Let's begin by letting Luke tell the story.
Luke 10:25-37 NASB
And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what
shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (26)
And He said to him, "What is written in the Law?
How does it read to you?" (27)
And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART,
AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND
YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." (28) And He
said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS
AND YOU WILL LIVE." (29) But
wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my
neighbor?" (30) Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and
fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving
him half dead. (31) "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and
when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. (32) "Likewise a Levite
also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
(33) "But a
Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt
compassion, (34) and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and
wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn
and took care of him. (35) "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them
to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when
I return I will repay you.' (36) "Which of these three do you think proved to be a
neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" (37) And he said, "The one who showed mercy
toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and
do the same."
This might be the best known of Christ's parables. It is at
once famous and obscure, for some of the details might have been overlooked.
traveler was alone on the Jericho road – an act of folly even into the 20th
century. It was much safer to travel in a group. To put it bluntly, our
traveler is rather dumb. Worse, he was likely to be ignored because bandits
would often waylay the lone traveler and then leave him on the ground, hoping
to entice some other traveler into the same trap.
hearers of this story would most certainly have been shocked at the person who
stopped to help. Samaritans and Jews hated each other. But give that a thought;
this Samaritan stopped to help a man whom he knew despised him. Indeed, the
Samaritan did so despite the fact that he was on a journey, not just a trip to
Jericho. We may observe also:
- He came prepared – he had his own first aid kit. How
often have Christians said, “I wasn’t prepared – I had nothing to give?”
- He followed through, leaving nothing undone. He was
not afraid to enlist the innkeeper’s services at his own expense. He
finished what he started. He got involved and stayed involved to the end
of the matter.
- His credit was good!
and more literal translations tell us that the priest’s arrival was “by chance”
or “by coincidence.” It was “just one of those things.” We see strange sights
along the roads of life, and often enough we look, cluck sorrowfully and move
on. After all, it was pure coincidence that we were there, right? Or is
coincidence actually the providence of God?
thing we do know. If the traveler dies in the priest’s care, the priest is
ceremonially unclean for seven days. This means he could not perform his duties
as a priest. You can hear him thinking, “Prior commitments, can’t take the
risk.” Do we make our appointments subject to, “If the Lord wills it?”
might examine two points here:
- “Passed him by on the other side” – took no risks. Did
he congratulate himself on how astute that was?
- “Saw him” – the phrase literally means “stared at
The traveler was nothing more that a traffic accident; the Levite a rubbernecker.
We might do well to examine ourselves today, looking for
situations which are similar to this one. Consider, for example, the guy
standing by the roadside with a sign reading "please help." We are
wary of such people. Sometimes, we feel bothered by them. Somewhere, deep in
our conscience, we know that we should help them. But it's risky.
There are some practical ways you can be prepared to help
such a person. For example:
Gift cards to local fast food restaurants. If someone has a sign
asking for food, one of these places is an excellent source of calories at a
low price. Often enough, as in our church, you can get these gift cards and
also benefit your church's work at the same time.
If you meet the same person day in and out, perhaps this is God
giving you a message. Perhaps you are to help this one person.
A dollar bill in a convenient location never hurts.
is difficult for us because it is risky.
- It is risky in the physical sense. The bandits of this
time would often beat a man like this – and wait for someone else to stop
to help him, thus obtaining another victim. There is the risk of physical
danger in compassion; the guy standing by the road with a cardboard sign
just might be violent. You never know, do you?
- It is risky in the sense of emotional distance. The
Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. It’s one thing to be
compassionate to a friend. It’s another to be compassionate to someone who
is outside our comfort zone. It “feels funny” to be in contact with
someone who doesn’t speak your language for instance – especially when
that person needs help desperately.
- It is risky because it implies entanglement – you may
get tangled up in someone’s life. That life may be very different from yours;
you may not approve of that life. “Don’t get involved” is advice that
comes from experience. Getting involved entangles your life with theirs,
and that is usually rather messy. You don’t know how long it will last or
what it will cost. Not knowing is a barrier to compassion. It’s a lot
easier to make a definite, one time donation than it is to be
compassionate in person.
we use the word “expensive,” we usually mean that the cost is (to us) rather
high. That’s the case in compassion as well:
- Note that the Samaritan puts the man on his own beast,
probably a donkey. He gives up his own transportation and walks while this
poor fellow rides. Compassion may mean that we do without.
- Compassion almost always has its cash cost. In this
instance, two days wages, perhaps something like $400 in our day. It’s not
that we can’t afford it at all; it’s that it’s big enough to be labeled
expensive. That’s typical of anything worth doing.
- It may also have its cost in credit! This man told the
innkeeper that he would repay him any additional cost. In our time, that’s
like handing him a credit card. Often enough in compassion we have to say,
“I’ll handle that.” (It’s interesting to note that the innkeeper, probably
Jewish, knew that the Samaritan’s credit was good.)
Heavy impact – on others
generally the case that we cannot complete an act of compassion by ourselves;
we need the help of others.
