A Christ Teaching on Love, Compassion, and Neighbor
Christ used the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach us about love, compassion, and neighbor. As we discussed in several previous bible studies such as at This_Link, God creates every person to be his provider assistant. He assigns responsibilities to each of us as his provider assistant through a call to compassion.
Christ uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to describe potential circumstances of a call to compassion and what is expected of the provider assistant. Also, he uses the parable to underscore our freedom of choice to respond to a call to compassion by providing the needed service or to disobey by declining the call. Of course, there are rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience that we will discuss in a future bible study.
In this bible study, we focus on Christ’s teaching through the parable of the Good Samaritan. We learn the meaning of a call to compassion, what is expected of the chosen provider assistant, and who is a neighbor. We also learn about the manifestation of love through compassion. In fact, one could say that Christ defined love through the parable. At the very least, he defined compassion as an effective manifestation of love. We discuss the meaning of compassion and its relationship with love. A call to compassion is an opportunity to perform our function (fulfill the purpose of our creation) as a channel for God’s compassion. Although he can do things for people in a supernatural way, he often prefers to use a natural approach by channeling his compassion through a human provider assistant. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates typical interactions between the service receiver and the provider assistant in a call to compassion.
The Setting for Parable of the Good Samaritan
Christ told the parable to respond to a question from a Jewish law expert. The expert wanted to test Jesus by asking him what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what is in the law, to which he responded: “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 “Love your neighbor as yourself” [Luke 10:27]. The learned man took his response right from Jewish law at Deuteronomy 6:5 (love of God) and Leviticus 19:18 (love of other persons). Jesus acknowledged he quoted correctly.
Then the expert asked a follow-up question [Luke 10:29]: “And who is my neighbor?” Through the follow-up question, he requested Jesus to explain the meaning of neighbor and love of neighbor. Jesus responded using a parable.
Parable of the Good Samaritan
NEED AND NEEDY In the parable, Jesus told about a man that was attacked by robbers on a lonely stretch of road. “They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead” [Luke 10:30]. This situation, right at the beginning of the parable, defines a need. A man was lying helpless and unable to call for help.
The need in this case includes total helplessness. There could be countless grades of need ranging from such extreme cases characterized by helplessness to much simpler cases. For example, a thirsty person has a need for a drink, maybe a glass of water.
Also, the parable defines a needy, i.e., someone that needs a service to be provided by another person. A person’s social status is irrelevant in the definition of needy. It does not matter whether the person is rich or poor, tall or short, fast or slow. What is important is the person needs goods or services to be provided by another person. A person that needs a glass of water is a needy in relation to obtaining a glass of water. The concept of needy is important because it defines the potential beneficiary, i.e., service receiver, in a call to compassion.
CALL TO COMPASSION God may choose any person as provider assistant to provide for a need to benefit a needy. The online dictionary at dictionary.com defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” This definition is quite consistent with the concept of provider assistant and identifies the following aspects of compassion.
- Recognize a need and the needy.
- Care about the needy (i.e., hunger and thirst to alleviate the needy’s suffering).
- Commit to provide a service to address the need.
- Persevere until successful.
Therefore, to respond to a call to compassion, one has to recognize the need and needy and care about the needy. Caring is important because it means subsequent actions by the provider assistant are motivated by a “hunger and thirst” to help the needy. There is a difference between doing things for someone because you can and doing things because you care. Whereas the first could be motivated by seeking self recognition, the second is motivated by a hunger and thirst to alleviate the sufferings of another person and fits well into responding to God’s call to compassion. Because a person cares about the needy, he/she commits to provide a service to address the need, and perseveres until the need is addressed successfully.
FREEDOM OF CHOICE A person may choose to provide for or deny a service placed in his path, i.e., accept or decline a call to compassion. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus talked about a chief priest and Levite that saw the robbery victim but passed without doing anything for him [Luke 10:31–32]. Each of them declined a call to compassion. God assigned them a task as his provider assistant, but they declined. Another passer-by, a Samaritan, responded differently.
GOOD SAMARITAN The Samaritan recognized the need and cared for the needy: “…and when he saw him, he took pity on him” [Luke 10:33]. His subsequent actions were motivated by his caring.
He provided first aid as he could, transported the man on his donkey to an inn, cared for him overnight, and in the morning took full responsibility by paying what he could and promising to return with additional payment [Luke 10:35]: “The next day he took out two denarii 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.’” His actions cover all aspects of compassion: he recognized the need and needy, cared about the needy, committed to provide for the need, and persevered toward success. The biblical account does not tell us about success or failure of the man’s treatment, but includes sufficient information to demonstrate the Samaritan showed commitment to continue the treatment until successful, by leaving a promise that amounted to an unlimited check by today’s standard: “…when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
Who is a Neighbor?
Christ used the parable of the Good Samaritan to define neighbor. By creating every person as his provider assistant, God establishes a mutual provider-receiver relationship among people. Each assignment in the relationship defines a provider (the chosen person or persons) and a receiver (the needy). The relationship is not permanent because a person that is a provider in one assignment could be the receiver in another. The provider-receiver relationship defines two neighbors. The needy is the neighbor at the receiving end whereas the provider is the neighbor at the providing end.
GOD APPOINTS NEIGHBOR Therefore, we can see that a provider-assistant assignment is indeed an appointment as “neighbor.” In the parable of the Good Samaritan, God offered to each of the chief priest, Levite, and Samaritan an appointment to become a neighbor to the robbery victim. The chief priest and Levite each declined the appointment. The Samaritan accepted. By accepting, he became known as the Good Samaritan.
GO AND DO LIKEWISE This aspect of the interaction is summarized through Christ’s concluding question to the law expert: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” [Luke 10:36]. The expert replied: “The one who had mercy on him” and Jesus told him and us to “Go and do likewise” [Luke 10:37]. Also, notice that no prior relationship between the Samaritan and the robbery victim (not family, home proximity, or any shared geographical extraction) was mentioned as necessary or relevant in any way to their becoming neighbors. They became neighbors because the robbery victim was the needy in a call to compassion that the Samaritan accepted.
LOVE OF NEIGHBOR The love of the Samaritan for his neighbor manifested through his compassion. Recall that Jesus told this parable to define a neighbor in order to explain the meaning of “love your neighbor.” He used the actions of the Samaritan to explain that compassion is an effective way to show love to your neighbor, thereby defining compassion as a manifestation of love. God appoints you neighbor through a call to compassion. If you accept the call, then you love your neighbor and will earn blessing (inherit eternal life). If you decline the call, you have rejected an appointment as neighbor and opportunity to love. Then, you will incur eternal punishment.
Summary of What We Learned
Christ uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to define compassion and neighbor, and explain the meaning of “love your neighbor.” The parable shows that “love your neighbor as yourself” is one way that God provides us opportunities to fulfill his purpose in creating every person as his provider assistant.