“But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.” Luke 10:33
Felt Compassion – We have often mentioned that Hebrew thought development moves like the lines of a pyramid. The story develops from the foundation up to the pinnacle and then concludes by returning to the foundation. The climax is found at the top of the pyramid, in the middle of the story, not at the end. As Westerners, we develop our stories (and arguments) as linear progressions, not pyramids. We think that the conclusion, the end of the line, is the most important point, the climax. Nearly all of our media aims at this progression, although once in awhile we add on an epilogue. But Hebrew thinking doesn’t work like this. So if we look for the crucial point at the end of the story, we will probably miss the Hebraic emphasis.
Kenneth Bailey makes this abundantly clear in his discussion of the parables. In this parable, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the climax of the story happens in the middle, when the Samaritan feels compassion. The Greek word is esplanchnisthe (literally, to be filled with pity). The root word (splanchnon) is never used in the gospels of any real person except Yeshua. That’s important. The use in this parable has a direct connection to Yeshua Himself. This word isn’t just a description of unease or emotional discomfort. This word means a deep and gut-wrenching emotional tidal wave, a complete identification with another and a tragic rage over injustice, a rage that is expressed in weeping collapse. “How could something like this happen?” “What kind of men would do such a thing?” “What is this world like that such injustice and disregard for life can occur?”
Have you felt this emotional tsunami? Have you witnessed such inhumanity that it made you stagger, unhinged from rational control? Have you identified with someone else to the point of experiencing their pain? If you have, you have come very close to God.
The middle of the story is the experience of compassion. Without this experience, the story degenerates into behaviors of welfare or social justice. The Good Samaritan is not about how to take care of the injured. It is not about taking on someone else’s burden. It is not about being a “good” neighbor.” The point of the story is the need for compassion, the need for gut-wrenching identification with another. Becoming a neighbor begins with compassionate identification.
In Hebrew, the word for compassion is raham. The verb means both “to exhibit mercy” and “to find mercy” (another example of the continuity of Hebrew verbal actions). It expresses the same deep emotional involvement with the suffering. But perhaps most importantly, this Hebrew word has a homophone that really displays its emotional connection. You see, raham also means “womb.” In Hebrew, nothing expresses compassion more fully than the care a mother feels for her unborn child. And nothing expresses more fully the need for compassion than that child, totally dependent in every sense on the care of the mother. God is the God of the womb, the God of unmitigated compassion, the God whose care and concern governs our every breath. Life itself depends on Him.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is much more than a story about being a neighbor. In the middle, we find the end. Those compassionate ones are true neighbors.
Topical Index: Good Samaritan, compassion, raham, splanchnon, Luke 10:33