An Eastern View of the Parables of Jesus

The eastern view along with the view of the west make for a complete picture. St. John Paul II said the two are the "two lungs of the church." Here we present an eastern view to some of the parables of our Lord.

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The Good Samaritan

Deeper Levels of Meaning

  Our Savior often spoke in parables to help those who have "ears to hear" (Matthew 13:9)--who have been empowered to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Many of the parables contain two levels of meaning; one that is clearly obvious and another level which is meant as an allegory of the fall and redemption of mankind.

  A beautiful illustration of this allegorical level of the  parable of the Good Samaritan is depicted in the eleventh-century cathedral in Chartres, France. One of the ancient stained-glass windows portrays the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden at the top of the window, and, in parallel, the parable of the Good Samaritan at the bottom thus revealing the deeper significance of the parable. However, many modern tourists, unfamiliar with scripture and allegory, seeing this window, wonder: what does the Fall of Adam and Eve have to do with the parable of the Good Samaritan?

  The answer is to be found in the study of the Apostolic Fathers. In the second century A.D., Irenaeus in France and Clement of Alexandria (claiming that they received this their instruction from Apostolic tradition) both saw the Good Samaritan as symbolizing Christ Himself saving humanity, in the figure of the fallen victim, wounded with sin. A few years later, Clement's pupil Origen stated that this interpretation came down to him from earlier Christians, who had described the allegory as follows:

  The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The temple priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are the result of disobedience and the beast is the Lord's body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. ....The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church (the apostles and their bishop successors), to whom its care has been entrusted. The coins are a figure of grace. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior's second coming. Eastern Catholics will recognize that the icon of this parable actually portrays Christ as the Good Samaritan.

A Type and Shadow of the Plan of Salvation

"A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves..."

   A certain man. Early Christians compared this man to Adam. This connection may have been more obvious in ancient languages than in modern translations. In Hebrew, the word Adam (hadam) means "man;"For as in Adam all die..." (1 Corinthians 15.22).

   Went down. The early Christian writer Chrysostom saw in this phrase the 'fall', the descent of Adam from the garden into this world--from glory to the mundane, from immortality to mortality. The story in Luke 10 implies that the man went down of his own free will.

   From Jerusalem. Jesus depicts the person as going down not from any ordinary place but from Jerusalem. Because of the sanctity of the holy temple-city, early Christians readily saw in this element the idea that this person had come down from the presence of God.

   To Jericho. Jericho was readily identified with this world. At more than 825 feet below sea level, Jericho is the lowest city on earth. Its mild winter climate made it a hedonistic resort area where Herod had built a sumptuous vacation palace. Yet one should note that the traveler in the parable had not yet arrived in Jericho when the robbers attacked. That person was on the steep way down to Jericho, but he had not yet reached bottom.

   Fell among thieves. It is easy to see here an allusion to the fallen mortal state and to the plight of individual sinfulness. The early Christian writers variously saw the thieves (or robbers) as the devil and his satanic forces, evil spirits, or false teachers. The Greek word for "robbers" used by Luke implies that these thieves were not casual operators!

"...which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead."

  Stripped him of his raiment. The attackers apparently wanted the traveler's clothing, for no mention is made of any wealth or commodities he might be carrying. For some reason, the robbers seem interested in his garment, something brought down from the holy place and something they envy and want to take away. Early Christians sensed that Jesus spoke of something important here. Origen and Augustine saw the loss of the traveler's garment as a symbol for mankind's loss of immortality and incorruptibility. Chrysostom spoke of the loss of "his robe of immortality" or "robe of obedience."

  Wounded. This term was seen as a similitude of the pains and afflictions due to sins and vices. Indeed, the enemies of the soul leave wounds.

  Half Dead. The robbers departed, leaving the person precisely "half dead." We may see in this detail an allusion to the first and second deaths. The person had fallen, had become subject to sin, and had suffered the first death, becoming mortal. But the second death, the permanent from God, could still be averted.

"And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side."

