By Fr. Patrick Reardon
In Luke 10:25–37, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, which many Christians have seen as a parable of man’s fall and redemption. Such an interpretation is usually elaborated in three steps.
First, there is the story of the fall, concerning which we are told, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” This man started in Jerusalem, in the garden place of God’s presence. But he did not stay there. He made a deliberate decision to go down on a journey. No one told him to go. He made the decision on his own, as an assertion of his independence. “Man, though in honor, does not remain,” says the psalmist; “He is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12).
These robbers did not kill the fallen man completely. They left him half dead. Even fallen, he did not suffer total depravity. There was still some chance for him, though he had no way of saving himself from his terrible predicament. By this man’s disobedience, in fact, sin entered the world, and by sin death. Indeed, death reigned already in his mortal flesh. How shall we describe this poor man’s plight except that he was “alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12)? He had been left half dead, and there was no help for him in this world.
Along came a priest and then a Levite, men representing the Mosaic Law, but they had to pass by the fallen wayfarer, because by the works of the Law is no man justified. The priest and the Levite were hastening to the temple in order to offer repeatedly the same sacrifices that could never take away sins. Indeed, matters were made even worse, because “in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3–4).
Secondly, a Samaritan, “as he journeyed, came where [the man] was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” In the fullness of time, that is to say, God sent His Son to be a good neighbor to him who fell among the thieves. This Son, being in the form of God, did not think equality with God a thing to be seized, but He emptied Himself and took the form of a servant. Indeed, this Son became an utter outcast—in short, a Samaritan, a person without respect or social standing. Although He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich.
What did the Samaritan do for the man that fell among thieves? He washed him in the waters of baptism, cleansing his wounds, and into those wounds He poured His grace in the form of anointing oil, the holy chrism, and the eucharistic wine to prevent infection.
Our Samaritan did not leave beside the road this half-dead victim of the fall among thieves. On the contrary, “he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” And then he went away. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. This Samaritan is also the great High Priest that entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. But even as He went away, He said to the innkeeper, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”
And this promise brings us to our third point. Our Samaritan says to the innkeeper, “when I come again.” He does not say, “if I come again,” but “when I come again.” There is no “if” about the return of this Samaritan. This same Samaritan, who is taken up from us into heaven, shall so come in like manner as we have seen Him go into heaven. We solemnly confess, then, that He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time, apart from sin unto salvation.
All of history is given significance by the two visits of the Samaritan. Only those who abide in the inn awaiting His return really know the meaning of history. The inn is the house of history, the Church where the innkeeper cares for the Samaritan’s friends.
This parable does not describe that return of the Samaritan. It says simply “when I return.” The parable leaves that return in the future. The story terminates in the place where the Samaritan would have his friends stay—at the inn. It is imperative for their souls’ health that they remain within this inn, to which our Samaritan has sworn to return. In this inn His friends pass all their days as in eagerness they await His sworn return.
This article originally appeared in AGAIN Vol. 28 No. 4, published in December 2006.