Deeply Moved in the Parable of the Good Samaritan

Deeply Moved in the Parable of the Good Samaritan

Deeply Moved in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when bandits robbed him along the way. They beat him severely, stripped him naked, and left him for dead on the side of the road. Soon, a priest walking down the same road came upon the wounded man. Seeing him from a distance, the priest crossed to the other side of the road and walked right past him, not turning to help him one bit. Later, a devout religious man who assisted in the Temple came walking down the same road and likewise crossed to the other side to pass by the wounded man without stopping to help him. Finally, another man, a Samaritan, came upon the bleeding man and was deeply moved with tender compassion (splagchnizomai) for the wounded man. The Samaritan stooped down and gave him first aid, pouring olive oil on his wounds, disinfecting them with wine, and bandaging them to stop the bleeding. Lifting him up, he placed the wounded man on his donkey and brought him to an inn. Then the Samaritan lifted the man from his donkey and carried him to a room for the night.” (Luke 10:30-34; please read the whole story in Luke 10:25-37).

splagchnizomai  (splawnk – NITZ – oh – mi). Don’t let that strange Greek word put you off. It turns out to be one of the most meaningful ideas in the gospels, and it describes Jesus to a T. Most Bible versions translate this word to mean “moved with compassion.” But somehow that translation doesn’t quite do it justice. One might even say it doesn’t go deep enough. The literal meaning of this word is “to have one’s bowels yearn,” which makes sense since the root word for it is “intestines.” Since the innermost organs were considered at that time to be the seat of human emotions, and since love is the emotion being implied, splagchnzomai could be understood as an experience in which true compassion has its beginnings from down deep in the gut. This word points to an intense emotional experience that is felt in the pit of one’s stomach. This profound compassion is not superficial by any means, not casual, not distant. This compassion is immediate and so deeply felt that it demands action. This compassion is so visceral that it must find an outlet, a target, in doing something physical and helpful.

As we deepen our union with Christ, as we live into His reality and character, we also live into His compassion, into being deeply moved to our very innards. As theologian Jeff McSwain once said, “If we truly are ‘in Christ,’ then just as we’ve been given the mind of Christ, we’ve also been given the ‘gut’ of Christ.” Every Christian, being a little Christ, will live into the possession of the sensitive gut of Jesus.

The gospel writers recorded Jesus as using the important truth of this gut-word in three of His famous parables: The Unforgiving Servant, the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son. The gospel authors wrote this word down in each story because they knew that Jesus had demonstrated it during his ministry, and in fact was very intentional about incorporating it into His parables. The gospel writers were inspired, and they read the mind of Jesus as they recorded His stories. This crucial character quality, this ability to be deeply moved with compassion, is woven into the very nature of God, and we notice that in each of these three parables it was the God-figure who experienced it… The gut-punch of love, compassion felt in the pit of the stomach, the intense emotion deeply inward that produced the compassion that characterized the Lord. The Son of God was often deeply moved in His time on earth, and it was important that these pictures of God in the stories also were deeply moved in compassion. Jesus was a Man who felt compassion deep in His gut, and He loved telling stories in which that gut feeling was an important factor.

CONTEXT. A lawyer comes to Jesus to put him to the test. A lawyer at that time was an expert on Jewish law, a scholar of the Jewish religion. The lawyer asks a theological question, to spur debate, a religious conversation. The lawyer wanted to see not only how orthodox Jesus was in his beliefs, but also to tempt Jesus into giving a controversial answer to a difficult question. The scholar “stood up” to address Jesus, much like a student of that time always stood up when talking with a teacher, out of humility and respect. He then referred directly to Jesus as Teacher, or Rabbi. Jesus had evidently earned the lawyer’s respect through his words and actions. Jesus took the question seriously. The lawyer asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. He was a pious man who wanted to earn his way to life everlasting, mostly through his actions.

