15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA
English Recording & Transcript
[00:00:03] The way Catholics interpret Scripture falls into two general categories. We always start with something called the literal sense of scripture. Our way of interpreting the Bible is to ask, what was the intention of the author? These are inspired texts, after all. They come to us from God, but they come to us through human beings. And the way inspiration works, those human beings had a message from God they needed to convey, but they did so according to their own human understanding and faculties, which means that, like any author, they had intentions as they wrote those down. And we believe it’s in the intentions of the author that we can find the inspiration of God. So, for example, when we interpret the Book of Genesis, the intention of that author was to use symbolic mythological language, like all of the other creation accounts of ancient Near Eastern society, to convey truths about God. So the literal sense of Genesis is not that it literally took 7, 24-hour periods to create the world. The literal sense of Genesis is What did this author intend to convey with these words? However, after we ask about the literal sense of a passage – and we can never abandon the literal sense, we always have to stick with the literal sense first, it is the foundation for everything else – but after we’ve read and listened to and interpreted the literal sense of a passage, Catholics also talk about spiritual senses of scripture, in a sense a higher or deeper meaning beyond just the literal sense of the author.
[00:01:59] We talk about three specifically, and I always forget the fancy Greek words for these. So if you know them, you’re better at theology than I am. But we have the moral sense: the passage may – even beyond the story being told; think about, for example, all the stories of King David – they may tell us how to live our lives beyond just what the intention of the author was. This is something that we can learn about morality, learn about Christian living. Or we have the eschatological sense (the one Greek word I remember) the eschatological sense, which is telling us about the end times, the final disposition of humanity. What are we going to look like at the end? What does it look like to live with God forever? What are we aiming toward? We have the eschatological sense and then we have the Christological sense. We have this idea that many, and we might actually say all, passages in the Bible somehow point us to Jesus. This is particularly true of the Old Testament. Everything in the Old Testament is getting us ready for Jesus again. Thinking about King David, Jesus in so many ways is the new King David. And so we might read a story about the life of David, and the literal sense is simply the story about David. But the Christological sense may be This is what the Messiah will do for us. This is what it looks like to have the Messiah serve as the King of the new Israel.
[00:03:32] So when we approach today’s passage, the literal sense is fairly obvious. This happens in Luke, it also happens in Matthew and Mark. Jesus is asked essentially to summarize all of the Jewish law. And again, Jesus did not come to abolish the Jewish law, but to fulfill it. His summary gives us an interpretive key how he fulfills this law. And in Luke the answer is given in the mouth of the scribe. In other passages, Matthew and Mark, the scribe asks, and then Jesus gives them the answer. But Luke is really a proponent of the common man. So he wanted the scribe to actually have a win here. The scribe comes up with the proper summary: love God with everything that you have and love your neighbor. This is a passage from Deuteronomy and a passage from Leviticus, a summary of the Jewish law. And Jesus says, That’s exactly right. If you were to do these things truly and perfectly, you would already be living out the Jewish law.
[00:04:34] But the scribe then asks, But who is my neighbor? And this is because the Jews at the time of Jesus were living the idea of purity in an extreme way. The reason the Jews were exiled by the Babylonians, the things that the prophets called them to, is that they were being unfaithful to the covenant. They were not living according with the Law of God. They were living according to the laws of their neighbors. They were worshipping the gods of their neighbors. They were engaging in the immoral practices of their neighbors. So after the exile, they overcorrected and said, We will have nothing at all to do with our neighbors. And so the Gentiles were absolutely just completely other. They were alien.
[00:05:17] But also the Samaritans. Now, the Samaritans are a little more complicated because they come from the northern tribes of Israel. The northern tribes of Israel were exiled in the 700s B.C by the Assyrians and mixed in with a lot of pagan cultures. And so the criticism by the Southern tribes was that these northern tribes are too synchronistic. They have too many of the pagan practices mixed in with Judaism. But the northern tribes still claimed Moses and the Torah. They still claimed that same progeny from Abraham through Moses, there was still a seed of Judaism there, and they would have considered themselves a form of Hebrew. Well, certainly Hebrews, but like a form of an adherent to what we consider to be the Jewish religion. But the Southern Jews who were exiled in the 500s B.C. and then came back, they had a very strict view of Judaism. That’s the Judaism that Jesus comes from. This is the Judaism that He’s interacting with in this Jerusalem area.
