One of Jesus’ most beloved parables is that of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the fictional account (Luke 10:29-37) in response to a lawyer’s attempt to justify himself regarding keeping the Law. The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus shows that neighbors are not defined by location, background, race, or status. True neighbors are those who are compassionate.
The impact of this story is seen in many everyday settings. Centuries after Jesus spoke these words, the label “Samaritan” is synonymous with one who does good deeds. Today, it is a positive designation. However, when Jesus told it back in the first century, his use of a Samaritan in the hero role was shocking. Jews could not imagine anything good about someone from Samaria. Challenging this negative attitude was part of Jesus’ intentions.
One of the greatest lessons we can learn from the Good Samaritan is how active he was in his service to the helpless man along the roadside. Two words summarize the priest’s and Levite’s response to the beaten man’s suffering: “passed by” (Lk. 10:31, 32).
Notice some of the key phrases describing the Samaritan’s actions in verses 33-34: “came to where he was…saw him…had compassion…went to him…bound up his wounds…pouring on oil and wine…set him on his own animal…brought him…took care of him.” In verse 35, we see him take out two days’ wages to supply the man’s needs at the inn. The actions of the good Samaritan began from a good heart. But make no mistake, he did something to display his goodness. His compassion was active in nature. It was not in word only. It was not in intentions. It was not in well-wishes. It was in actions.
Sure, there was a cost to consider for the Samaritan. He risked his own personal safety to help the suffering man. The victim could have been pretending, waiting to attack someone who stopped to help. The original attackers could have been lurking by to pounce on their next victim. Taking action often means taking risks. When the well-being of others is at stake, it is worth the risk.
Twenty-first century Christians must have hearts of compassion like the Samaritan. However, those hearts must lead us to act in the best interests of those in need.
When Jesus warned his followers to be ready for the final judgment, he mentioned the charge to actively take care of those in need. Notice his words from Matthew 25:35-40: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
We are called to be actively serving those who need it. Jesus does not tell us to question their motives; he does not tell us to look after our personal safety first and foremost; he does not tell us to discuss the situation with someone else; he tells us to give, welcome, clothe, visit, come to the side of, and do!
Paul lends similar instructions regarding how we interact with one another in Romans 12:10-13: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
We each have a great responsibility to one another and to the world in need around us. We see a great example of active service in the good Samaritan. Above anything else, he saw the needs of the injured man, and acted in his best interest.
“You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).