In Luke’s account of the gospel, he tells us about times when someone was moved with “compassion.” New Testament scholar Amy Jill Levine observes, “In all three cases the reaction is a response to a presumed death or loss; it signals the desire to restore wholeness” (Short Stories, p. 104). In this article, we will be giving a brief overview of each passage in order to cause us to be more open to opportunities for compassion.
Luke 7:13 – Jesus
Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.Luke 7:11–15
The story of Ruth is all about inheritance. Under the Law, if a husband died and left no son, the brother would marry the widow to raise up a child for his brother so that his name would not perish out of the land of Israel. If the next of kin refused to do this, like one of Naomi’s relatives did, then the responsibility would fall upon the next man. In the case of Ruth, this was Boaz.
Knowing this little bit of background helps add context to the story above. This was not just a story about a woman losing her son, as tragic as that is by itself, but it was also about inheritance. Without an heir, there was nobody to carry on the family name. Her husband’s name would be blotted out from Israel (Deuteronomy 25:6).
Jesus’s act of compassion restored life to the son, but, like in the case of Naomi, it restored life to the widow (Ruth 4:15).
Luke 10:33 – Samaritan
Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.
“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
“Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
“On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”Luke 10:30–37
The priest and the Levite were “going down from Jerusalem.” Their passing on the other side, therefore, had nothing to do with remaining pure for the temple service. Instead, they were just regular people like us, people who pass by on the other side. The Law was very clear that one was to help those who are in need, but, again, they were human just like us. We’ve all passed by on the other side in one way or another.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, couldn’t help but to assist the man in need. Instead of passing on the other side, he rushed towards him and did all he could to restore him and more. If it was shocking for the woman at the well to receive a request for water from a Jew, imagine how shocking it must have been for the man in the ditch to receive help from a Samaritan!
Martin Luther King Jr. offered this commentary which really brings to life what compassion is all about:
“I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love
King, as you know, was assassinated the next day. As Levine observes, “There are bandits on the road” (Short Stories, p. 102).
Luke 15:20 – Father
And He said, “A man had two sons. “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.
“So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’
“So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. “But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’ ” Luke 15:11–32
The father in the parable doesn’t wait around. His compassion for his son compels him to run out to meet his boy. Compassion is a powerful thing if we listen to it. Sometimes it can be hard to act on our compassion when we feel like we’ve given someone too many chances or we might put ourselves in danger in some way, but compassion, as we’ve seen, is the pathway to a greater kind of life.