Mercy accords with nature

St. AmbroseThis is a simple account of a reality.  And if we meditate deeply upon it, it will confirm for us certain wondrous mysteries.  For Jericho is a figure of this world, to which Adam, cast forth from Paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem, because of sin, descended; that is, he descended from the things of eternal life to the things of this lower world: he who through, not change of place but change of will, had brought exile upon his posterity.  For he was far changed from that Adam who had lived in untroubled blessedness, when he descended to earthly sinfulness and fell among robbers; and he would not have fallen among them, had he not exposed himself to them, through turning away from what God had laid down for him.

Who are these robbers, if not the angels of night and of darkness; who will at times change themselves into angels of light, but cannot remain so?  These first of all strip us of the garments of spiritual grace we received, and this is how they are able to wound us.  For had we preserved the unstained garments we received, we could not feel the blows of the robbers.  Watch therefore that they do not first strip you, as they stripped Adam in the beginning, as he was stripped of the protection of the divine commandment, as he was stripped of the garment of faith, and so received a deadly wound. In him all mankind would have been slain, had not this Samaritan, descending, taken care of his grievous wounds.

This was no ordinary Samaritan, who did not despise him whom the priest, whom the Levite had despised. And neither let you despise him because of the name of his people; the meaning of whose name will astonish you.  For the word Samaritan means a defender.  This is how it is interpreted.  And who is a defender, if not He of Whom it was said: The Lord is the defender of little ones (Ps. cxiv. 6)?  And as one man is a Jew in the letter, another in the spirit, so likewise one man is outwardly a Samaritan, another thing inwardly.  Who then is this Samaritan who was going down?  It is He Who descended from heaven, and who had ascended into heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven (Jn. iii. 13).  Seeing the man half dead, whom no one before Him had been able to cure; like that woman having an issue of blood who had bestowed all her substance on physicians (Lk. viii. 43); He came near him, that is, He came close to us by sharing our suffering, and a neighbour to us by showing us mercy.

And bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine.

Many are the remedies this Physician brings to heal us.  His words are medicines.  One word binds up our wounds, another soothes them with oil, another pours in wine.  He binds our wounds by His more austere rule of life,  He soothes us by the forgiveness of our sins, just as He urges us forward by the threat of His judgement.

And setting him upon his own beast.

Hear how He raises you up.  He bears our sins, and for us suffers (Is. liii. 4, Sept.).  And the Shepherd lays the weary sheep upon His own shoulders (Lk. xv. 5).  For man had become like the beast (Ps. xlviii. 13).  So He places us upon His own shoulders, lest we become like the horse and the mule (Ps. xxxi. 9); so that by taking upon Himself our body, He might do away with the weaknesses of our flesh.

And then He brought us to an inn; we who had become as beasts (Ps. lxxii. 23).  It is to an inn they come who are weary from a long journey.  And so the Lord takes us to an inn; He who raises up the needy from the earth; lifting up the poor out of the dunghill (Ps. cxii. 7).  And took care of him; for fear the sick man might not be able to keep the precepts he had received.

But this Samaritan was not to stay long on earth. He must return whither He had come.  And accordingly the next day, etc.  What is this next day, if not the day of the Lord’s Resurrection; of which it was said: This is the day which the Lord hath made (Ps. cxvii. 24)?  He took out two denarii, and gave to the host, and said: Take care of him. What are these two denarii?  Perhaps the two Testaments, upon which have been stamped the image of the Eternal King, by Whose price our wounds were healed?  For we were redeemed by His Precious Blood, that we might escape the festering wounds of eternal death.

The innkeeper therefore receives the two denarii (and it would not be out of place to understand here, the four forms of these books; the Gospels).  Who is he?  He perhaps who says: I count all things but as dung, that I may gain Christ (Phil. iii. 8); from Whom he had received the care of the wounded man?  An innkeeper therefore is he who said: Christ sent me to preach the Gospel (I Cor. 1. 17).  Innkeepers are they to whom it was said: Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mk. xvi. 15, 16): saved from death, saved from the wound infficted by the robbers.  Blessed is that innkeeper who can cure another’s wound.

Blessed is he to whom Jesus says: Whatsoever thou shalt spend over and above, I, at my return, will repay thee.  He is a good steward who also spends over and above.  Paul is a good steward, whose sermons and epistles are over and above the amount he had received.  He had fulfilled the simple command of the Lord by toil of body and soul that was almost beyond measure; that he might relieve many of their grave sickness by the ministry of his spiritual comfort.  Good therefore is the Innkeeper of his inn in which the ass knoweth the Lord’s crib (Is. i. 3), and in which the lambs of the flock are gathered (Is. xl. 11); so that there shall be no easy assault upon the sheepfold by the wolves, howling and ravening without the fold.

He then promises payment when He returns.  When will you return, O Lord, but on the Day of Judgement?  For though Thou art everywhere at all times, and stand now in our midst, though we see Thee not, yet there shall be a time when all flesh shall behold Thee returning.  Then Thou wilt repay what Thou owest.  Blessed are they to whom Thou art Debtor!  Would that we could repay what we have received, and that the office of Priest or of Levite (minister, deacon) might not make us proud! How will you repay, O Lord Jesus?  You promised the just that their reward is very great in heaven (Mt. v. 12).  You will repay when You say: Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things.  Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Mt. xxv. 21).

And so since no one is more our neighbour than He Who has healed our wounds, let us love Him as our Lord, let us love Him as our neighbour; for nothing is closer than the Head to Its members.  And let us also love him who is an imitator of Christ.  Let us love him who in the unity of this Body has compassion on the need of another.  For it is not kinship that makes a neighbour, but mercy.  Because mercy accords with nature; for there is nothing so in accord with nature, than to help one who partakes of our nature.  Amen. Source: “On the Good Samaritan,” St. Ambrose, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D., (PL 15 Evang. Sec. Lucam, Lib. VIII, Incip. par. 73, col. 1718.)

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