“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” ~Luke 10:33-35
The Good Samaritan is one of the best known and loved of all of Jesus’ parables. It is refreshingly simple yet so profoundly compelling that it inexorably draws us to become a part of the story. That is why it is universally revered as a model of compassionate activism for the human race—although we need to keep in mind that the story is really about God’s compassion that led to our salvation.
But back to human compassion: Just what is it? There are two parts:
One, compassion is a feeling that comes from our deepest core when we witness another’s need. The Bible says, “Jesus was touched with the feelings of our weaknesses.”
But two, compassion is the action that follows the feeling. Not only did the Good Samaritan feel deeply but he acted decisively on his feelings: He went to the man and bandaged his wounds. It is not enough simply to feel sorry for someone; feelings have to be followed with actions. Compassion is about doing for people. When it is only a feeling, it is sentiment, not compassion. When it is not motivated out of whole-hearted love for God and people, compassion is short-lived, perhaps even self-serving.
So what does this compassionate, selfless love-in-action look like? The Samaritan’s response to the wounded man in Luke 10:33-35 paints the clearest picture possible:
It was proactive: The Samaritan didn’t wait for the man to call out for help. He took the initiative.
It was personal: He risked his own safety to care for the victim, treated the wounds from his own supply, put him on his own donkey and paid for his hospitalization with his own money.
It was pure: No one else knew what the Samaritan did. The priest and Levite were long gone. The victim was in a coma, the inn keeper didn’t get his name. It was motivated by selflessness; it was unconditional.
That strikingly mirrors Jesus’ love-in-action toward us, and models the love-in-action toward others to which we are called. That is the inescapable conclusion of verse 36: “Now which of the three was the victim’s neighbor?”
Now here is the hinge to this story: Notice how Jesus reversed the question the expert in the law had asked, “who is my neighbor?” But Jesus asked, “who is the victim’s neighbor?” Jesus told this story not to show who our neighbor is, but how to be a neighbor.
The Bible expert tried to define the limits of responsibility, but Jesus refused to restrict the limits of love. Jesus said, “Don’t ask who your neighbor is; just be a neighbor to anyone who needs your help—without wanting anything in return.” That is an obvious and appropriate application of this parable: We are called to spiritual neighborliness, to be conduits of compassion to anyone in need of God’s love who has been placed in our path.
So an appropriate question to ask fro this story is, “For whom do I need to be that Good Samaritan?”
Yet this is another very important point here—the more important point—that we must not miss: Since this is really a picture of God’s saving compassion, what Jesus is really saying is you are that victim—of sin and Satan. And you desperately need the compassionate touch of The Good Samaritan. You have been beaten, robbed and left for dead by the thief (John 10:10). Maybe you are like the Bible expert in the story that led to this parable (Luke 10:25,29), working hard to earn what Jesus has already purchased, and the thief is beating out of you what should be the joy of God’s grace! Perhaps you are like the priest or Levite (Luke 10:231-32), just going through the motions of spiritual duty, and the thief has robbed you of the experience of Divine love. Or maybe you are that traveller who was beaten and robbed (Luke 10:30),who by the hands of hurtful people and because of harmful circumstances, the thief has left you for dead.
But the Good Samaritan came to give you life—abundant life right now—and eternal life when this one ends. The beaten, bleeding, dying man could do nothing to earn or deserve the Good Samaritan’s compassion, and neither can you. His help, his rescue, his salvation is a gift of grace—grace greater than all your suffering, sickness and sin.
And all you can do it receive it as a gift of grace!
“Eternal life isn’t received by what a person does. It is humanly impossible to meet God’s standards. Religion is all about doing, but it is insufficient. Saving faith results from what has already been done. What man can’t do, God has done.”