Today we will be exploring the topic of compassion. In order to review this topic of compassion, I’m going to take a familiar section of Scripture, the story Yeshua told of the Good Samaritan, and break it down in a unique way, starting at the end and working back towards the beginning. I think it’s important to focus not only on compassion as Yeshua defines it, but on the motivation behind our compassion for others.
So let’s begin with how Yeshua, in story form, expresses what true compassion looks like:
Yeshua took up this question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. … But when a Samaritan on a journey came upon him, he looked at him and had compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he said, ‘and on my return I will repay you for any additional expense.’
Luke 10:30, 33-35
This famous passage is Yeshua’s definition of having compassion on one’s neighbor. True compassion is not just having a feeling of sympathy, but it is a sympathetic feeling that takes action. The Samaritan did some field first-aid, used his own transportation and brought him to a place where he could rest and recover with on-site care. The Samaritan was moved by compassion so strong that he was willing to interrupt his life to assist someone else, even if that someone was a stranger to him. Therefore, biblical compassion according to Yeshua looks outward to others who are in need, beyond the comfort of one’s own personal situation or condition and says, “What can I do to help?”
Well, with that basic understanding, let’s begin our study of this passage at the conclusion to see how that objective is where Yeshua wants this questioner to arrive.
Luke 10:36-37 – “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.
Then Yeshua told him, “Go and do the same.”
So the conclusion is that Yeshua says that this practice exhibited by the Good Samaritan is one that is to be copied and practiced. By saying, “Go and do the same,” Yeshua is commissioning this man, and by extension believers everywhere, to follow the example of the teaching of this story. We should all exhibit compassion in action to others when it is within our ability to do so.
Continuing to work our way backwards through this passage of the Good Samaritan, we see that the story itself was prompted from a discussion of the Law. An expert in the Law had come to Yeshua to find out more about how Yeshua viewed the totality of the Law. In response, Yeshua first asks his opinion about it.
Luke 10:26-28 – “What is written in the law? ” [Yeshua] asked him. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbor as yourself.”
“You’ve answered correctly,” he told him.
Yeshua had also on other occasions verified that these two commandments were the most essential part of all of God’s Torah, his Word.
Matthew 22:35-40 – And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest? “
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and most important command.
“The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Here, we see that the centrality of the two greatest commandments is key to Yeshua’s understanding of the entirety of the Law. To love your neighbor as yourself is a primary facet of belief; in fact, a sincere and true belief in the God of the Bible will result in love for others. Therefore, the primary motivation behind loving others ultimately stems from a deep, all-encompassing love for God. To “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” should be the desire of every believer.
To love him from the heart means it’s not just a rote belief, like a belief that maybe one’s family or parents have, but one that comes personally from a place of deep desire and personal longing.
To love God with all the soul is to recognize that the complex of emotional and moral understanding is in alignment with his standards and his will.
To love him with all of the mind is that the rational balance of all personal longing and moral understanding are worked out in practical ways of thinking and imagination. All of the being is wrapped up in seeking to understand God’s workings in this world and to align oneself as much as possible with this reality and worldview.
Only when one is imbued with this sense of love for God will one have the appropriate motivation to help others as needed. Then, loving others becomes simple and achievable, because the motivation and the perspective align with accomplishing all of God’s desires.
Luke 10:31-33 – “A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion.”
To make a finer point, Yeshua mentions that the religious people in the story, the priest and the Levite (who was of the Jewish tribe of priestly helpers) were too preoccupied with their own righteous indignation to provide any help. The stranger on the side of the road could have been anyone, possibly unclean. By contrast, the Samaritan, someone hated by the religious Jews, was ultimately the one to provide the necessary help to the person who had been attacked. He was the one who demonstrated that he truly loved God, and that he had the proper motivation for the task at hand.
Here’s an interesting thought: To the Jewish mind in that day, having a Samaritan as the hero of a story on morality would have been a detestable outcome, in a similar way as having a member of an opposing political party be the hero might affect us today. There was a diametrical opposition to doctrinal ideals between the two.
Even Yeshua understood that, in general, the Samaritans held incorrect doctrinal beliefs. We know this from an exchange Yeshua has with a Samaritan woman over proper worship. The Samaritan woman kept pressing Yeshua over his unusual discussion they were having at the well of Jacob, which culminated in a discussion of the appropriate place to worship.
John 4:20-22 – “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus told her, “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews.
Yet, even with a recognition of the reality of these types of doctrinal difference between the Samaritans and the Jews, Yeshua makes a Samaritan out to be the hero of the story that he is telling to a religious Jew about what true compassion looks like. What does that say about Yeshua? Is he validating that doctrine just doesn’t matter, as long as one is sincere in what one believes? No, not really.
The largest difference between the Samaritans and the Jews was over the canon of Scripture at the time. The Samaritans believed that only the first five books of the Bible by Moses were inspired; there were no more inspired writings beyond those. The Jews of the day, including Yeshua, believed all of the Psalms, Prophets, and other historical writings that are now included in our Old Testament were inspired writings as well.