[00:06:16] And so this scribe knew the right answer. This is how he summarized the law and didn’t like it. And so to justify himself, he asked, Well, who is my neighbor? And Jesus gives him this story that forces him to expand his view of who his neighbor is. Your neighbor isn’t just other Jews. Your neighbor goes even to those people that you disown, even to those people that you hate. Those are also your neighbor. That’s the literal sense.
[00:06:43] You’ve all heard this before, but what’s really fun about this passage is that there is an ancient Christian interpretation of it. My source for preparing for this homily was Origin of Alexandria, but an ancient Christian interpretation of its Christological sense. Now it’s weird: Jesus is giving us a parable, isn’t everything Christological if it comes from Jesus? But we don’t often think, What does the parable of the Good Samaritan tell us about Jesus himself? Not just about morality, not just about who our neighbor is, but what can it tell us about Jesus himself?
[00:07:20] The ancient Christological sense of this passage is that Jesus himself is the Good Samaritan. So let’s step through it to understand how that can be.
[00:07:33] A man fell victim to robbers and he went down as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. In some parables, Jesus gives us a name. There’s no name here. It’s just a man, in a sense, in the Christological sense that man stands in for all of humanity. That man is Adam, who stands in for all of humanity. And what’s Adam doing? Adam is going from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem is the city of God. It’s the city of true worship. It’s the location of the temple. It’s where you go to worship. Jericho was the first barrier for the people of God entering the Promised Land. When they crossed over the Jordan, the first thing they had to do was take down the city of Jericho. So Jericho is kind of the stand in for all barriers, all things that are opposed to God geographically. Jerusalem is up in the hill country of Israel. Jericho is down next to the Dead Sea. So it’s below sea level. It’s very low. So this man, the stand in for Adam, the stand in for all of us, was going from God to the opponents of God. He was essentially walking away, fleeing God. He was descending from God.
[00:08:49] And when he did that, he fell victim to robbers who stripped him and beat him and left him half dead. Those robbers are sin. When we walk away from God, when we flee from God, we are beaten and robbed and stripped by sin, which is just waiting for us to leave the safety of Jerusalem. And we’re left half dead. We can live all we want, but if we live apart from God, we live a half life. We live a life that is marked only by suffering and corruption and sin. We live a life that’s away from grace and compassion and mercy and forgiveness. So here we are. Sinful humanity, stripped and beaten and left, half dead by sin.
[00:09:41] And a priest walks by, but he walks by on the other side. The commentators say this represents the Jewish rituals. As Saint Paul talks about, God gave the Jews these rituals. He gave them this worship in the temple. But those rituals could never save them. They had to be carried out over and over and over again, and there was no finality to them. The priest cannot help the man who is robbed and left for dead. And then the Levite is said to represent the prophetic tradition. God kept sending prophets to the Jews over and over and over again, and they kept calling the Jews to a holiness of life. And yet he had to keep sending more prophets. There was nothing final. There was nothing that actually worked. It was never definitive. And so the Levite crosses over on the other side because he also cannot help sinful humanity left for dead.
[00:10:36] But then the Samaritan comes. Remember, Samaritans are a very interesting category. This equation, some of the limits of it: Jesus is not an unfaithful Jew. That’s not where we want this analogy to go. But a Samaritan was a half Jew. A Samaritan was kind of like the Gentiles and kind of like the Jews, which is very much like Jesus. Jesus is divine and human. He is so far apart from us. He is completely alien from us like the Gentiles were for the Jews. There is an infinite chasm between us and Jesus because of His divinity, and yet He is also human. He is like us. He shares in the same nature that we have. He shares in our experience. And so this half Jew, this man who is like us and unlike us, he is the one who is able to come to us. He is the one who is able to approach us.
[00:11:32] And why does he do so? Because he was moved with compassion at the sight. The Lord sees sinful humanity left for dead by sin, and he says, I can’t leave them there. I have to go. I have to be with them. I have to take care of them. I am moved with compassion. The Samaritan had no business being near Jerusalem. Samaritans would not have wanted to be on that road because the Jews traveled that road and the Jews and Samaritans didn’t meet. The Samaritan would have felt unsafe on that road, and he would have wanted to get off that road as quickly as possible. But moved with compassion, the Lord gives up, in a sense, the safety of heaven, the infinite divine love, although he never is apart from the Trinity. But he gives that up to be with us in an unsafe place. He comes to us because he was moved with compassion.
