The Parable of the Good Samaritan: A Catholic Perspective

good-samaritan-stain glass

Everyone is familiar with the parable of the good Samaritan from the Gospel of St. Luke.

Even before entering the Catholic Church in 2006 I had heard this familiar story proclaimed in various Protestant churches. In the past, however, I had always heard this parable explained strictly as a morality tale, meant to redefine and expand our understanding of neighbor and to realize that our Christian discipleship requires us to demonstrate charity for all. To tell the truth, however, this has been my only understanding of the story. What I learned today at Mass is that the good Samaritan is indeed a very Catholic parable.

For those who may not attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, today was the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost and the Gospel reading was from Luke x. 23-37. Those of you who participate in the Ordinary Form just heard this Gospel reading a few weeks ago.

A very holy priest of my diocese introduced us today to the allegorical reading of the parable. As he explained, nearly all of the fathers of the Church had interpreted this parable in the manner in which he was presenting it to us. A quick review of the Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas confirms this. From St. Augustine, to St. Bede to St. John Chrysostom, all address the allegorical depth of the parable.

A Catholic Parable

I would like to quote at length from the St. Andrew Daily Missal (1945) by Dom Gaspar Lefebvre O.S.B. It is the Venerable Bede, the eighth century English monk of the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter, whose sermon Dom Lefebvre references regarding the parable of the good Samaritan:

“The man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” says St. Bede, “is Adam representing the human race. Jerusalem is the city of heavenly peace, of that happiness from which he has been separated by sin. The robbers are the devil and his angels, into whose hands Adam fell, because he went down. They stripped him and robbed him of the glory of immortality and the robe of innocence. The injuries they inflicted upon him are sins which, violating the integrity of human nature, let death in through half open wounds. They left him half dead because they deprived him of the blessedness of eternal life, although they could not abolish in him the faculty of reason by which he knew God. The priest and the Levite who saw the wounded man and passed by denote the priests and ministers of the Old Testament who could only show up the wounds of the sick world by the decrees of the law, but could not cure them because, as the apostle says, it was impossible for them to wash away sin with the blood of calves and lambs.

The good Samaritan (the word means guardian) is our Lord Himself. Having become man He is brought close to us by the great compassion He has shown towards us. The inn is the Church into which our Lord Himself brings man, as the good Samaritan brought in the wounded man on his beast, for no one can take part in the Church unless he is baptized, united to the Body of Christ, and carried like the lost sheep on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.

The two pence are the two Testaments bearing the name and image of the eternal King. Christ is the fulfilment of the Law. The two coins were given the next day to the innkeeper, because on the morrow of His resurrection, our Lord opened the eyes of the two disciples of Emmaus and of His apostles, that they might understand the Holy Scriptures. For on that next day the innkeeper received the two pence as a reward for his care of the wounded man, because the Holy Ghost descending upon the Church, taught the apostles all truth, that they in their turn, might be able to teach all nations and preach the Gospel.”

A Catholic Perspective

Today was once again a great reminder of just how truly “Catholic” a sermon (or homily) can be. I have attended parishes in the past, as I am sure many of you have, in which the sermon could very well have been given in a Protestant church and not a single word would have required changing.

It is the great challenge and, I would argue, commision of our clergy to always strive to provide the laity with sermons that embrace the wisdom and tradition of our two thousand year old Catholic faith. How blessed we are to have such a rich patrimony!

How gratfeful as Catholics we should all be for the great saints and doctors of the Church through whose wisdom we can better understand the sacred scriptures. I am also grateful for Father’s sermon at Mass and for being introduced to this allegorical understanding of the parable of the good Samaritan.

I would love your feedback. Have any of you heard this parable explained allegorically before, particularly at Mass?

Posted on August 11, 2013, in holiness, liturgy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Those fluffy homilies on such a rich parable are too often. Someday…it may improve?

    • From what I have seen of this younger generation of clergy(45 and under) seems very promising. Hopefully an indication of both the holiness of the men responding to the call to the priesthood, along with the improvement of our seminaries.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. We heard this exact interpretation at our EF Mass today, August 30 2014. It was a wonderful example of the depth and richness of our Faith. The priest mentioned that there are several interpretations of what the oil and wine are that were used to heal the Samaritan. I was conscious of these elements mentioned in the Communion verse and wonder what they signify: a restoration of Adam to a state of sanctifying grace and enjoying the generosity of God’s benevolence? Perhaps you could suggest something!

  3. I’ve been told that the tale means “love everyone@, but it doesn’t seem to say that – it reads more subtle and complex. Christ could have simply said “everyone” in response to “who sunny neighbor” but this tale distinctly posits at least two people who are not the fallen mans neighbors.

    We are not, in this tales reading, the Good Samaritan – we are the fallen man.

  4. Thank you for reminding us of our beautiful Tradition. I had to endure a homily that scolded us on been part of a new Ireland, that is multicultural, with those from different religions, sexual genders and identities etc. It tried me not to walk out! This is what I needed to hear, to know why as Catholics, we sacrifice to bring our families up as Catholics and to attend Holy Mass.

  5. We cannot simply put Jesus’ rich, multilayered, multi-faceted parables into a simple allegorical box. Jesus’ parables are living Words that we have retold for nearly 2000 years. Each time we recall a parable, a new understanding emerges. They are truly one of the most significant of Jesus’ teaching tools. Jesus walked this earth for 3 short years. Yet, nearly 1/3 of His teachings are in the form of parables, representing nearly /3 of the “red letter text” in the Bible. This equates to nearly 1/3 of the Words Jesus spoke! Why did Jesus do this? Because parables are Jesus’ living witnesses. It is not a coincidence that Jesus usually told 2 or 3 parables/stories in succession while attempting to instruct his audience. Parables were used as the “2 or 3 witnesses” to prove the matter/the concept or lesson that Jesus was attempting to impart to His audience.
    View this video below and consider this perspective. (Cut and paste in your browser if the link does not work)

    Shift The Focus | Parable of the Good Samaritan Pt 2 | EP085

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