. They took hold of the man, and stripped him of his raiment, i.e. deprived him of the raiment of virtues and from the cover of God’s grace and protection.
So, the robbers are demons, who act through our own passions.
“Christ, as I walk on the path of life, I am gravely wounded by thieves through my passions: I pray that You will raise me up”.
“Thieves have robbed my mind and left me half dead. I am wounded by my sins, but heal me, Lord”.
“My passions have stripped me bare of Your commandments, Christ, and I have been scourged by sensual pleasures, but pour oil on my wounds, O Saviour”. (4th Sunday of Lent. Canon)
The man wounded by robbers represents the fallen mankind, before the coming of Christ. Then who were the priest and Levite who saw the wounded man and passed by without providing him any help?
The priest and Levite are ministers of God. They represent the great saints and prophets, whom God sent from the beginning of the world. Then why it is said that they passed by without helping that man? Didn’t they fulfill the ministry of preaching? Yes, they did. But this is exactly what the Gospel says: they came to that place, they stopped, saw that man and passed by. But the wounded man remained lying on the road. Moses came and passed away, Elijah came and passed away, other prophets came and passed away, but the illness of the mankind remained unhealed. The illness was too serious, incurable. There were no means of healing it. Only God who had created man, only He could recreate him.
This is how Isaiah speaks on the incurable disease of the mankind:
“The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and sores. They have not been closed, neither bound up, neither soothed with oil.” (Is. 1, 5-6)
Now a certain Samaritan goes down on the same road. Who were the Samaritans? – Samaritans were of mixed race. They were descendants of Israelites and the nations who migrated to Palestine by the will of the Assyrian rulers after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. They lived to the south of Judea, between Judea and Galilee. Samaritans believed in One God of Israel and held the Law of Moses, but they kept their own traditions, different from those of the Jews. For the Jews they were heretics, that’s why the Jews disdained Samaritans and didn’t maintain any relations with them.
Why does the Lord Jesus Christ represent Himself as a Samaritan?
The teaching of Jesus Christ was completely different from the teachings of the Pharisees and Scribes. He disregarded their interpretations and traditions, speaking of them as of the “commandments of men”. This is why the Pharisees, mockingly, named Him Samaritan, since the Samaritans didn’t keep Jewish traditions. “Do we not say rightly, that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8, 48).
Thus the Lord humbly attributes to Himself this name given Him by His enemies.
On the other hand, Jesus Christ took our human nature, but without sin. He is the Son of Man and the Son of God. Thus, in a certain sense, He is of a different race in regard to us.
Also, the church hymns note a similarity between the phrases “from Samaria” and “from Mary” (in Greek these phrases sound similarly).
“My whole soul is wounded; stripped of the virtues, I lie naked on the highway of life… but you, Christ my God, were pleased to come not from Samaria but from Mary. Grant me healing and pour out your great mercy on me…” (Stichera)
The Samaritan moved with compassion, approached the wounded man; he bound his wounds pouring oil and wine. Oil symbolises mercy, and wine – true teaching of God. Then the Samaritan brought him to an inn and took care of him.
The Son of God drew near to us through His incarnation. He abode with us during the time of His life on Earth. He gave us His life as an example, He was teaching, working miracles, He summoned His apostles and instructed them on how to lead His Church. He was crucified and rose again. He fulfilled all the Divine Plan of the salvation and regeneration of man.
The Gospel says that the Good Samaritan “set the man on his own beast and brought him to an inn”. However, on the icon, Christ is carrying him on His back. Is it a mistake of the icon painter? – No, the icon follows here the interpretation of the Fathers.
Human nature was created as a link between the visible and invisible: between the material world and the spiritual world. The human soul is similar in nature to angels, and our body is similar to animals. In our creation, The Lord joined a body of an animal to a rational soul, so that we would act by our reason, not impulses like animals. Holy Fathers compare human mind to a rider of a horse, who directs his horse (body) to where he wants, restraining its impulses.
The Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnation took our human nature, our soul, and body. That’s why in the parable: “set him on his own beast” is interpreted as that the Lord Jesus Christ made us members of His own body.
St Theophilact: “The Lord set our wounded nature on His own beast, i.e. on His own body, because He made us His members and communicants of His body. “
We find a similar image in the parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15). The Good Shepherd left 99 sheep in the desert and went after His lost sheep, representing the mankind. When He found it, He put it on His shoulders rejoicing.
The inn is the Church; the innkeeper represents bishops and priests. The Lord established His Church, which like an inn, accepts and provides shelter for all.
The wounded man should have stayed in the inn to be taken care of; however, the Samaritan had to depart. Then he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper saying: “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend when I come again, I will repay you”.
The Lord indicates here His glorious Second Coming when He will come not to heal our infirmities, but to judge the living and the dead, and to reward each one according to his works.
The Lord departed from us through His Ascension, but invisibly He is “with us always, even to the end of the age.” He always takes care and heals the wounds of our souls.
Silver which the Samaritan gave to the innkeeper is divine grace which the Lord gave to His Church; it heals and saves souls through the Holy Sacraments. Bishops and priests, the ministers of the sacraments of the Church, are only distributors of God’s gifts. They offer to others what they have received: Holy sacraments and the teaching of Christ. What are they able to “spend more”? What can they add from themselves to the gift of the Divine Grace? – Their labour, their cares, their zeal, which the Lord shall recompense them on the day of His Last Judgment.
Thus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Lord Jesus Christ secretly offers Himself as an example of mercy and compassion. Being the Son of God, eternal and almighty, through His compassion he took up our sufferings and became the neighbour for man fallen by sin.
(Father Andrei Erastov)
1 – 4 Icons of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Samaritan
5. Adam fell among the hands of robbers
6. The priest (represented by St John the Baptist) and levite (Prophet Moses) go away
7. Christ – the Good Samaritan is taking care of Adam
8. Christ is carrying Adam on His back
9. Christ gives orders to the innkeeper
10. ‘Christ the Good Shepherd’ from the Catacomb of Priscila (ca. 3rd century)
Header: Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Samaritan