JESUS. He responded by asking a question of the lawyer. Jesus referred him to Scripture and asked him if he could find his answer there. Jesus didn’t want to merely state the answer to the question. Jesus instead helped the lawyer to find the answer for himself. He did what good teachers do: Help the student to think for himself, to become an active learner.

LAWYER. a. He gave the best answer possible, the shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:5. The shema is the 1st prayer taught to children in a Jewish household, and it is prayed twice daily by every believing Jew, every sunrise and every sunset. Love your God, with everything you got, heart, soul, strength, mind, everything. The lawyer then adds Leviticus 19:18 to the shema, something that Jesus himself said many times. Love your neighbor as yourself.

JESUS. He praises the lawyer and says, “That’s it! Good job! Now go and do what the scripture says.” In other words, Jesus is saying that it is not enough to simply believe the right words, to include those words as a part of the law. You must also demonstrate through action that those words are true in your life. His literal response to the lawyer reads, “Do this, and you will come alive,” or “Do this, and you are living.” In other words, eternal life starts now. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t answer with a little sermonette, something along the line of what he said in John 17:3: “This is eternal life – To know you, God, and to know Jesus, whom you have sent.” He instead referred to the legal equivalent according to Jewish law.

LAWYER. On the one hand, the lawyer might have been a little embarrassed that the answer was so obvious. Here he was, a scholar of Jewish law, and the answer to his theological question was known to every child and adult in the Jewish faith. Sensing, though, that the words he just quoted were quite a tall order, and are probably impossible to obey perfectly, the lawyer looks for a loophole, like any good lawyer. He wants to go home feeling justified, that he can actually earn eternal life, that he can in fact appear before God as a pious man. So he asks Jesus who is to be considered a neighbor. He wants to hear Jesus answer with something easy, like this: Well, your fellow Jews are your neighbors, especially your relatives and friends. Just love them, and you’ll make it, no problem. The term neighbor was actually interpreted in different ways in Judaism, and it technically means “someone who is near you.” He wants to hear Jesus answer with something easy, like this: Well, your fellow Jews are your neighbors, especially your relatives and friends. Just love them, and you’ll make it, no problem. Much of Judaism at this time believed that Jews were neighbors, and gentiles were not. But not everyone thought that, and it was somewhat debatable. So, actually, the lawyer asked a pretty good question, even if he thought he already knew the answer.

JESUS. Once again, Jesus didn’t give him a straight answer to the question. Instead, Jesus gave him a story… the story of the Good Samaritan.

ROAD. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is roughly 17 miles of desert, mostly straight but with a few twists and turns. It was a dangerous road, a well-known hideout for robbers and bandits to do their work. Those who journeyed on that road knew that they had to keep a lookout for those scoundrels who would have no qualms about assaulting them, robbing them, if not murdering them. This particular road was the perfect setting for Jesus’ story.

VICTIM. So a traveler was beaten severely, seriously wounded, robbed of everything he owned, including the very clothes on his back, and left half-dead by the side of the road. He was no doubt unconscious. Half-dead literally means close to death, so he was in bad shape, and utterly helpless. No one knows who this man was, which religion, which nationality, which ethnic group. Jesus intentionally leaves that up to question. We don’t know if he was a Jew, although the Jewish audience probably assumed that to be the case. The wounded man couldn’t be identified by distinctive clothes, since he was naked. And the victim couldn’t identify himself to passersby, since he was unconscious. So, no one knew anything about this poor man.

PRIEST. The priest was certainly riding along on a mule or some such animal, since priests were an elite, a member of the upper class, and never walked on a journey. He could have at least given the victim a ride to safety, but he didn’t. This priest went out of his way to avoid the victim, literally going to the other side of the road. Out of sight, out of mind. He refused to see the victim in his need. He put on blinders, wouldn’t even look at him, and went on his way. Pastor Helmut Thielicke once wrote, “At the Last Judgment, it is our eyes that will be judged first. For in Matt. 25:44, the accused reply ‘When did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick?’ The first commandment of brotherly love is eye control.” The priest can actually be a sympathetic figure to a point. He risks being ritually defiled if he touches a dead body. To be ritually impure is humiliating, and it means the priest can not serve as a priest in the temple unless he goes through a very demanding, time-consuming process of restoring legal purity. So the priest wasn’t taking any chances, he wanted to maintain his priestly status. The priest was indeed a slave to the system, a rigid list of do’s and don’ts that took priority over helping others in need. So the priest took a detour around the wounded man and went on his way, secure in his priesthood, safe from the bandits, and ceremonially clean.

