The Good Samaritan: Not Just a Good Neighbor

Providence is a powerful force—it’s God’s invisible hand guiding our lives.  I experience Providence in different ways.  Most frequently it happens on the phone with my clients when a story or metaphor comes to mind that I don’t normally use, and it hits home in a way I could not have possibly planned.  It happens in used-book stores (one of my vices).   I will find a book or an author on a topic I have just discovered and want to explore.  Or in this instance, I found in my library, from three different sources, something new on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Merciful Love, Bishop Robert Barron’s sermon, and Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth all interpreted this parable as a beautiful metaphor for God’s mercy.  So I got the message, and an article was inspired!

In my pastoral counseling practice, I have many perfectionists.  They are always working hard to do all the right things, yet are never quite sure what the right things are, thus finding themselves in an unsolvable dilemma.  They work to be loved and feel they are only as good as their last performance.  When they contact me, they are exhausted and suffering in their relationships, including their relationship with God.  But our behavior can’t make God love us any more than he already does.  We don’t work for love, we work from it (1 Jn 4:19).  They have reversed what our faith teaches and bought into a heresy called Jansenism.

Whenever I would hear the Good Samaritan parable, I would focus on what I was supposed to do, missing the very rich message of God’s mercy.  But with this new interpretation, the Holy Spirit has been bringing some clients to tears and all to a deeper appreciation of his love and mercy.

The Parable and Interpretation

A man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho.  The first surprise from the early Church fathers is, this is man’s journey from the “heavenly city” to “sin city”—he is walking away from God.  He is beaten, stripped, robbed, and left half-dead—this is original sin.  The priest and Levite, both schooled in the law and the prophets, pass by and are of little help to man in original sin.

Then along comes an outcast, a half-breed, a Samaritan.  He simply responds to the wounded man without being asked.  But this Samaritan is not just a good neighbor—he is Jesus!  As a good father, Jesus is always drawn to the woundedness of his children, even the woundedness of sin: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom.5:20).  St. Therese’s little way makes a similar point.  Her doing little things with great love is only half of the story.   The other half is to live as spiritual children; we must stay little—we must acknowledge our faults, hurts, wounds, and sins to God—to open the floodgates of love and mercy towards us.  St. Faustina puts an exclamation point on this.  Regarding hardened sinners, she says, “These souls have a right of priority to My compassionate Heart, they have first access to My mercy”! (Diary, 1541)  In his merciful love, Jesus pours wine—the blood of Christ!—on the wound.  He puts all the love in the universe into that wine and pours it into our woundedness for healing.  Pause and reflect on that: all the love of the universe penetrating your wounds.  Then comes the oil, tying in four more sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders.

Jesus carries us to the inn.  Imagine you are in the arms of Jesus, being carried, half-dead in sin—some of your own making, some done to you—to a place of help.  You can rest in his arms.  In another surprise, the inn is the Church, the hospital for sinners.  The inn keeper might be a priest, family member, or friend who helps you through a dark time in your life.

Psychologically we desperately need another to initiate loving us, and we need to be loved despite our faults and sins so we can feel loved and secure.  Thankfully, our Papa obliges us on both counts!  He initiates, and our sin does not have the power to stop him from loving us.  He can’t stop being who he is—love!  His love, in both forms, is clear in this parable, as well as in the story of our Abba’s pursuit of Adam and Eve after the fall and in Jesus’ pursuit of us, taking on our humanity.  He is a good father!  When my perfectionistic clients experience this, they work less for love and more from love. 

The Ultimate Challenge

Up until recently, I had always and only heard this parable as a challenge to be a good neighbor, and I’ve always had a hard time living up to it!  Now we have the rest of the story:  the Good Samaritan is Jesus!  He always pursues us, even when we don’t ask for it—even in our sins.  We must receive the Good Samaritan’s love and mercy first, or we have nothing to give away (1 Jn 4:19).   And then our response to this love is repentance—going beyond the mind we have now/giving up the lies we believe about God or ourselves—and then going to confession.  This is followed by The Ultimate Challenge: to be that good neighbor or the inn keeper in a world where everyone is wounded by something!  Be like Jesus—be a good spiritual father in a dark and lonely world!

Avatar photo


Dave McClow, M.Div., LSCW, LMFT, is a pastoral counselor, writer, and speaker. He works with Dr. Greg Popcak at the Pastoral Solutions Institute as a Clinical Pastoral Counseling Associate and provides tele-counseling services to Catholics internationally (check us out at, or call to schedule an appointment:  740-266-6461).  For over 30 years he has served in many capacities in the mental health and addictions fields.  He is the founder of four text ministries for men: “Faith on The Phone,” “Fasting on the Phone,” “Pure Hearts” and The Abba Challenge  for Rekindle the Fire’s men’s group and is active on its central core team. He and his wife converted to the Catholic Church in 1996.  He was a catechist for 15 years in his diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.  He is currently developing a comprehensive Catholic vision of masculinity that he believes is an integral and leveraged component of the New Evangelization.  It is summarized in The Abba Prayer for Men found at with more at The Ultimate Challenge: Men & Faith.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage