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Luke 10:25 -- 37

There are many good lessons in this rich passage; today we shall see just one – on compassion.

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" 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." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 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. "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 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. "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.' "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

(Luk 10:25-37 NASB)

Let us begin with a general observation: the church is not as compassionate as she once was. Much of this can be laid to the fact that our government structure has taken over much of this role, calling it welfare. But the Scripture remains as it is, and we may ask ourselves whether or not things are as they should be. In doing this we will examine three questions:

  • What is it about compassion which makes it so difficult?
  • Why should we, as Christians, be compassionate?
  • How should we, as Christians, show compassion?

Compassion is


The answer to the first question is fairly obvious: compassion 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.

When 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

It’s 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 inconvenience.
  • 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 things.


So with such a price tag to it, why would a Christian do such a thing? After all, we’re not crazy, are we?

Blessed are the merciful
  • For they shall sleep nights. Most of us still have some conscience left; to fail to show compassion leaves a sting. Those who are merciful, especially in this matter of compassion, go through life with a gentle heart.
  • For they shall turn enemies into friends. Many have criticized our government’s rebuilding of Iraq; but let us see it for what it is – an effort to turn an enemy into a friend. The surest way to destroy your enemy is to turn him into your friend.
  • For they shall find that God is merciful.[1] We know this will be the case at the Last Day; it is also the case in this life as well. God is merciful to those who show mercy; it is in his character and we will see it if we but look for it.
The Judgment

It is well that we review the Scripture:

"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

(Mat 25:31-46 NASB)

It seems clear enough, doesn’t it? Yet there are those inside the church building who will be among the goats. Just how is that done? How is it that we can hear the sermons on compassion and yet still miss the point? Here are some techniques:

  • The first is simple hypocrisy. We sound compassionate, we recommend compassion to others, we pronounce our wishes of compassion on the poor – and walk away, feeling blessed by our piety.
  • For those who require some action with it, there is always the path of rewarding those who deserve it – and calling it compassion. Not all right actions are compassion.
  • The most common way is this: we have no compassion for the invisible people of our society. Ask a waitress, a flight attendant, a telephone operator: all will tell you that ordinary politeness is rare, compassion (even the stewardess has a bad day) is almost unheard of.
Passing it on

One final reason for our compassion is this. God is compassionate to us, a favor we can never repay. But we can pass that favor on, in imitation of Him.

  • If you think not, remember the parable of the wicked servant?[2] Our Lord makes it clear he expects God’s compassion to flow through us, not be bottled up.
  • We need to remember that this is NOT a fair trade. We get the compassion and mercy of God; those around us get only the compassion and mercy of man. If it were fair, it would be justice, not mercy.
  • The high point is this: if we are the children of God, we should act like the children of God – in imitation of our heavenly father, who causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust.


Just how is this compassion to be shown? Is there a style to it? There is indeed.

In imitation of Christ

Consider how Christ has shown compassion on us:

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

(Col 3:12-13 NASB)

Let’s take those style points:

  • Kindness. Oscar the Grouch is not noted for compassion. Those receiving compassion are often embarrassed that they need it; how much better it is to receive in kindness, rather than in disapproval.
  • Humility. Compassion does have a tendency to inflate you; remember that only the grace of God stands between you and needing compassion.
  • Patience. People who need compassion often got that way because of their refusal to do things God’s way. Sometimes it takes a while for the message to sink in.
In practical ways
  • Permit me the example of the poor man’s cloak.[3] The example pictured here is that of a poor man in desperate need of money. He borrows from a neighbor – who (naturally) asks for something as security against the loan. All the man has is his cloak; both garment and sleeping gear. The lender is cautioned to return the cloak each night – having compassion on the man who would otherwise shiver in the cold. It sounds like it voids the purpose of security on the loan; perhaps it does. Perhaps it makes God security for the loan.
  • Of course, we are to remember that faith without works is dead. Just what kind of works did you think James was referring to?[4]
  • Finally, as a practical point of fact, we are to do it as the early church did – as a church community. Often there is no one individual who can render the compassion needed. This is yet another reason for the church.

We so often have the idea that compassion is to be rendered with that slighting look over the top of the bifocals. Our Lord disagrees. Indeed, as Paul tells us:

or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

(Rom 12:8 NASB)

With cheerfulness? Yes indeed. The early church writer, Chrysostom, explains why. In his day the church was responsible for all that we would call “welfare” today. As in the early church, deacons were appointed to handle this task. If these deacons went about with sober look they soon fell into either cynicism (these people are all frauds) or anger (these people are so undeserving). But the cheerful heart immunizes us against such dangers.

Compassion is to be shown sacrificially. We need to understand that we are working for the kingdom, and that requires sacrifice on our part. It is a small imitation of our Lord, who sacrificed himself for us. Go, and do thou likewise.

Finally, may I suggest the highest form of compassion – the act of devotion? The world will say it’s crazy; others will ask when this will pay back – but the true Christian understands compassion to be a reflection of the very heart of Christ. May our compassion be the perfume we pour on the Master’s feet.

[1] Psalm 18:25

[2] Matthew 18:23-35

[3] Exodus 22:26-27

[4] James 2:15-17

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