I was on a subway when a man started verbally abusing a fellow passenger with racist slurs and aggressive threats. No one nearby made any effort to help. Suddenly I found myself moving to stand between the beleaguered teenager and the ranting man. This was incredible to me, because in the past I had determinedly avoided confrontations with a single-minded focus! And yet, here I was, feeling impelled to place myself right in a situation that seemed increasingly violent and dangerous. What was happening?
At that point I couldn’t know how this would play out, but I realized why I was doing what I was doing. I was literally being moved by compassion to express the selfless, Christly love identified in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, a love that protects and comforts those in need, even those we don’t know.
In the world today, there seems to be a great need for such love and compassion, and a greater affection for others. At a time when life is unfamiliar and hard, and societies seem stirred up, Christ Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan presents an incredible model for how we can navigate these scenes.
Jesus shared the timeless parable in response to a question presented to him by a lawyer intent on poking holes in his teachings (see Luke 10:25–37). When Jesus told the man that loving one’s neighbor was necessary to worship truly, the lawyer flippantly replied, “And who is my neighbour?” In essence, the man was asking: Who is worthy of our compassion, our time, and our help?
Jesus began his parable by describing a traveler who had been robbed, stripped of his clothing, wounded, and left for dead on the side of the road. Who would be a neighbor to this poor victim? Jesus gave an object lesson by presenting the responses of three individuals. To start, he spoke of a priest and a Levite, religious men who callously avoided the wounded man by crossing to the other side of the road. This was in direct disobedience to their Jewish faith, which teaches love and support for strangers (see Deuteronomy 10:17–19).
The third passerby was a Samaritan. For Jesus’ audience, the introduction of a Samaritan, someone most Jews would have viewed as socially and religiously inferior, would have elicited a negative reaction. With his use of the Samaritan, Jesus rebuked this condemnatory, judgmental thought, and taught that we must not limit our expectancy of others’ ability to do good and be good. Regardless of differences in religion, culture, politics, everyone has a God-given capacity for good and right actions.
In her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, beautifully described how Jesus saw every person he came into contact with. She understood that instead of perceiving man, meaning both men and women, as fallen, sick, or evil, Jesus saw a perfect man created by a perfect God. She writes: “In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick. Thus Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is intact, universal, and that man is pure and holy” (p. 477). Jesus knew that God is only good, and that man is created in God’s image and likeness. The word likeness is synonymous with reflection, so we could say that since God is good, then man, made in His image and likeness, reflects only good.
It seems to me that the Samaritan recognized this intrinsic goodness in the wounded man, because when he saw the victim, he helped him with immediate, indiscriminate compassion. The Samaritan didn’t first examine the man to determine his nationality or race or faith or political party or ability to repay his kindness. No qualifications were necessary in order for this poor man to be considered his “neighbor.” With tender care, the Samaritan bound up the man’s wounds, “pouring in oil and wine.”
Christian Science sheds light on an important spiritual component to the Samaritan’s actions. Like Jesus, Christian Science certainly teaches the value of offering practical care to people in need, but it also identifies how Jesus laid even greater stress on the mental aspect involved in healing.
In many ways, Jesus was using the Samaritan to teach about the Christ, the healing and saving power of God that is ever acting on our behalf.
With this in mind, we could consider some of the mental activity illustrated in the Samaritan’s loving care. The Glossary in Science and Health offers this spiritual sense of the Bible’s use of the word oil: “Consecration; charity; gentleness; prayer; heavenly inspiration” (p. 592). It similarly defines wine, in part, as “inspiration; understanding” (p. 598).
Considering these spiritual definitions, we might say that it was through heavenly inspiration and understanding that the Samaritan prayerfully poured love, gentleness, and comfort into the situation. We might also say that with this inspired, God-directed thought, the Samaritan prayerfully tended to the man’s bruised mental state, addressing things like the potential for panicked flashbacks, a fear of future attacks, or a desire for revenge.
Since Jesus’ own glorious expression of divine Love included a commitment to seeing the value, goodness, and perfection of everyone that he met, it makes sense that the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable would signify the same mental outreach. It also makes sense that the Samaritan would represent the idea of cherishing man’s perfect, spiritual nature in thought.
At the conclusion of the parable, Jesus’ audience had a better sense of not only who their neighbor was, but also how to be a good neighbor. In many ways, Jesus was using the Samaritan to teach about the Christ, the healing and saving power of God that is ever acting on our behalf. It is Christ that brings us the understanding of man’s true nature as the exact image and likeness of God, an image that cannot be frightened, attacked, wounded, abandoned, or helpless in any way.
Back on that subway train, it was Christ that was impelling me to provide immediate practical care and shelter for this girl and loving and protective prayer that affirmed her safety as God’s loved child, made in God’s image.
As I moved closer to the girl, I had to handle a flash of fear. What if this man verbally or physically attacked me? To overcome the fear, I needed to understand that this man was also a child of God, no matter how terribly he seemed to be acting. I affirmed that God’s child wasn’t violent, racist, or mentally ill. That’s not what it means to be the likeness of God! God’s man is loving, kind, and of a sound mind. As I prayed in this way, I realized both of these individuals needed a good Samaritan, needed healing and help. Instead of seeing villains and victims in this moment, I would just see God’s perfect children.
This was a quick prayer. It literally took place in the thirty seconds required for me to reach the girl, and I arrived completely free of fear. The girl and I smiled at each other as I created a physical buffer between her and the man. Soon, another person intentionally joined me in making a protective barrier, and between the two of us the girl was completely cocooned from the abuse. The entire time, I never stopped praying to affirm the safety and goodness of all involved.
I affirmed that God’s child wasn’t violent, racist, or mentally ill.
Eventually the man’s threats subsided, and he never once spoke to me or objected to my being there. Soon after, the girl got off at her stop, and I was left in grateful awe of how God protects and loves His children.
This experience taught me that when we help others, we witness and understand more clearly the deep love that God has for all of us. This is the spiritual love we can express toward everyone we come into contact with. It is more than just a practical meeting of human needs—it’s lovingly and patiently ministering to both the physical and mental condition.
Jesus shared the good Samaritan parable about two thousand years ago, but it couldn’t be more relevant today. At a time when many people are feeling isolated, frightened, and abandoned, spiritual inspiration and understanding can go a long way in helping to meet these challenges. Why not be a good Samaritan and bring healing and comfort to those in need!
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