LEVITE. Levites were temple officials, helpers in temple activities. They were more in the middle class, not in the elite class like the priests. So, the Levite was probably walking. For some reason he didn’t want to be interrupted or bothered. Because so much of the road is straight, the Levite probably saw the priest pass by first without helping. He could have easily said, “If the priest didn’t have to help, I certainly don’t either.” The Levites didn’t have the same priestly rules, so it would have been much easier for him to stop and help the victim. But he didn’t. The Levite, like the priest before him, certainly observed the situation first-hand, but he truly didn’t “see” him in his need. The Levite may have come a little closer, but it didn’t make a difference. Blinders were still on, at least to his heart, and he walked on. The religious man failed the eye test miserably.

SAMARITAN. Samaritans were rejected outsiders, religiously unclean, the hated enemies of pious Jews. They were considered half-breed, mixed-race heretics, worse than unbelievers. Centuries of animosity have resulted in Samaritans being publicly cursed in the synagogues, amidst fervent prayers that they will not have eternal life. So Jesus intentionally highlights a Samaritan, an enemy of the Jews, as the hero of the story! That took courage on Jesus’ part, because he basically said in the story that a hated Samaritan was morally superior to religious Jews. Evidently, it was important to Jesus that he expose the hatred evident in the Jews. That must have raised a few eyebrows, if not hackles. The Samaritan, unlike the earlier religious men, was deeply moved by what he witnessed, his heart went out to him. This profound gut reaction moved him to action. The Samaritan didn’t seem to have any fears of robbers jumping him. Samaritans also believed in the Law of Moses, so he also risked ritual impurity the same way as the priest and Levite. The Samaritan actually was more obedient to the Law of Moses, in that the highest priority is always saving the life of another, even if meant violating other Laws. The Samaritan was surely commended for this in the minds of Jesus’ listeners.

FIRST AID. The hated Samaritan did not hesitate to go to the victim and offer first aid. He was fearless, tender-hearted, and committed to helping the victim. He first bound up the victim’s wounds. That phrase would be known to the Jewish audience. It recalls many scripture references of how God has promised to bind up the wounds of His people, through Divine care. The Samaritan wouldn’t have had a bandage with him, so he probably used his head-cloth, or maybe tore his linen undergarment. He poured oil and wine on the wounds, which recall ritual sacrifice in temple ceremonies. Some in the audience would think of how the Samaritan is pouring out the true offering acceptable to God, for God desires mercy not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). One aspect of Jewish law states that “oil and wine are forbidden objects if they emanate from a Samaritan.” The audience would think once again of the fearless mercy of their traditional enemy, and of perhaps a blind spot or two in strict Jewish law. The Samaritan is thorough in his compassion. He puts the victim on his donkey, takes him to Jericho, since there were no inns on the road, and pays for the victim’s care. He was intentional, not half-hearted or haphazard. Innkeepers were notorious in their demands for money. There’s a good chance that the Samaritan might have been arrested for indebtedness if the wounded man’s bills went higher than those 2 days wage amount provided by the Samaritan. So the Samaritan said he’s good for any further bills, and that’s that.

JESUS. The parable started with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus turned it around at the end, to “Whose neighbor am I?” And that is an ongoing question we need to keep asking ourselves… “To whom am I a neighbor?” Is it true that the needy person will see me as his neighbor? Am I prepared to be neighborly in a tangible way, deeply moved with compassion? Perhaps most importantly in this story, am I ready to love an enemy, to demonstrate mercy to an enemy? Do I realize that even my enemy is my neighbor?

