Compassion, Part 1. (Neighbors)

One of Jesus' more popular stories is the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37. A lawyer comes up to Jesus asking for clarity on the command, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  He asks Jesus, "But who exactly is my neighbor?" Jesus answers with this story:

A man is robbed and left for dead on the side of the road.  The first two people to come across this man avoid him and the situation and rush by. While the reasons for their avoidance aren't given, it is clear that both men were considered very religious by Jesus' audience. They were supposed to be the good guys. A third man comes along, a Samaritan. To Jesus' audience, this would have been a 'bad guy'. An irreligious guy. Someone who believed and acted differently than they do. Had someone else told the story, he might have been the person that beat and robbed the victim. But in Jesus' version of the story, here's what happens next.

"But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him (the man that was left had dead), he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him."

The word "compassion" in this story is a powerful one.  The Greek word, splagchnizomai, means to "feel it in your gut." When we break down the word compassion, "com" meaning with and "passion" meaning to suffer, it means "to suffer alongside with." Essentially, it means to put yourself in someone else's shoes to the degree that you understand their point of view and you feel their pain as if it were your own. And you feel this at the core of your being. (I think Brene Brown does a great job unpacking this in her explanation of Empathy vs. Sympathy.)

Another interesting angle to this story is the word "neighbor." The Jewish community that Jesus was addressing in this story used the word "neighbor" to mean other people in a covenant community with them. In other words, the other Jewish people around them. Those that looked, behaved, and believed like them. So "loving your neighbor" was demonstrated by sticking with your crowd. To be fair, it was a hostile world and the Jews were often in exile, so they needed to stick together and get each other's back. Jesus, however, was stretching the meaning of neighbor in this story.

In this story, the normal heroes (leaders of the local community) did not do a good job of adhering to loving their neighbor (the man that was suffering.) It was the man that was least like them and, in their eyes, the least likely to act 'godly', that actually obeyed the command and best reflected the heart of God.

I have a compassion problem. I have a hard time putting myself in the shoes of other people, seeing things from their perspective, and 'weeping with those who weep.'  I also have a hard time seeing the heart of God because I, like the lawyer in this story, want to be technically right. Thankfully, by the end of the story, the lawyer understood Jesus' point.

"Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (The lawyer) said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”