[00:12:31] He approached the victim – us – poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. The literal sense of this passage is that the alcohol in wine kills any bacteria that might cause an infection. And then the oil is sort of like ancient Neosporin. It gives a supportive environment for the body to heal itself under the bandages. But what’s the Christological sense? Where in Christianity do we see oil and wine? We see it in the sacraments. In the ancient church, baptism and confirmation were carried out together; that oil is baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. And then the wine is the Eucharist. The Lord comes to us out of compassion. He wants to heal us from our sin. What does he give us? The sacraments. The sacraments are the means by which we are healed. They are the instrument that the Lord uses to bring us salvation, to heal these wounds. It is in the sacraments that he acts.
[00:13:33] Then he lifted him up on his own animal. Why do travelers use animals? Well, it’s because it’s a real burden to walk a long distance. Or in the ancient world, maybe they walked, but they didn’t want to carry all of their things. So they put all of their baggage on the animal. For the Good Samaritan to put the victim on the animal either means that the Good Samaritan himself has to walk or that the Good Samaritan has to take the baggage off of the animal and put it on himself. Well, what is this except the Cross? The Lord knows that we cannot carry our own burden. The burden even of our own selves. We can’t walk. The Lord knows that we cannot carry the burden that this beast is carrying. And so He carries the burden himself. He goes to the cross to carry our burden of sin. He takes upon himself the suffering of the journey so that we don’t have to suffer through the journey.
[00:14:35] And then took him to an inn and cared for him. All of the ancient commentators are clear that this inn is the church. The Lord can come to us with His grace and his mercy. He can heal us with the sacraments. But then if he leaves us on the road, we are equally likely to be robbed and stripped and beaten again. He has to bring us to a safe place. And so he establishes the inn. He establishes the church. He brings us into the church as a place where we can continue to heal. We can continue to heal from the wounds of sin. We can continue to receive his care. The Lord took him to the Inn and He cared for Him. The Lord is the one who cares for us here in the church.
[00:15:26] The next day, he took out two silver coins. Now, I was recently at a priest conference with a bunch of biblical scholars, and they made the point when you see a coin in the Gospels, you have to remember a coin always carried an image. You have to remember that image. We still have images on our coins now. Millennials don’t use cash, so I’m told we still have images on our coins. I’m not actually sure personally, but we have images on our coins. In the United States, we are fearful of monarchy, so our images are always of dead people. That’s necessary. They have to be somebody who is dead. But from the ancient Roman Empire forward, the tradition has been you put the face of the emperor or the monarch on your coins. In the U.K., they’ve got Queen Elizabeth’s face on their money because it is by her authority that that money carries value. It is by her authority that the government can guarantee the value of that coin. All coins carry images. And so when you see a coin in the gospel, you have to think image. Sometimes it’s the image of Caesar, as in the passage of Give to Caesar what is Caesar and give to God what is God’s. But if it’s just a general coin, the analogy, particularly the Christological sense of these passages, is that somehow it’s connected to the image of Jesus.
[00:16:49] So where, where we might see the number two, do we see the image of Jesus? Origin said that it was knowledge of the father and the Son, knowledge of how the father was in the son and the son was in the father. Origin is much smarter than I am, much closer to the Scriptures, so far be it for me to question. However, there are two interpretations I like better. First, this may be the image of Jesus in his divinity and his humanity. We see him not just in his divinity and not just as in humanity. We need both coins to see him fully, and both coins have something that heals us from our sin. Or these two coins might represent scripture and tradition. We see Jesus in the Scriptures. We see Jesus in the traditions handed down to us by the Apostles. It is in these two things considered together that we have the fullness of the Lord. We can’t just have Scripture. We can’t just have tradition. We need both. In either case, whatever image the Lord gives us, whatever coins He is giving to the innkeeper, it says He took those coins and he gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction to take care of him.
