Monday, July 12, 2010

Don't Sell Scripture Short

I know it can be annoying when folks try to treat Scripture as so allegorical as to rob it of its meaning. That shouldn't turn us off of allegory altogether, though. Consider the following as an alternate take on the parable of the Good Samaritan that was in yesterday's Gospel reading.

This is from Origen's 34th homily on Luke:

One of the elders wanted to interpret the parable as follows. The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord's body, the pandochium (that is, the stable), which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. And further, the two denarii mean the Father and the Son. The manager of the stable is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior's second coming. All of this has been said reasonably and beautifully.

Pretty good, huh? I had thought Augustine went on to say the same thing, but I couldn't recall the citation. Origen goes on to give it his own spin.

But we should not think that it applies to every man. For, not every man "goes down from Jerusalem into Jericho," nor do all dwell in this present world for that reason, even if he who "was sent on account of the lost sheep of the house of Israel" went down. Hence, the man who "went down from Jerusalem into Jericho" "fell among robbers" because he himself wished to go down. But the robbers are none other than they of whom the Savior says, "All who came before me were thieves and robbers.'' But still, he does not fall among thieves, but among robbers, who are far worse than thieves. He fell among them when he was going down from Jerusalem. "They robbed him and inflicted blows on him." What are the blows? What are the wounds that have wounded a man? They are vices and sins. Then the robbers, who had stripped and wounded him, do not help the naked man, but they strike him again with blows and leave him. Hence, Scripture says, "They robbed him and inflicted wounds on him; and they went away and left him"--not dead, but "half-dead."

But it happened that first a priest, and then a Levite, were going down on the same road. Perhaps they had done some good to other men, but not to this man, who had gone down "from Jerusalem to Jericho." For, the priest saw him--I think this means the Law. And the Levite saw him--that is, in my view, the prophetic word. When they had seen him, they passed by and left him. Providence was saving the half-dead man for him who was stronger than the Law and the prophets, namely for the Samaritan. The name means "guardian.'' He is the one who "neither grows drowsy nor sleeps as he guards Israel.''

On account of the half-dead man, this Samaritan set out not "from Jerusalem into Jericho," like the priest and the Levite who went down. Or, if he did go down, he went down to rescue and care for the dying man. The Jews had said to him, "You are a Samaritan and you have a demon." Though he denied having a demon, he was unwilling to deny that he was a Samaritan, for he knew that he was a guardian. So, when he had come to the half-dead man and seen him rolling about in his own blood, he had pity on him. He drew near to him, in order to become his neighbor. "He bound his wounds, poured in oil mixed with wine,'' and did not say what the prophet records: "There is no poultice to put on, neither oil nor bandages." The Samaritan is that man whose care and help all who are badly off need.

The man who was going down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves, who was wounded and left by them half-alive, needed the help of this Samaritan most of all. You should know that, according to God's providence, this Samaritan was going down to care for the man who had fallen among thieves. You learn that clearly from the fact that he had bandages, oil, and wine with him. I do not think that the Samaritan carried these things with him only on behalf of that one, half-dead man, but also on behalf of others who, for various reasons, had been wounded and needed bandages, oil, and wine. He had oil. Scripture says of it, "to gladden one's face with oil" --without doubt, it means the face of him who was healed. He cleans the wounds with oil, to reduce the swelling of the wounds, but also with wine, adding in something that stings. And the man who had been wounded "he placed on his own beast," that is, on his own body, since he deigned to assume a man. This Samaritan "bears our sins" and grieves for us. He carries the half-dead man, and brings him to the pandochium-that is, the Church, which accepts everyone and denies its help to no one. Jesus calls everyone to the Church when he says, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I shall refresh you.''

After he has brought him in, he does not depart immediately. He remains for a day at the inn with the half-dead man. He cares for his wounds not only during the day, but also at night. He devotes all his attention and activity to him. And, when he wants to set out in the morning, "he takes two denarii" from his tested silver, from his tested money, and pays the innkeeper. Without a doubt the inn-keeper was the angel of the Church, whom the Samaritan bade to care for the man diligently and bring him back to health. For a short time he himself cared for the man. "Two denarii" appear to me to be knowledge of the Father and the Son, and understanding of how the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. An angel is given this knowledge as if it were a payment. He is to care diligently for the man entrusted to him. The promise is made to him that whatever of his own money he spends on healing the half-dead man will be repaid directly to him.

The Samaritan, "who took pity on the man who had fallen among thieves," is truly a "guardian," and a closer neighbor than the Law and the prophets. He showed that he was the man's neighbor more by deed than by word. According to the passage that says, "Be imitators of me, as I too am of Christ," it is possible for us to imitate Christ and to pity those who "have fallen among thieves." We can go to them, bind their wounds, pour in oil and wine, put them on our own beasts, and bear their burdens. The Son of God encourages us to do things like this. He is speaking not so much to the teacher of the Law as to us and to all men when he says, "Go and do likewise." If we do, we shall obtain eternal life in Christ Jesus, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages. Amen.

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