Good News of Great Compassion

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 7:13-14

Jesus is the Good Samaritan who sees us in our desperate need and spends himself utterly for us.

Luke, the most beautiful book in the world, brings us the good news of great compassion. What does compassion mean in the Bible? It translates the Greek word splangknos say that to yourself splangknos. That’s a strong word. It speaks of the visceral organs, the inward parts, the feelings, the heart. It’s sometimes translated “tender mercies.” The verb form is splangkvizomai to be moved with compassion, to feel what someone has called “a veritable pain of love.”

It was what Jesus experienced when he saw the multitudes like sheep without a shepherd, needing to be rescued and led, when he saw people faint from hunger, and a widow mourning the loss of her only son. In each case, the seeing, the vision, led him to action teaching the wayward, feeding the hungry, raising a dead son to life again.

Parables about Compassion

In Luke’s Gospel alone do we find two of Jesus’ most moving parables, both about compassion. You remember the one in Luke, chapter 10, about the Good Samaritan. To Jewish ears in Jesus’ time, that phrase would have been shocking. It would have seemed what we call an oxymoron, a self-contradictory statement. How could a Samaritan possibly be good? These people were viewed by the Jews as outcasts. They were of mixed race, unorthodox worship, faulty doctrine. They were viewed with disgust as compromisers with the evil world. “Good Samaritan”? That would have seemed a bad joke – like “a good heretic” or “a good traitor.”

But the Samaritan in Jesus’ story, you remember, did what the Jewish religious leaders (the priest and the Levite) failed to do. He showed compassion. They saw the wounded man by the roadside, but did nothing for him. In fact they detoured around him. The Samaritan saw him and then went all out to meet his need. He saw with caring eyes and couldn’t look away. He took a risk because the robbers who had assaulted this traveler might still have been nearby. Who knows what would happen to him? He, like the priest and the Levite, probably had important things to attend to, but this man was interruptible. His schedule was flexible enough to meet a sufferer’s need. Yes, and he didn’t simply give first aid he followed through. He gave the wounded man transportation, put him on his own beast. The Samaritan walked alongside, provided for him lodging, nursing care, medical expenses. And he came back later to see how he was doing. How’s that for compassion?

The second story we call the parable of the Prodigal Son, although it’s really more about the Caring Father. This boy had practically wished his father dead, had wanted his share of the estate now, had left with apparently no intention of returning, breaking his dear father’s heart. He went away to a far country, and wasted everything. Penniless, friendless, lonely and hungry, he finally woke up and came to his senses.

He thought of how good it had been back home. No one cared about him here in this far country, but his father treated even hired hands with great kindness. He decided to go back, to confess his sin and foolishness, and to ask his father for forgiveness and some menial job.

He trudged wearily back. But when he was still a long way off, his waiting father spied him in the distance. This was the moment the father’s heart had longed for, prayed for. “It’s my boy! He’s coming home!” Without a moment’s delay he ran to meet him, robes flapping in the wind.

It was an awkward moment for the son. He stammered out his prepared confession and appeal. But he never had a chance to finish it. His dad was hugging him, kissing him. And that was only the beginning. The son was treated like a returning hero: the best robe a sign of status; a ring symbol of authority; shoes the mark that he was a free man and not a slave, a master and not a guest; the fatted calf a supreme celebration. This father showed compassion big time.

It makes me think of a young man in America who had gone away like that, forsaking home and family, embarking on a life that eventually became one of crime. He lost all touch with his loved ones during years in a faraway prison. Finally he was released and decided to go back home. The train trip was long and tedious, but finally he was nearing the family place. He had sent a letter on before him, telling that he would be coming by the farm. “If you want to see me,” he wrote, “hang a white ribbon in the tree by the barn. If I don’t see it there, I’ll keep on going.”