[00:18:05] Well, if the inn is the church, then the innkeeper is the hierarchy, the innkeeper is the Pope or the bishops or Saint Peter himself, and the coins are given to the innkeeper to take care of the victim. Scripture and tradition, the divinity and humanity of Christ. They are entrusted to the bishops so that the bishops can use this knowledge, this image of Christ, to care for us, to heal us of our sin, to bring us the grace of the sacraments and the healing that comes from being in the church.
[00:18:36] And then finally, the Good Samaritan says, if you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back. He says he’s coming back. And remember, in Advent we talk about three comings of the Lord, the first in his incarnation, the last at the end of time and the middle coming. He comes every time two or three of us are gathered. Every time the Word of God is proclaimed. Every time we celebrate the Mass. He comes often and regularly into our midst. And so if we ever feel like we are overspent, if we ever feel like we need more grace in order to be healed from our sins, he is coming regularly and filling in what is lacking. He is constantly giving to his church, giving to the innkeeper what we need to care for humanity, which is dead in a ditch, beaten and stripped by sin.
[00:19:32] So we might ask ourselves why any of this matters. It’s really fun to connect the dots. It’s really fun to try to apply the Christological sense to this passage and to say, okay, this is where Jesus is here and this is where Jesus is here. That’s great. What does it matter? Well, I think it shows us the unity of the two great commandments of Jesus. In Matthew, the commandments are given to us in an order. The first commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second is like it to love your neighbor as yourself. This was necessary. Loving your neighbor doesn’t have the effect you think it does if you don’t love God first. But Luke. Luke doesn’t present it that way. Luke presents them together almost as though they’re from the same passage of Scripture. There’s a unity that Luke gives us, and that unity is increased by thinking about the Christological sense of this passage about the Good Samaritan.
[00:20:30] Why? Because the passage about the Good Samaritan is the answer to the question Who is my neighbor? And if we’re trying to answer that question, we can answer it with, well, my neighbor is the one who shows me mercy. But that’s not quite right, because the Lord tells us to pray for our enemies as well. But what if the answer to that question is: my neighbor is Jesus. Or, my neighbor is everyone that Jesus loves. If Jesus is the Good Samaritan, then He loves everyone. He loves all of humanity. Every single person who is beaten and stripped and left half dead by sin. He loves all people. And so if Jesus becomes our image of neighborliness and his love for the entirety of humanity becomes our standard for who is my neighbor, then loving God and loving my neighbor is the same thing. I cannot love God and not love my neighbor, because if I love God, I’m loving Jesus. And if I love Jesus, I’m loving the Good Samaritan. And if I’m loving the Good Samaritan, then I follow the example of the Good Samaritan, which is to cross the aisle to people that I hate and that hate me, that are oil and water, that we have nothing in common; to cross over and say, I’m going to have mercy on you anyway. That’s what Jesus does. And it’s shown to us so clearly with Jesus as the Good Samaritan. If we love Jesus, we must act like the Good Samaritan. You cannot love God and not love your neighbor.
[00:22:08] But similarly, you cannot love your neighbor and not love God. I hear from people regularly in the grocery store on the street. Father, I used to be Catholic, but I still, you know, love people. So I’m doing fine. I don’t have to pray. I don’t have to go to Mass. It’s fine. It’s not! Because of what happens with the scribe. He wishes to justify himself. And so he asks, Who is my neighbor? If you don’t love God and still try to love your neighbor, you will always have a restricted view of who your neighbor is. This scribe thought that his neighbor was only the Jews. We have plenty of people today who say, “Oh, I love people”, but they only love people in their political bubble. They only love people who agree with them. Only if we love God, if we love Jesus, if we love Jesus who is the Good Samaritan, the Good Samaritan who crosses the street to care for a beaten, stripped Jew: Only if we love that God will we understand how expansive it really is to love our neighbor. Will we really say, My neighbor is everyone. If I love Jesus, Jesus came down from heaven to love all of humanity who is stripped, beaten and left half dead by sin. If I love that Jesus, then I myself am going to love every human being who is stripped, beaten and left half dead by sin.
Para los cristianos antiguos, la historia del Buen Samaritano era algo más que el Buen Samaritano, es una historia sobre Jesucristo. Tratemos de interpretar esta historia simbólicamente.
