“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead…”1
So begins the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the best-known stories in the Bible, and perhaps in literature. In the story, various pious Jews pass by the unfortunate traveler but do nothing to help. Finally, a Samaritan, a member of an ethnic and religious group shunned by the Jews in Jesus’ time, has compassion on the victim, bandages his wounds, and brings him to an inn, where he promises to cover any expenses required in the man’s care.
With the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that our neighbor is anyone who needs our help, regardless of race, creed, color, nationality, condition, or location. The Gospels list many times when Jesus felt compassion toward the crowds or toward individuals and was moved to help them.
You may have heard the story of how He raised the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. “When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. ‘Don’t cry!’ he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. ‘Young man,’ he said, ‘I tell you, get up.’ Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.”2
Luke situates this miracle by telling us that Jesus was preaching in Capernaum one day and that He was in Nain “the day after.” Does that ring a bell? Not for me either. Sometimes the implications of these stories can be lost on modern readers like me.
It turns out that Nain is nearly 50 kilometers away from Capernaum, with an elevation difference of 400 meters. That seriously arduous, uphill walk takes 10–12 hours today—on paved roads—so you can imagine the time and effort it must have taken Jesus and His followers. But I suspect His heart was already “overflowing with compassion” for the widow before He even set out. He knew what He was doing and He didn’t “just happen” to end up in Nain on that particular day.
“What does love look like?” Saint Augustine asked. “It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. It has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to help the poor and needy.”
The compassionate put feet to their prayers and match kind deeds to their kind words. That’s what the Good Samaritan did. That’s what Jesus did. And that’s what we can each strive to do in our own lives and circles.