The Good Samaritan Revisited
Jesus on Compassion: Still, “Just Do It!”
Twenty-one centuries after telling the greatly loved story of The Good Samaritan, Jesus’ final word to his followers about showing compassion is still, Just do it! Or, in his words, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37, NIV)
You know the story. The Good Samaritan (hereafter referred to as “Sam”) chooses to stop, show compassion, and rescue a dying traveler after two others have refused.
Would you have stopped? Really?
Some may think the point of the story is no more significant than the simple question, “If I see a woman with children stranded in a disabled car on the Interstate, should I stop and help?”
The story goes much further. It’s about what you do with your feelings when confronted by human need.
Jesus never said Sam was merely a character in a parable. I think somewhere in Jesus’ rich background there really was an incident involving Sam that resurfaces in his teaching. What story ever told surpasses it in warmth and tenderness?
The narrow fifteen mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a perfect place for thieves to ambush a traveler in a lightning fast attack, then escape undetected. The unescorted could be easy prey, so many traveled in convoys or alongside a caravan.
Falling behind to help someone could be dangerous. The thieves might reappear or might use the wounded man as a decoy to lure others.
Could the injured man even be saved? It’s doubtful Sam was carrying the needed tools or medicines, or even possessed the training to give aid. The thought today of a liability suit for negligence still sends chills down your spine, despite our so-called “Good Samaritan” laws.
If the man died and Sam was caught with the body, he could be implicated.
It’s easy for a potential caregiver to get “trapped” in his service. In our present culture, there are many people who can contrive a need for whatever you’re willing to give. Many are perfectly willing for you and me to assume responsibility for them by taking charge of their lives. They want us to eliminate all their exposure and danger, feed, house, and transport them, and make their decisions for them.
There are so many reasons not to help that sound so right. So we leave kindness for others to do.
The officious Levite did just that. After moving in for a closer look, he deserts the gravely wounded man and leaves him to die. This passing worship leader of Israel would be like someone going home after church. He had heard the sermon, sung the songs, and prayed his prayers—yet his heart remained a stone.
The reluctant Priest, who was around God all the time, handled holy things all day long, spoke for men to God, and for God to men. But what this man was inside was very different from what he was outside. If he touched this perishing man it would restrict his duty in the temple for seven days, so he puts ceremonial service above love and concern for a man in pain.
It’s amazing that a pitiful and dying man did not soften the hearts of these two. No level of pain or tragedy can pry compassion out of their hearts.
It took a plain, ordinary man with character to make any difference.
How Did ‘Sam’ Get That Way?
Duty calls and character answers.
Sam did what he did because of who he was, and not for any other reason. What others do or refuse to do is irrelevant. Sam chooses to act in a way consistent with his character. The Scriptures simply don’t provide answers to a hundred questions that tug at our minds about what Sam was like. But it’s my personal feeling there were three elements of Sam’s character tragically missing in the Levite and Priest.
Compassion. The word means to “suffer with. Sam possessed that God-like quality that enables one to empathize with another, to enter into their pain. He didn’t merely observe the man, he identified with him, became part of him.
Sam asked nothing and expected nothing, most of all recognition, thanks, or repayment. There was no hesitation on his part. Nothing to debate or deliberate. There was no attempt to seek counsel or refer the need to someone else passing by. Here was a gravely injured man who doubtless would die if not helped. That was all there was to it.
Courage. Lots of it! There was danger in what Sam chose to do. But he disdained it when another human life was on the line. It took courage to care, and more to act. The others were afraid of anything strange or challenging, fearful of getting involved, and horrified the robbers might come back. Sam pushed those anxieties back and helped a complete stranger, a broken one at that, who would never be able to repay.
There is something strong, noble, and wonderfully uncomplicated about Sam. What a tenderness and gentleness there is in the care he gives, the fruit of great personal strength and depth of character.
Habit. This is no isolated incident in the life of Sam. It is just one more out of many times he had helped. There would be others in the future. Sam didn’t become like that overnight. Over the years, the habit of responding bravely to the needs of others became deeply ingrained. And always at personal cost: money, time, energy. But with great reward.
It’s difficult to conclude who benefits the most: the one helped, or the helper. Some feel compassion is the most healing of all emotions, capable of transforming an entire world.
Compassion, pity, mercy—in the Bible the words are virtually interchangeable and describe the essence of God. Sam has, by choice, taken upon himself the very character of God.
How Do We Get That Way?
If we take Christ seriously, it is through obedience to his words, “Go and do likewise.”
Becoming compassionate will not come through drastic self-discipline, heroic sacrifice, or other well-meaning shortcuts. We should not expect to change quickly. Sam probably didn’t. It will become part of our character through the endless repetition of small efforts as we feel the inward prompting of God’s Holy Spirit and obediently respond when he has providentially placed us in a situation where we can do great good. It is giving a person in trouble a helping hand when it is within our power. Going the “second mile” when there is opportunity. Getting involved in our community and church to make a difference.
What is excellence if not habit? And what is excellence of character if not the predictable habit of behaving every time in a splendid way and expressing the noblest virtues?
Day by day. . .deed by deed. . .the Godly trait of compassion is layered into our lives, and we find our arrogant selfish nature pushed off the throne. We discover new liberty to effortlessly respond to the needs of others. And we become in character, in a larger measure, like the great God we worship.
But, as with Sam, compassion will require of us empathy to feel, courage to care, and a developed habit of responding.
“Just Do It!”
It costs to care, to be compassionate. And it may put us at risk and make us vulnerable as we choose to intervene in the lives of others. Saving the souls of sinful men and women cost God the death of His Son. Compassion always places the highest possible value on the life of another. To be a Good Samaritan is to care as God cares, to be like Him in thought and action.
Feeling sorry for another is not enough. No doubt the Priest and Levite felt a stab of pity as they looked at the man, but they saw him as a nuisance to be avoided. Sam saw him as a neighbor to love, and undertook his care.
Following this incident, Sam probably resumes his life, and never told anyone what he did. But his story is immortal. In every century, think how many across our wide world have been inspired by him to offer a cup of cold water in Christ’s name.
What a high compliment it would be to have the Lord say to others about you and me: “Go, and be just like him.”
Don M. Hull (©2015)