  A certain priest...and likewise a Levite. The early Christian commentators all saw the priest as symbolizing the law of Moses. In their minds the problem was not that bearers of the Old Testament priesthood did not want to help fallen man, but that the law of Moses did not have the power to save him. Indeed, the Law of Moses was only a type and shadow of the Atonement that was yet to come.

"But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine..."

  Samaritan. The early Christian writers unanimously saw the Good Samaritan as a representation of Christ. Saint John Chrysostom suggests that a Samaritan is an apt depiction of Christ because "as a Samaritan is not from Judea, so to Christ in his human nature was from Galilee, not Judea and in his divinity Christ was not of this world."

As he journeyed. It would appear that the Samaritan (representing Christ) was purposely looking for people in need of help. Likewise, in the parables of the lost Sheep, lost treasure, lost coin, and lost son (the prodigal) Christ is purposely searching for the captive, the wounded, the lost.

Compassion. This important word speaks of the pure love of Christ. The Greek word says that the Samaritan's heart was moved with deep inner sympathy. This word is used in the New Testament only when authors wish to describe God's divine emotions of mercy.

  Bound up his wounds. Some early Christians said that the bandages represent the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love - "ligatures of salvation which cannot be undone."

  Water and Oil. Water would have been cleansing and olive oil lotion would have been very soothing. While these images certainly apply to Christ's words of consolation, they apply to the "holy anointing" --conferred in the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and Anointing of the Sick.

  Wine. The Samaritan also poured wine into the open wounds to cleanse them. Once again the words of the Logos in flesh are consoling but the deep healing is the Logos entering into wounded humanity as wine enters the wound -- at first something that stings -- but later soothes. Early Christian interpretation associated the wine with the blood of Christ, symbolized by the sacramental Mystery of the Holy Eucharist (see Matthew 26:27-29). This wine, the atoning blood, washes away sin and purifies the soul, allowing God's Spirit to abide within us. In addition to rendering physical help, a truly good Samaritan administers the saving principles and sacraments of the gospel as well. The atoning wine may sting at first, but its effects soon bring healing peace.

"...and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him."

  Set him on his own beast. Christ, fulfilling prophecy, bears our infirmities (see Isaiah 53:4). The Samaritan's beast was thought to symbolize Christ's body. Being placed on his beast is to believe that God became flesh, bore our sins, and suffered for us.

   Inn. For the early Christians this element readily symbolized the Church. An "inn" was "a public house open to all." A public shelter is comparable to the Church of Christ in several ways. A wayside inn is not the heavenly destination but a necessary aid in helping travelers reach their eternal home.

  Took care of him. The Samaritan stayed with the injured person and cared for him personally the first night. He did not turn the injured person over too quickly to the innkeeper but stayed with him through the dark hours. As Origen comment, Jesus cares for the wounded "not only during the day, but also at night. He devotes all his attention and activity to him."

"And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him; and whatsoever you spend more, when I come again, I will repay you."

The host. Accordingly, early commentators saw the host, or innkeeper, as Paul or the other Apostles and their successors. If the inn refers to the Church in general, however, the innkeeper and his staff can represent all Church leaders and workers who are entrusted by the Lord to nurture and care for any rescued soul who seeks healing.

When I come again. The Christ-figure openly promises to come again, a ready allusion to the Second Coming of Christ. The Greek word translated "to come again" appears only one other time in the New Testament, in Luke 19:15, referring to the parable of the Lord who would return to judge what the people had done with the money they had been given. That linkage markedly strengthens this allusion to the Second Coming.

Repay or reward. Finally, the innkeeper is promised that all his costs will be covered. "I will reward you for whatsoever you expend." This is the promised reward to all who have carried on the mission of Christ on earth!

The Good Samaritan: Forgotten Symbols

  One of the most influential stories told by Jesus Christ is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus recounted this parable to a man who had asked, "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responded by asking, "What is written in the Law?"

  The man answered, referring to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, "You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart...and thy neighbor as yourself."

  When Jesus promised, "Do this and you shall live," the man challengingly replied, "And who is my neighbor?" In answer to this man's questions, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. (See Luke 10:25-35).