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Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

Image of the Unseen God

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of those Biblical stories which is has become part of our culture – part of our language, even – so that, although many people nowadays might not know the story in great detail, they would still know that, if someone was described as a ‘good Samaritan’, it would be because they had helped a complete stranger in some kind of distress. And the basic message of the story – the universal extent of the love and kindness which Jesus asks of us – is one that is very familiar to us, though that’s not to say we don’t need to be reminded of it (and of our failure to achieve it) as we read the Scriptures and reflect on how we are to live as Christians in our world.

But I think the New Testament reading we are presented with today – that great hymn to Jesus the incarnate ‘image of the unseen God’ – highlights for us another aspect of this well known parable, one which was the central point of it for some of the Church Fathers, but which we don’t think of so readily nowadays, namely, the idea that the Samaritan in the story can be seen to represent first of all Jesus.

The human race has been wounded by sin, and though the Jewish Law, represented by the priest and the levite, could advise people to avoid sin, it could do nothing to heal the damage human sinfulness had inflicted on the world, or on individual human beings – just as someone seriously injured cannot restore themselves to health, so the wounds inflicted by our sin prevent us from attaining on our own that spiritual health which we call salvation (it is the same word – salus – for both in Latin). But help has come beyond anything we could possibly expect. The Son of God, who existed with the Father ‘before all things’ (Col 1: 17), crossed over that most fundamental divide between creature and Creator, taking on a human nature and being born of the Blessed Virgin ‘to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (Col 1: 20).

And, of course, by reflecting on this parable as an illustration of what Christ has done for us, we see yet more clearly the irrelevance of all those artificial barriers to charity which we can be tempted to set up – whether of birth, or merit, or whatever else it might be – because we see that ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only Son’ (Jn 3: 16): God, although we had rejected him by our sins, nevertheless took it upon himself to restore us to his friendship, and as a sign of the extent of his love for humankind, did so by sharing in the person of Jesus Christ in the human condition even unto death itself.

The parable, however, also offers another point of comparison with Jesus and his care for the human race: specifically, we can note the commission he gives to the innkeeper to care for the wounded man until he returns, and the resources he gives him to enable him to do so. The Fathers saw in this an image of the Church, and the Sacraments which Christ has given to his Church to enable people to receive around the world and across time the benefits of his redeeming death and resurrection – to be cleansed in the waters of Baptism, and to receive his own Body and Blood which the Church’s liturgy calls ‘the spiritual medicine of the People of God’.

And this means that all of us who have been baptised, and thus become members of his Body, the Church, are called to share in ministering the love of Christ to the world – by displaying through our actions the love of Jesus Christ for every human being, and so proclaiming the good news of salvation which he offers through his Church to the whole world.

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