Think of it as a first aid kit. A merciful heart is something you bring wherever you go. In the story of the Good Samaritan, a hated man did what he could with what he had and thereby saved another man’s life. Anything from learning CPR to carrying an extra umbrella can position you to help others. But even with nothing more than forgiveness to spare, you can heal some of the deepest wounds you encounter.
Matthew 5:7 and Luke 10:25-37
To show what real love looks like, Jesus tells a story highlighting the kindness of a Samaritan man. Samaritans—the idol-worshipping descendants of Israelites who’d intermarried with the pagan population in Samaria—were despised by their Jewish neighbors in Judea, where the story takes place.
Love is deeply bound up with mercy, the act of relieving someone’s suffering.
The victim in Jesus’ story is stripped, beaten, and left for dead by the side of the road (Luke 10:30). From these details, it’s clear the man had been robbed and is lying in the dirt, naked, bleeding, and in terrible pain. First, try to imagine yourself in this situation. What might you be thinking? Next, imagine yourself as a solitary passerby. Can you describe your feelings at seeing the dying man?
The Samaritan passerby felt “compassion” (Luke 10:33), or “pity” (NIV)—the Greek word means something like “to be moved or ache inwardly.” It’s the term often used to describe Jesus’ reaction to human suffering, such as blind men by the road or crowds with no one to teach them (Matt. 9:36; Matt. 20:34). How does it affect your relationship with Christ to know that He aches when you are in trouble?
Why do you think Jesus used a story about pain to convey the meaning of love (Luke 10:27)? The New Testament uses different Greek words for “love”; the one found here is a form of agapé, understood as the self-sacrificing love akin to God’s, rather than friendly affection or desire.
Luke 10:37 reveals that Jesus sees mercy as an expression of love. Strong’s Concordance defines mercy as “kindness or good will toward the miserable and afflicted, joined with a desire to relieve them.” Can you describe a recent time when you took action out of compassion (not duty) to relieve someone’s suffering? If not, is there someone you can help today?
How does it affect your relationship with Christ to know that He aches when you are in trouble?
CONTINUING THE STORY
Some think the highest example of love is to care for those we hate, but the Samaritan shows a love even more powerful: The man who cares for the dying traveler is himself the one who’s hated.
On the surface, this is a story about mercy—to relieve suffering. But a closer look shows it’s also about forgiveness. Jesus made it clear the action took place in Judea (v. 30), where Samaritans were hated. In fact, Jews normally wouldn’t even speak to them (John 4:9). Does that affect your opinion of the Samaritan’s behavior? What feelings might he have had to overcome in deciding to help the victim?
The Samaritan helped not minimally but at great personal expense (Luke 10:34-35). Think of someone you feel dislikes or has wronged you—what would loving him or her with extravagance look like?
Think of someone you feel dislikes or has wronged you—what would loving him or her with extravagance look like?
Showing mercy reveals Jesus’ presence in you.
It appears the Samaritan was alone when he passed the dying man. To act with great love, merciful people don’t need external pressure or an audience. And the more we’re filled with Christ’s Spirit, the more our hearts will respond with His aching, sacrificial love.
Consider how this study applies to your life.
Jesus’ parable can help us see forgiveness as a form of mercy. Those who need pardon are often suffering through shame or regret, even if they fail to acknowledge their offense. Sin always damages the soul or relationships. Those who hurt us also harm themselves at some level—and those who are aware of their transgression may feel intense anguish. (See Luke 22:56-62.)
The more we’re filled with Christ’s Spirit, the more our hearts will respond with His aching, sacrificial love.
If mercy helps people in pain, perhaps forgiveness helps those in pain because they have hurt us. What problems might result from causing such harm?
Have you ever suffered after realizing you’d hurt someone? How does awareness of causing pain resemble the brokenness of the wounded man in the parable? In what way is mercy then needed?
The story says that when they saw the dying man, both the priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32), but the Samaritan “came to him” (Luke 10:34). Love, mercy, and forgiveness all require crossing a divide of sorts, a willingness to forget offenses and approach the other with a giving heart. How does that describe what God has done for us?
By recognizing our enemies’ pain and seeking to relieve it, we act as Jesus does. When we overcome fear, cross the barriers, and bandage their spiritual wounds, we practice great love by sacrificing pride in order to show mercy. Like the Good Samaritan, “take care” (v. 34) of whomever you can help—especially those who’ve hurt you. They need your love perhaps even more because of their offense.
Illustration by Adam Cruft