Jerusalén es la ciudad de Dios y la ciudad de adoración. Jericó fue la primera ciudad que trató de bloquear a los hebreos por heredar la Tierra Prometida. Jerusalén está arriba en la región montañosa, mientras que Jericó está al lado del Mar Muerto. Entonces, cuando un hombre desciende de Jerusalén a Jericó, se está alejando de Dios hacia los enemigos de Dios. Los ladrones que roban, desnudan y dejan al hombre medio muerto son pecados. Cuando nos alejamos de Dios, el pecado destruye nuestras vidas. El hombre medio muerto en una zanja nos representa a todos nosotros, caídos por el pecado.
El sacerdote representa los rituales judíos, que fueron dados por Dios, pero, como nos dice San Pablo, no tenían poder para salvar. Los judíos tenían que realizar estos rituales una y otra vez, sin esperanza de que las cosas mejoraran en el futuro. Así que el sacerdote no puede ayudar al hombre robado por el pecado. El levita representa a los profetas judíos, que llamaron a los judíos a volver a la fidelidad al pacto una y otra vez. Dios tuvo que enviar más y más profetas y, sin embargo, la gente volvió a caer en la corrupción. El levita no pudo ayudar al hombre robado por el pecado, así que cruza al otro lado.
¿Y qué representa el samaritano? Bueno, los samaritanos eran medio judíos. Aceptaron a Moisés y la Torá, pero no siguieron todas las leyes que siguieron los judíos. No eran completamente gentiles, no eran completamente judíos. Para los cristianos antiguos, el Buen Samaritano representa a Jesús, porque Jesús es tanto Dios como hombre. En su divinidad, Jesús está perfecta, completa e infinitamente separado de nosotros, como los judíos estaban perfectamente separados de los gentiles. Pero en su humanidad, Jesús es uno de nosotros, compartiendo nuestra misma naturaleza y nuestras mismas luchas. Así que el Buen Samaritano es Jesús, tanto Dios como hombre.
¿Qué hace el samaritano? Derrama vino y aceite sobre las heridas del golpeado por el pecado. ¿Y dónde vemos vino y aceite en el cristianismo? ¡En los sacramentos! En la Iglesia antigua, el bautismo y la Confirmación se recibían al mismo tiempo, por lo que en el aceite vemos el bautismo y la confirmación. En el vino vemos la Eucaristía. Cuando Jesús quiere sanarnos y salvarnos del pecado, ¿qué nos da? ¡Los sacramentos!
Luego, el samaritano pone a la víctima sobre el propio animal del samaritano. ¿Por qué usamos animales cuando viajamos? Para que no tengamos que caminar tanto o, en el mundo antiguo, para que no tengamos que cargar con nuestro equipaje nosotros mismos. Al poner al hombre sobre el animal, el samaritano habría tenido que llevar él mismo su equipaje. ¡Esta es la Cruz! Cuando Jesús nos salva del pecado, carga con la carga de nuestro pecado yendo a la Cruz.
Y luego el samaritano lleva a la víctima al mesón y lo cuida, lo que obviamente es un símbolo de la Iglesia, en la que Jesús nos cuida. Jesús puede venir a nosotros y sanarnos a través de los sacramentos, pero si nos quedamos en el camino, es probable que el pecado nos desnude y nos roba de nuevo. La Iglesia es el lugar seguro donde podemos garantizar nuestra seguridad y cuidarnos de una manera aún más profunda.
Entonces el samaritano le da dos monedas al dueño del mesón. Creo que estas monedas representan la Escritura y la Tradición, los dos depósitos de fe dados a la Iglesia a través de los cuales aprendemos y conocemos la verdad acerca de Jesús. Y el samaritano le da estas monedas al dueño del mesón, que es un símbolo de los obispos que deben mantener la Iglesia. Los obispos deben tomar estas dos monedas, este conocimiento de Jesús a través de la Escritura y la Tradición, y usarlas para cuidar de nosotros, que hemos caído por el pecado. Finalmente, el samaritano dice que, si necesitamos algo más, nos lo pagará en el camino de regreso. Jesús está regresando. Vino por primera vez en Navidad. Vendrá por última vez en el fin del mundo. Pero él regresa regularmente cada vez que rezamos juntos, donde se proclama la Palabra de Dios, cada vez que celebramos la Misa. Cualquier cosa que sintamos que nos falta, cualquier otra cosa que necesitemos para sanar de las heridas del pecado, Jesús regresa regularmente y provee para nosotros.