The parable of the Good Samaritan is a Vincentian favorite. In Christ’s command to “go and do likewise”, we hear the call to our lay vocation: to tend to the helpless, the hungry, the sick, and the lonely with acts of both corporal and spiritual mercy.
For Frédéric, the robber’s victim represented all the “humanity of our days” which had been robbed not only of its possessions, but of its “treasure of faith and love” by the “cutthroats and robbers of thought”. [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835] In Frédéric’s retelling, the priest and Levite had not passed by, indifferent to suffering. Shaped by his own experiences with widespread rejection of the church, the priest and Levite had instead been rejected by the traveler, who did not recognize them as helpers.
Because of this, the task of tending to the wounds of “the great sick one” was left to us, “weak Samaritans” whose task was not only to tend to the necessities of the body, but to offer “words of consolation and peace” so that he might return to the church. In this interpretation, Frédéric echoed the commentary of St. Augustine, who had taught that the innkeeper represented the church. [Quaestiones Evangeliorum, II]
We can hear this idea repeated in Frédéric’s later essay on “Help Which Honors”, in which he explains that to give material help only, without our love and friendship, is humiliating. Instead, we honor those in need by offering those things that we may need ourselves – a handshake, consolation, kind words. “Help then becomes honorable,” he said, “because it may become mutual.” [O’Meara, 229]
When you consider it this way, it would seem that when we “weak Samaritans” crouch down at the side of the road to offer our help, we also are seeking help from the victim, in whom we see the suffering Christ. [Rule, Part I, 1.8] Our service to the neighbor, given freely and generously, is a means to the end of our own growth in holiness. We grow closer to Christ by serving Him.
After all, the question Christ was answering with the parable was about what we must do to inherit eternal life. How could we do anything but to “go and do likewise”?
Do I feel gratitude to the neighbor for drawing me closer to Christ?