“Go, and do thou
It seems so simple - just go and do it. But, of course, practical matters
are never all that simple. The real question is about the animating
principles which move in and through our practical lives. And that is the
point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. It at once commands us and
convicts us; commands us about what we must do, and convicts us that we
cannot do this ourselves but only by the grace of God.
The two questions, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and
“who is my neighbour?” are more than the accidental backdrop to the
parable. They are altogether critical to its understanding. They remind us
of the priority of the question “what is it good to be?” over the
question “what is it right to do?” Christian practice follows upon
Christian profession - what we do from what we believe. The radical meaning
of the parable is that Christ is the Good Samaritan. “Go and do thou
likewise” follows from our incorporation in him.
The parable of the Good Samaritan, like so many of the parables, opens out
to us the glorious and grand pageant of Redemption and focuses that pageant
in the practical stuff of daily life. Here we have no detailed blueprint for
political activity, whether imperial, totalitarian, revolutionary, socialist
or democratic. Instead we are presented with the condition of our being in
Christ and something of the nature of holy charity. We are given an example
to follow and in the example we find our actual incorporation into the life
of God through Jesus Christ.
The parable appears as an answer to the lawyer’s second question, “who is
my neighbour?”, which question follows upon the great summary of the law
given as the answer to the first question, “what must I do to inherit
eternal life?”. These are real questions in spite of the hostile
intent of the lawyer. They signal the critical point: eternal life and
the commandment to love, in other words, the love of God and the love of
neighbour, are intimately related. “This do and thou shalt live”.
Christ upholds the righteousness of the law as establishing the condition of
man’s relation with God. But how is the law to be fulfilled? The
Priest and Levite in the parable attend to the strict letter of the law, as
it were, with respect to ritual purity towards God, but in so doing fail to
observe the spiritual intent of the law. To put it another way, the
righteousness which the law both seeks and requires cannot be accomplished
through mere regulatory compliance.
In the parable, Christ gives us an example. The example he gives us is
nothing less than a parable of his own incarnate life; in short, to love as
he has loved. The love of Christ is the fulfilling of the law.
There is in him alone that pure, total and absolute love for the goodness of
God and all things for the sake of God.
The law is a commandment to love God “with all our heart, and with all
our soul, and with all our strength and with all our mind and our neighbour
as ourself”. We hear these words at the beginning of the Communion
service. They present the truth of our humanity - what is most
wanted - and convict us of our untruth - what is far from us in
ourselves. There is not in us of ourselves that pure and
spontaneous and total love of God for his own sake and the love of all other
things for the sake of God. It is what we most want but we constantly
fall short of what we would be.
In Christ the love of God and the love of neighbour meet. The charity
of the Good Samaritan is the charity of Christ in operation. That
charity must be before us as an example and it must be in us as the truth of
our lives and our loves. “All our doings without charity are
nothing worth”. All charity is Christ.
Would you see the glorious and grand pageant of our redemption in this
parable? Behold the themes of the Fall, the Incarnation and the
Church. Christ is the Good Samaritan who has come to where fallen
humanity lies half-dead in the wounds of sin which make us strangers to all
and everything. The law in the letter of ritual intent passes by in
the garb of Priest and Levite. But Christ our great high priest has
compassion and comes to where we are. He sees the wounds of our
unrighteousness and he binds them up. He restores us by pouring in the
anointing oil of his eternal messiahship for our comfort and the
strengthening wine of his divinity for our joy. He sets us upon the
beast of his own body which freely bore the sins of the whole world.
He takes us to the inn of his church - not just a hotel for saints but a
hospital for sinners, a veritable hotel de dieu. There he
continues to provide himself for us and for our salvation with the two
denarii - the two coins - of the sacraments of holy Baptism and the holy
Eucharist until he comes again. In every way Christ is the love of
Would you see the point of the parable for you in the stuff of daily life?
Let the charity of Christ move in your hearts. Every day there are the
opportunities for kindnesses towards others. Our life and death are
always with our neighbour. The school of divine love is common
charity. It takes us out of ourselves and moves us towards one
another. It is the love of God in us.
What we are given to do are really “the works of corporal mercy” -
works done out of a love for Christ in the body of Christ and for the body
of Christ. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the ultimate paradigm
- model - for the works of corporal mercy: feeding the hungry, giving
drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick, burying the dead, clothing the
naked, ministering to prisoners, and harbouring the stranger. They
are “bodily” works, as it were. They belong to our life in the
body of Christ. They are about the mercies of Christ in us and for one
another. “Out of the love which Christ bore springs our love both him and
to our neighbour. We love him because he first loves us; and our love
for others is the necessary fruit of our love for him”, as Augustine
The point is wonderfully and finally captured in another phrase:
In Christ you have all. Do you wish to love God? You have him
in Christ. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God
and the Word was God”. Do you wish to love thy neighbour? You
have him in Christ. “The Word was made flesh”.
Christ is the charity of God without whom all our doings are nothing worth.
It is Christ whom we serve when we are bidden:
“Go, and do