- In this the innkeeper is involved. He might well ask
the Samaritan whether or not this was an inn or a hospital. I suspect that
he knew the Samaritan to be a regular customer; we put up with a lot for
regular customers. We socially obligate others in our compassion; a real
- More commonly, we obligate family and friends. If you
don’t think so, what happens when your daughter brings home a stray cat?
(Or a stray person, for that matter).
- One impact you may not have considered is the impact
on your reputation. To show compassion in a socially acceptable way (for
example, giving to an orphanage like the one we support) usually enhances
your reputation. But if you do it in a strange way (there are dozens of
examples, but let’s suppose you bail out a friend arrested for soliciting
a prostitute) you can definitely acquire a reputation for doing strange
Types of Compassion
In our church today there are more options for dealing with
this kind of trouble than the Samaritan had. Let's look at three.
Organizations such as the Fullerton Interfaith Emergency
Services — the people who collect boxes of food from us about this time of year
— are much more commonplace today. Since such organizations typically deal with
this problem on our behalf, the risk of getting involved is much, much lower.
Indeed, the financial aspect is also reduced. The difficulty of course is that
you may decide that you are charitable and compassionate – but only with a
cardboard box. If you get involved with such an organization you will have to
face those in need. It's a lot easier to do it as a group that it was for our
Samaritan. An example of do-it-yourself compassion might be prison ministry.
This too is a low risk example of compassion, but it doesn't necessarily feel
like that when the jail bars clank behind you.
Since the beginning of the church Christians have been
giving on behalf of their congregation. The risk in doing this is very low; in
fact, the chief danger is that you will be praised from the pulpit so much that
your right hand and your left hand will become closely acquainted. There is a
distinct danger in thinking you are compassionate when in fact you are just
Expense, on the other hand, is a bit different. At least our
church, corporate compassion includes trips to places like Kenya. It is not
cheap to go to Kenya and it is very time-consuming. The expense seems to range
from minor to "vacation of a lifetime."
That said, we should point out the impact this activity has
on other people. If you go to Kenya, you will bless some of those people in
Kenya. You are also setting an example to others in the church – an appeal to
get out of their comfort zone – and it does good things for the church's
The risk in individual compassion depends very much on the
circumstances, and also on whether or not you know the circumstances. That guy
by the roadside could be extremely dangerous; that's the chance you take when
you roll your window down. The expense and the situation is, however, rather
The expense might grow greatly, however, if it's compassion
for a person you know. If you take in a homeless person, for example, it's
usually someone you know. What you don't know is how long this is going to take
and what it's going to cost. The expense can be social, as well. The best
indicator of this is whether or not anyone else would be willing to help. Some
are homeless through no real fault of their own; some got themselves into that
mess. There are socially acceptable sins; there are socially unacceptable sins.
What you see as compassion others might see as idiocy.
So what is a Christian to do? Follow the leading of the Holy
Spirit, and don't worry what everyone else says.
Imitation of Christ
The behavior of the Christian has been defined for 2000
years in one question: what would Jesus do?
Sense of Purpose
To begin with, do not think of compassion as "random
acts of kindness." You must have a sense of purpose in your compassion;
you must be prepared. (I know that's not what is preached from the pulpit
today.) Be prepared to be compassionate. Do it like Jesus would.
Jesus was not one to respect a person's position in life. He
treated them all with the love he had for sinners. The homeless and bank
presidents too – Jesus loves them all. Do likewise.
When reading through the Scriptures, remember that the adjective
"merciful" is more commonly used than our word
"compassionate." Compassion is an emotion; mercy is a fact. Be
prepared to be merciful. Think about it in advance.
Remember also that your acts of compassion are way of spreading
the faith. When someone asks you, "Why do you do this" be prepared
with a ready answer.
Christian compassion is performed with a certain style:
Christian compassion is done in kindness. It is done with joy
mixed in with the mercy. Remember, your compassion may be embarrassing somebody.
It's tough for people who have been self-sufficient for years to take someone
else's charity. Make it clear that you have the joy of giving.
Christian compassion is done in humility. You are not
condescending to someone to bless them; rather, you are the servant of God Most
High, and at his command (not by your pride) you obediently provide.
Christian compassion is done with patience. Often enough, the
person upon whom you are having compassion has done something wrong, or can't
see why they're always being rejected. Sometimes, they don't get it. And if
that is the case, they usually don't get why they don't get it. Be patient, as
your Heavenly Father is patient with you.
Being a Cheerful Giver
You have often been exhorted to be a cheerful giver. This applies
not only in the offering plate but in your personal compassion. There are two
things of which you must beware:
First, you must beware of cynicism. It's easy to be compassionate
at the start and then give way to cynicism. But it is not possible to be a
cynic and cheerful about it.
Next, you must also beware of anger. People tend to repeat their
stupid mistakes. Even when you tell them not to. Put the anger aside, and be a
cheerful giver. They usually know when they repeated their own stupid mistake.
In short, be a reflection of Christ. Why? Because those upon
whom you have compassion are also a reflection of Christ.