Beaten. Stripped naked. Left for dead on the side of the road. The road to Jericho was a dangerous road, plagued with robbers, thieves, and violent men. Anyone who travelled it would have considered the possibility of winding up in such a state, but our traveler from today’s Gospel must have thought it would never happen to him. It did.
Many of us have walked dangerous roads too, and I’m not just talking about those parts of town that make you reach down for the locks on your car door. No, each of us every day walk a road just as dangerous as the road to Jericho. It is the world, with its temptations to sin, and the soul that falls into sin is in a state just as bad as the man on the side of the road left for dead. The spiritual death of the soul in a state of sin is no less real than the risk of physical death faced by our traveler.
Jesus says that a priest and a Levite walked by the man without stopping to help. The Old Law in the time before Christ as unable to forgive sins. But Jesus is different: With every healing he tells the persons healed, “Go, your sins are forgiven.” And so the Samaritan, the image of Christ, is moved with compassion at the sight of the man on the side of the road. Christ is moved with compassion at the sight of our sins. He wants to forgive them, to pick us up, swab the wounds of our sinful human nature, and restore us to the life of grace.
The Good Samaritan pours both wine and oil over the wounds of the traveler — wine to cleanse and disinfect the wound, and oil to soothe the pain and protect it from infection (the ancient equivalent of alcohol and Neosporin). Just as any parent who has bandaged her child’s skinned knee knows, the patient often resists the necessary sting of the alcohol that cleanses the wound. And so we often resist the necessary pains of going to confession to receive Jesus’s forgiveness. We make excuses — that our wounds aren’t really that bad, that we can take care of them ourselves. But no mother lets her young, wounded child bandage his own knee.
The Good Samaritan pays the innkeeper to continue taking care of the traveler — two silver coins, a lavish sum to spend on a complete stranger. Jesus too has bad the price for our healing, the price of His crucifixion, a lavish sum to be spent on poor sinners like us. That is how much he loves us.
Yes, my brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Gospel is an invitation to us not only to be kind to one another and to strangers, but also to receive Christ’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus asks his interlocutors which person was a neighbor to the wounded traveler and they answer, “The one who showed him mercy.” Mercy — precisely what we desire to receive from the Lord when we confess our sins and seek His forgiveness.
In the second reading, we heard St. Paul’s beautiful hymn to Christ, which includes “He is the head of His body, the Church.” The Church is the privileged place of our encounter with Christ — His body here on earth. The Church lives out the Lord’s invitation to mercy, both by Her compassion for those suffering in body, and for Her compassion for those suffering in soul. Forgiveness of sins is in the Church and through the Church. The Good Samaritan entrusts the wounded traveler to the innkeeper, and so Christ entrusts sinners to the Church, giving Her the power to forgive sins through the ministry of Her priests.
This weekend, a young man from your parish, Father Sean DeWitt, laid down his life so that he might be such a priest, reconciling sinners through the Sacrament of Confession and making the Body and Blood of Christ present through the Holy Mass. Please pray for him, that he might be a faithful and holy priest, and that many more young men will, like Father DeWitt, come forward to serve Christ and His holy Church.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
XV Sunday Through the Year
Church of St. Martin de Porres, Dripping Springs, Texas
Image: The Good Samaritan by David Teniers the younger (1610-90), after Francesco Bassano