LAWYER. Jesus is telling this story for a man who wants to justify himself. So it’s interesting that Jesus subverts the expected meaning of the story. The neighbor ends up being the one extending mercy, and the lawyer is to identify himself as the one in the ditch! Jesus wants the lawyer to think of himself as the one needing mercy, even from an enemy. As Mark Buchanon writes in The Holy Wild, it’s as if Jesus is saying to the man, “Go and do likewise. Go discover how desperate, naked, and left for dead you really are. Go discover that you are, in fact, broken and lying in a ditch. Go discover that there is no way to justify yourself. Go discover that you can’t do a single thing to inherit eternal life, that unless Someone has mercy on you – extravagant, sacrificial mercy – yes, unless the God of the Holy Wild happens by, a jar brimming with oil in hand, and pockets stuffed with coins to pay the innkeeper, and He stops – well, you’re as good as dead. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Simple. Realize I’m in a ditch. Realize that I’m doomed unless my Neighbor loves me.” Even the word “Samaritan” was so distasteful that the lawyer could only bring himself to answer, “the one who…” This parable was probably a bitter pill to swallow, with the enemy as the hero.

JESUS. He closes with a repeat of what he said earlier, “Go and do likewise.” Continue doing what is on God’s heart. Your behavior reveals your faith. Demonstrate love to someone, anyone in need. Be a good neighbor and care for the needy that you run across. Keep on doing this, and you will come alive.

LAWYER. We don’t know if the story and conversation changed the lawyer. He knew all the right answers in this exchange with Jesus, but will it make a difference in how he lives his life? We don’t know. Wouldn’t it be great if he said something like this to Jesus: “What you have said is impossible. To love God constantly, with my whole heart, soul and everything else? The shema is a great goal to quote from Scripture, but how does one actually live that way consistently? And to be a good neighbor to anyone in need, even my mortal enemy? I can’t do it. It’s beyond me. I will do the best I can, and then in the end depend on God’s mercy. I know now that I can’t earn eternal life, that I can’t honestly justify myself. And I know that you can pass whatever religious test I throw your way. I am your student, and I have a lot to learn, a lot to think about.”


a. The priest and the Levite were so caught up in the rigorous details of the law that they forgot the heart of the law, the spirit of the law, which is love. They were scrupulously following the religious rules by not defiling themselves, and they loved appearing righteous, more than actually doing the biblical thing. Jesus called the bluff of these temple officials, and He highlighted spiritual priorities while still pointing to the essentials of Jewish law. Love God and love your neighbor. The priest and the Levite committed sins of omission. They were fearful of being attacked by bandits, they were fearful of becoming unclean, they had busy schedules, and they didn’t want to be bothered. When put to the test, they didn’t do what Scripture asked them to do, which is love your neighbor, no matter the personal cost.

b. According to Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus himself identifies so closely with victims that He counts himself as one of the victims. When we care for the needy, Jesus considers it as personally caring for Him. When the Good Samaritan cared for the wounded man so compassionately, the Lord said He was in reality caring for Him in His “blessed disguise,” as Mother Teres of Calcutta would put it. By passing by the wounded man, did the priest and Levite actually miss an opportunity to personally care for the Lord?

c. The Lord can be considered the ultimate Good Samaritan. The rejected one who nonetheless cared for us wounded ones by the side of the road; who bound our wounds, offered the sacrifice of mercy, and brought us back from the dead; who was the observant neighbor who was willing to turn aside and care for each of us in our misery and our vulnerable state; who provides what is needed to sustain us through the Holy Spirit in His absence, knowing that He will return and do what’s necessary to bring us to full health; who sees practical love as the fulfillment of the law. When Jesus sees anyone in need, including us, He is splagchnizomai, His heart overflows with compassion, He feels it in the pit of His stomach, He feels it intensely in His gut. Just like the Good Samaritan.