Cycle C: Fifteenth Sunday of the Liturgical Year




The parable of the Good Samaritan is the answer that Jesus gave to the question of a lawyer: “Who is my neighbor?”  The reason why the lawyer was interested in getting an answer to his question was because he wanted “to justify himself.”


I-   Our own questions


If we want to interpret this parable properly, we have to see it in relation to our own questions. Here are some of them: This parable evidently speaks of charity. But what is charity exactly? Is it what the ‘Ladies of Charity’ are doing or is it money distributed to the poor? What does it mean to love another person “for the love of God”? You may feel that charity is a kind of love which is not spontaneous enough.

We all know from experience that our friendships are usually very spontaneous and limited to a small number of people, while the attention and the care we show to others are usually conveyed “for the love of God.” Think of a young man and his girlfriend who are just about to get married. They have chosen each other. They show great affection to each other. You cannot think that they love each other “out of charity”. Their love is so natural and spontaneous. You would rather speak of charity when there is no spontaneous attraction between two persons or when you need to make a certain effort to go to the other, because he does not please you or you have no sympathy for him.

Now, let us ask ourselves: if we are real Christians, don’t you think that it is rather strange to consider that our friendships, which are the most precious gifts we have received as human beings, are not under the influence of God’s grace? You may think: “It’s not charity, because it is too spontaneous. To love out of charity, you have to make an effort!” However, if charity is the love of God that invades our life, taking all our affections away from this divine influence would seem rather impoverishing.

Perhaps it would be better to put the question in another way. Instead of asking ourselves, “what is charity?” we could ask, “who is our neighbor?” When we say, “for a man, his neighbor is his wife, his children, his parents,” we see charity as a friendly attitude towards a limited number of persons. When is it that friendship is transformed into charity, or is under the influence of God? Is it when it is extended to all? Or is it when friendship becomes completely disinterested?



II-   Jesus’ answer        


Jesus answers this question with a parable. A parable is not a moralizing story. It is much more than that. It is an image of something else. It is a way of saying: “Open your eyes, and see who your God is. See what He does when He loves.” The parable is an image of what God does for us.


Prophet Ezechiel had already said something similar before: “I saw you struggling in your blood as I was passing… I spread part of my cloak over you… I bathed you in water… I anointed you with oil…” (Ez. 16: 3-14)


  1. Jesus uses similar images to answer the question of the lawyer. What the Samaritan did for the wounded man is what God does for us. Naturally, God has no neighbor, because no one is equal to Him. And there is nothing in human beings that may attract the sympathy or the attention of God. When God comes to help a person, it is not because that person is a neighbor to Him and has a right to be helped, but because God loves him/her with a spontaneous love. “He first loved us.” (1 Jn 4: 19). Like the Samaritan, it is God who makes Himself the neighbor of every human being.


  1. The world is not divided into two groups: on one side, our “neighbors” (family, friends, people next door) and on the other side “the others.” There is nothing in the world that can indicate to us that this person is our neighbor and that one is not.


Our neighbor is the one to whom we prove ourselves a neighbor, the one to whom we come freely. We are the ones who give him/her that name. In reality, if there is a dividing line between our “neighbors” and “the others,” it is not exterior to us, but it is due to the limits of our love. Our “neighbor” becomes “the other” when our hearts are dried up and our arms too short! We are the ones who are free to love or not, to pass by or to stop.


  1. Remember, Jesus (the Good Samaritan) went to find his neighbor in the ranks of his enemies (the wounded Jew). It means that the boundaries that we could have called “natural” were trespassed. In the same way, there is no particular type of person who can be called an object of charity, while another would not be. In other words, our neighbor is the one to whom our heavenly Father sends us. We are never forced to go to him/her. However, sometimes it may happen that we will even enjoy going to him, because he is our friend.


When we are ready to make someone our neighbor, we are related to him/her by something more than sympathy or affection. The love of God that we communicate to him/her passes through our friendship. So, charity is not a different kind of love, more meritorious because it is less spontaneous.  It is the very love of God for us which circulates through our human relationships. It is the soul of our human relationships, whether they are spontaneous or not.


It is not because God loves this friend through us that it affects our spontaneous reactions: warm or reserved. Charity does not level the differences of character. Charity is an interior dynamism which urges us to love in our own way, with our own spontaneous or reserved reactions. That is why we can say that, when we really love a friend, everything is from us and everything is from God. We don’t have to limit the expression of our human sentiments, showing a wrong form of asceticism, as if it were better to be less affectionate. On the contrary, the more we remain ourselves, with our sensitivity and intelligence, the better the love of God can work through us.


  1. So, it is very important that we develop in us the ability to love. Otherwise, something will be paralyzed in this mysterious current of divine love among us. We have also to discern in our acts of love the invisible sign of a love that comes from elsewhere and that will raise us higher than we can imagine.


We cannot easily see that, but we can believe that it is there, i.e. that God is in our words, our silence, our smiles. We can become conscious of it. We can even allow this interior action of God in us to develop, like a small stone whose colors will come out after it has been placed in running water for a long time. Our ability to love is really ours when it is washed by the current of God’s love. Water does not ask a permission from the earth to make it fruitful, but the water of God’s love does not purify us without our permission. If we don’t allow God to inspire our actions, our hearts will be without charity.



5. When we walk in the footsteps of the Good Samaritan, we may say:  “This is rather easy to do… It does not go very far. We don’t need to compromise ourselves very much to give such help. Anybody can do it.” That is not so sure!   It is not true that everybody is ready to go out of his way to render services to people in need. It may not go as far as paying the hospital bills of these wounded people. Yet these helpers can say that they walk in the footsteps of the Good Samaritan or see the people in need of help with the eyes of their hearts.


In fact, it is much easier to speak against war and to denounce corruption everywhere because, ultimately, we know very well that we cannot do much against that. I feel that it is much more difficult to give a helping hand to the person we meet on our way and who is in very great need of help. This is “to love till it hurts”, as Saint Mother Teresa used to say. We may not be able to solve all problems, but we will do what we can in simplicity and generosity of heart. That is what the Good Samaritan did: he did what he could.


III  -  What can we do today?


First, we need to keep our eyes opened and let our hearts be touched.


An ancient Rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night ended and the day was on its way back. “Could it be,” asked a student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” – “No,” answered the Rabbi. “Could it be,” asked another, “when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” – “No,” said the Rabbi. “Well, then, when is it?” his pupils demanded. “It is when you can look on the face of any person and see that he/she is your brother or sister.”    (Anon)


Usually, we come across wounded people at the moment we least expect. We usually find excuses not to stop. It is left to us to make a choice.


A leper, feeling that the end of his life was near, decided to go to the city to be interned in the hospital. Not having any money to travel by bus, he decided to walk. On the way, many vehicles passed him, looked at him but did not offer him a lift. Finally, a truck driver stopped and took him to the city. He was not admitted in the hospital, because there was no more room vacant. He was told to return the following day. He had nowhere to spend the night. So, he spread some old newspapers on the sidewalk, covered himself with other pieces of paper, hoping to be able to sleep for a while. A prostitute, walking up and down the street, saw him and felt compassion for him. She helped him to get up, had him lean on her for support while she took him to her house. That night, the prostitute slept on the floor giving up her mattress so that the leper could sleep well. He died during the night.   (R. Pourras)


The first place where we may encounter a wounded person is in our own homes. We need not go far. Wounded people are often found within the home.

Sometimes, we render better services by trying to eradicate the causes of accidents or illnesses.

At the end of our lives, we will be judged not on the number of prayers we said, but on the concrete help we rendered to those who were hungry, poor, sick, in prison.






Hervé Morissette, csc