The Samaritan’s Compassion and God’s Radiance

Originally posted at:


by the Rev. Tad de Bordenave

We return to the dialogue between the lawyer and Jesus. We left them when the lawyer had asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In response Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. With this parable Jesus was prodding the lawyer to acknowledge a relation with God he did not know.

We will look closely at the Samaritan’s compassion, and inevitably, we will see where we have short-changed our compassion. I know them well because I have done them all.

First, the Samaritan interrupted his schedule: “A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Luke 10:33).

He had a schedule, places to go, people expecting him. Family, jobs, tasks, times to keep. And yet he stopped.

But for us schedules are sacred objects. We have obligations to others and tasks that need attention. When we have an unexpected knock on the door, or news that something needs to be done now, we do not welcome these interruptions. We begin to frame nice ways to say, “Go away and come back another time.”

I have heard this saying, “Westerners have the watches, and Africans have the time.” Too easily we agree and too easily we fail to see the polite rebuke.

Second, he reached out and touched the man in the ditch. “He went to him and bound up his wounds” (Luke 10:34).

He could have called others to care for the man, or he could have simply rolled the man out of the way. The man was bloody and dirty. Anyone watching would have understood if he kept on his journey. But the Samaritan himself got bloody and dirty.

In our day of virtual communication, we find options at our fingertips to virtually handle crises. Call 911. Send a text to an EMT. E-mail the nearest first aid center. And keep going. People won’t mind; they will understand and resume chatting about the football season or family news.

Getting involved can get messy – messy and unsettling. If we can only find someone else who is willing…

Third, he met the crowd with courage. This was a Samaritan, after all, in the midst of Jewish hostility. The warnings for Jews against interaction with Samaritans were severe. And for a Samaritan to bend down and administer help to a Jew was revolting. But he did. Courage with compassion.

In dire circumstances when no one else leans in, when a prominent person does not stop, then the rest of us have tacit permission to keep going. Crowd mentality forms a convenient path to follow when we didn’t want to stop anyway.

The need for courage is sharpened when the man in the ditch is NOKD: Not our kind, deary. Not our race, not our political persuasion, definitely not our faith. Easy to keep on. Courage means to stand forth and apart when all others stand back. It means to reach out to someone we are not supposed to like. (I know that sounds absurd, but it isn’t, is it?)

Fourth, he paid the full cost. “He brought him to an inn… The next day he took out two denarii… Whatever more you spend, I will repay” (Luke 10:34, 35).

After delivering him to the inn, his responsibility could have ended and he could have resumed his travel. But no, two days later he returned and covered the expenses. Then he told the innkeeper he would repay all further costs.

We have ways of minimizing costs. Our plastic cards put a distance between us and the needy. We follow our net worth, we track the rewards of our accounts, we protect our wealth. We cast our bread upon the waters and hope it won’t sink. We don’t give cheerfully unless we see the immediate return. We use the widow’s mite to fix our amount to give.

C. S. Lewis sums it up: “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

He lifted the man in the ditch. “He set him on his own animal and took him to an inn” (Luke 10:34).

The Samaritan broke further social mores when he placed the man on his donkey.

After all, who rides? When someone walks and another rides, who has the higher status? The one who rides. The Samaritan, the one who stooped, who touched, who bound up wounds – he walked, he gave higher status to the beaten and dying man.

Usually, and against all logic, it is the wounded, the abused, the lame who suffer rejection. As if those who are the victims are also responsible for what put them in their conditions. Compassion sees inherent value that has been damaged. That value demands to be recognized. It simply means that those we assist, we lift up to be on the donkey while we walk.

Jesus constructed the story to bring the lawyer to see what he lacked. The compassionate behavior Jesus described was unknown to the lawyer. Jesus knew that. He also knew that the lawyer could never envision a compassion he had never experienced. And that experience would come only by knowing the compassion of Christ to sinners like him.

But when he learns that he is the man in the ditch, that he is the ne beaten and near death, that no help in the world can rescue him, then he will seek and find mercy. That mercy comes from the God who left heaven and came as one of us, who stoops to seek us, who extends forgiveness to the contrite, and who lifts him to the presence of the Almighty himself.

All who find ourselves in the story will then see the radiance at the heart of God and the very radiance that he wants to share with us.

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