33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
There is an interesting quirk of ancient Greek – a little Easter egg that I always take notice of whenever I encounter it. When in an English translation you see the phrase, “had compassion on,” “was moved with pity toward,” or something like that, it’s likely that the underlying word is splagchnizomai, which is a verb meaning something along the lines of finding a situation “gut-wrenching.” You’ll find this word behind verse 33 in today’s reading about the Good Samaritan.
In the gospels, the word is often used of Jesus and by Jesus, including to describe the feelings of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
And in nearly every case, the feeling is followed by an action: Jesus speaks a kind word, or he heals someone, or he feeds a hungry crowd. And when Jesus uses the word in a story, the characters in the story do the same. The Samaritan doesn’t just feel something, he does something.
The English translation that renders splagchnizomai as “moved with compassion” is entirely accurate. Genuine compassion is always more than a feeling. It’s a movement – and specifically a movement toward someone: first emotionally, then relationally and physically. The Good Samaritan’s response isn’t just to say, “how sad,” shed a tear or two, and then go about his day. No, he tends the man’s wounds, puts him on his own donkey, and provides for his ongoing care.
The feeling in our gut is meant to spur us to action on behalf of those who are hurting. Those who follow Jesus are meant to be “moved with compassion” – not just to feel something, but to do something. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Ancient writers talked about the seat of compassion as being in the gut. Do you have a physical reaction when you hear a sad story, or see a difficult image? How would you describe that reaction? Is it a tugging on your heart? A tightness in your chest? A knot in your stomach? Pay attention today to how your emotions are affecting your body. Recognizing these sensations can help us better understand ourselves and our reactions to the world around us.
Prayer: God, we pray today that when we feel compassion, that we might not let the experience end there. Let our compassion move us toward the other person, so that we might be motivated to action to help. Amen.