Opening the Word: The good Samaritan


The greatest threat to the Gospel may be not secularization or a culture hostile to Christianity. Instead, it may be ourselves, our own tepid preaching of the word.

As a Church, we regularly reduce the Gospel to a series of moral principles. Be nice to one another. Do good. Go and change the world.

This do-gooder Christianity places the emphasis on our works. We become the source of righteousness. The emphasis is not on Jesus Christ renewing the very cosmos.

Colossians does not traffic in moral platitudes. It begins with a cosmic vision of the world renewed through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word made flesh, the logos (logic) of God. The created order is made according to the wisdom of this Word.

But Jesus is not just the logos as an abstract principle. Jesus is that person who holds together the Church. His sacrifice of love upon the cross spreads out from the Church to all existence.

And this sacrifice has an effect. The Church, through the headship of Jesus Christ, is to become the space of reconciliation. We are reconciled to God, given a divine life that we did not deserve. We are reconciled to our neighbor, becoming living stones in a temple of humanity now dedicated to Christ.

This Gospel is not a quaint moralism. It is the promise that all creation will be saved through Jesus Christ, who is the very power of God made present here and now.

We can read the parable of the good Samaritan through the lens of Colossians. The parable of the good Samaritan has suffered from a benign moralism. Homily after homily has proclaimed, “Remember to help your neighbor. Be a good neighbor. Be a good Samaritan.”

This is a misreading of the parable. Jesus teaches this parable considering two questions. The first is given by a scholar of the Law, who wants to know how to inherit eternal life. The scholar of the Law answers the question himself, aware of the totality of the law as love of God and neighbor.

But the scholar of the Law also wants to circumscribe this love. Who is the neighbor? Is it my fellow Jew? Is it only those in Jerusalem?

Jesus offers this parable as a way of expanding the notion of neighbor. Neighbor is not defined by geography or ethnic identity. The neighbor is the one who does the will of God.

The good Samaritan is thus a parable about divine salvation. Through the announcement of the kingdom of God, through the Incarnation, salvation is offered to the entire human family.

As the early Church often preached, the real good Samaritan is Jesus Christ himself, who has come into the world to bind the wounds of a broken humanity in the hospital of the Church. He has left for us the sacraments, the salve of God’s word, the works of mercy to bind our broken wills.

As Origen of Alexandria noted at the end of his preaching on this parable, we are to become like Jesus. There is a kind of “morality” to this transformation. But it is a morality grounded first in a sacramental mysticism.

That is, we must stop believing that Christianity is a distillation of moral principles that we should follow. And recognize anew that Christianity promises salvation, redemption total union with Jesus Christ.

In the end, we must become like the good Samaritan, like Jesus Christ. This isn’t a matter of opening the door for a friend. It’s letting ourselves encounter the one who became for us neighbor, Jesus Christ.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 14, 2019
DT 30:10-14
PS 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 or
PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11
COL 1:15-20
LK 10:25-37


This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


Catholic News & Perspective

Provides information on the Church, the nation and the world from OSV, America's most popular and trusted national Catholic news source


Opening the Word: Reinterpreting Martha

Friday, July 19, 2019
By: Timothy P. O'Malley There is a tired homiletic trope. It is one that sees in Martha a servile commitment to frenetic activity. Mary is the real... Read More

Notre Dame symposium to explore marriage, family life

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
By: Michelle Martin The Catholic Church has a rich theology of marriage and family life, one that has been developed to a great extent since the... Read More

Want to see abortion made illegal? Be consistent in supporting life

Monday, July 15, 2019
By: Msgr. Owen F. Campion Despite recent legislative actions in the states and a Supreme Court ruling, we still have work to do regarding abortion.... Read More

Opening the Word: The good Samaritan

Friday, July 12, 2019
By:  Timothy P. O'Malley The greatest threat to the Gospel may be not secularization or a culture hostile to Christianity. Instead, it may be... Read More

California bishops follow up on ‘Laudato Si” to address changing climate

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
By: Brian Fraga  From its picturesque beaches to its scenic valleys, bays, mountains and lush farmlands, California is one of the most... Read More

Real friends really matter

Monday, July 8, 2019
By: Teresa Tomeo Just a few weekends ago, we celebrated Trinity Sunday. And while the Trinity is so mind-blowing that even some of the greatest... Read More

Opening the Word: Finding the joy of the 72 disciples

Friday, July 5, 2019
By: Timothy P. O'Malley In his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis describes one of the temptations of... Read More

Maryland’s Peace Cross memorial can remain

Wednesday, July 3, 2019
By: Russell Shaw In approving the presence on public property of a cross-shaped memorial to servicemen who died in World War I, the Supreme Court... Read More

Baptists are facing the same difficulties as Catholics

Monday, July 1, 2019
By: Msgr. Owen F. Campion In early June, the top leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention — the second-largest religious body in the United... Read More

Opening the Word: God gives us the freedom: Which path will we choose?

Friday, June 28, 2019
By: Timothy P. O'Malley From an early age, we come to recognize ourselves as free creatures. The 2-year-old seeks to tie her own shoes, to buckle... Read More