Now he was almost there. He was too afraid and ashamed to look. He asked the man on the seat beside him, “When we go around the next bend, look at the barn on your right, with the big tree beside it. Tell me if you see a white ribbon!” The son waited anxiously, hands sweating, heart pounding. Suddenly the man beside him leaped to his feet, exclaiming, “The whole tree is full of ribbons.” The folks back home had remembered, and they had compassion.

Where it Comes From

Where does this marvelous caring come from? Did you know that outside of these two stories told by Jesus, the term splangknizomai, “to have compassion,” is applied in the Gospels only to Jesus himself. Only the Lord embodies fully the image of the Good Samaritan. He’s the One who sees our need and can’t forget it. He’s the One who risks everything to come and help us. He can always be interrupted by our cry of need. And he never forgets us.

In the closing days of the Vietnam War, a U.S. artillery round accidentally struck a school, killing a number of children and their teachers. Medics arrived on the scene to do what they could. One eight-year-old girl was bleeding profusely. The medics checked the blood type of several children, looking desperately for a match to give the girl blood and save her life. One boy, about 13, had the same type. Would he give some of his blood for her? Gravely, he nodded. But as his blood was being taken, the boy began to cry softly. A Vietnamese translator spoke with him asking if he was in pain. No, he said, but then he shared his real distress. He had thought that giving his blood would cause him to die. And yet, even though fearful, he had been willing.

Jesus actually did what the young lad had been ready to do. He gave himself utterly, gave his life for us, that we might be forgiven and become God’s children.

And who is the waiting father who showed such beautiful compassion? He’s the God and Father revealed in Jesus. He’s the One who comes running to us when we turn toward him wayward, guilty, unworthy as we are. He’s the One who pardons our offenses, welcomes us home, crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies. In Christ God calls us beloved children and makes us the heirs of everything. Both parables, in the deepest sense, picture for us the compassionate Jesus, and the Father’s seeking love.

Our Response

What’s the message here for us? First, it’s a call for overflowing gratitude. How do you suppose those prodigal sons would have felt? Or what about that wounded traveler, or the Vietnamese girl given life through a young boy’s blood. Wouldn’t they have been moved to great thankfulness? I think so. And what about us, who have life through our Savior’s dying, and a welcome home that we could never begin to deserve?

Then there’s the word of Jesus to the man who wanted to know about “neighbors.” Jesus pictured in the Good Samaritan what it is to be a neighbor, and then he said, “Go, and do likewise.” This is how to treat needy, suffering people, some of whom we don’t even know. The Good Samaritan is a reminder of that; the gracious Jesus is our model for it. Doesn’t that make you want to be a caring, helping friend to anyone you meet along your way?

Here’s another thought: follow the One they called “the friend of sinners.” Jesus’ enemies said that about him with a sneering, condemning tone, “a friend of sinners.” For us, it’s one of the Lord’s most endearing titles. He never despised or shunned the wayward and the lost. He sought them out. He rejoiced when they came home. I want to follow him in that, don’t you?

When we show compassion, we bear a family likeness. Jesus teaches us in Luke 6 that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. And when we are merciful, as he is, Jesus says we show ourselves children of the Most High.

It all starts with sharing his vision. Painters help us to see the world in a new way: colors we didn’t know were there. Poets help us see life in a new way. They let us see the poignant and the deep beneath the superficial. Astronauts have helped us to see the world in a new way. If you’re like me, you’ll never forget those first pictures that we got back from the moon that showed the earth as this gorgeous blue and white ball floating in space, our spaceship, our home, our planet. We’ll never look at the earth in the same way since we’ve seen that picture. And Jesus is the one who enables us to see people in a new way.

It didn’t work for the disciples right away. After three years they still didn’t exactly get is. It took the death of Jesus. It took the rising of Jesus. It took the sending of the Holy Spirit. And then they began to see people through his eyes and love them with his heart.

Only Jesus by the power of the indwelling Spirit can help us to go and do likewise. Let’s pray for the Spirit’s filling and then let’s go and do splangknizomai!