We can understand more about this exchange by considering that the woman doesn’t apparently have any depth of commitment to her Samaritan doctrinal beliefs about the books of Moses; she is merely parroting the disagreements of others. How can we know? Well, Yeshua revealed she had a hidden record of insecurity and disobedience to the very Law that Samaritans claimed was inspired. He prophetically revealed that she had multiple husbands and was currently living with someone she was not married to. The practical outworking of her beliefs were evidenced in her actions. Her practices weren’t acceptable even by Mosaic standards.
Leviticus 20:10 – “If a man commits adultery with a married woman – if he commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife – both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
Yeshua knew her heart. She was not really a follower of the one true God, but a follower of her own passions using a doctrinal smokescreen to obscure the real issues. His conversation with her was an attempt at drawing her and ultimately her villagers to an understanding of his Messiahship.
To Yeshua, doctrine clearly does matter, otherwise, he would not have disputed with the religious leaders of the day. But to him, even more important than doctrine is where the heart, soul, and mind are in the service of that doctrine. In Yeshua’s way of thinking, even if one only has the five books of Moses and has a deep devout recognition of God and also of loving their neighbor, they can be exemplified as doing what God desires. The practical outworking of this core belief is evidenced by its actions.
The early disciples understood this as well, since we have only to read the rest of the New Testament teachings to show how this conclusion was continued on in the messages to their congregations.
For example, the apostle James, whom many consider to be the brother of Yeshua, drills down even further into the practicality of true faith in the practice of compassion with others:
James 2:15-16 – Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?
Paul also was sure to bring this topic up in his guidance of the early Galatian congregation.
Galatians 6:2 – Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Messiah’s teachings.
Paul’s original wording here in his message to the believers in Galatia can be rendered within its Hebraic cultural context as, “In this manner you shall fulfill the torah of the Messiah.” This aspect of assisting others in need is considered by Paul to be the essence of Yeshua’s teaching, central to everything he stood for and practiced. We can see that Paul’s understanding of the centrality of this topic to Yeshua’s teaching, which is always in conformity with the Law, is indeed validated.
Okay, so we can see that the conclusion is to “go and do likewise” as the Samaritan did, and how doctrinal differences, while still important, can be placed on the back burner in light of the practical outworking of our love for God. But why even discuss this at all? What was it that began this discussion between Yeshua and this expert in the Law?
We can see that this whole discussion between the Law expert and Yeshua was prompted by this direct motivation:
Luke 10:25 – “Then an expert in the law stood up to test him…”
Notice first that the question being asked had an agenda behind it. Apparently this question about inheriting eternal life would force Yeshua to respond in a way that would potentially isolate some of the people from his teaching. If he answered in a way that consisted in some aspect other than the Law of God, he would isolate the very people he came to minister to: the lost sheep of Israel.
So, in a masterful move, Yeshua puts a pin his response while he reverses the question back on the Law expert himself:
Luke 10:26 – “What is written in the law? ” [Yeshua] asked him. “How do you read it?”
By having the man state what the “official” Jewish doctrine of how to attain eternal life should be, Yeshua would then be able to show how his own teaching in fact agrees with it.
Luke 10:27-28 – [The man] answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbor as yourself.”
“You’ve answered correctly,” [Yeshua] told him. “Do this and you will live.”
The man may have been stopped in his tracks for a moment when he saw that Yeshua was not contradicting the Jewish ideas of how to attain eternal life. According to Yeshua, loving God and loving one’s neighbor, when done sincerely and with the correct motives, results in eternal life.
Since the man’s previous goal of causing Yeshua to slip up had failed, he then asks a similarly loaded question of “who is my neighbor?” This may have been out of an attempt to still try to divide Yeshua’s audience over this question on how a neighbor is defined (a divisive topic at the time), or it may have been out of a sincere desire to know more, since the text says that he was wanting to “justify himself.”
Either way, this question was loaded in the sense that there were many Jewish debates of who was to be considered a neighbor. Was your neighbor just the person living next to you, or another member of your tribe, or only another member of the country and people of Israel? Did this “neighborliness” apply to non-Jewish people or members of other nations who were residing in the land, as well?
So to answer these questions, Yeshua then tells the story, which, as we have seen, extends neighborliness to even those who are not doctrinally aligned with you, and even if they are strangers. Loving actions overcome doctrinal differences.
So beyond the agenda of the law expert, what I find most interesting is the question that led into this whole discussion to begin with. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Some scholars think that the Hebrew concept of eternal life was one that was not introduced into the Jewish way of thinking until during or after the Babylonian captivity. However, in the Graeco-Roman environment of Yeshua’s day, it was a well-known and much discussed issue.
What is even more interesting to me is the answer that Yeshua gave to that question. One might expect him to say something like, “believe in me,” or “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” as he did in John’s gospel. But in this instance, he doesn’t say that. The expert in the Law had said the way to eternal life was to love the Lord your God with heart, soul, strength, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. To this, Yeshua simply answered, “You’ve answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
This is a telling answer. By doing this (loving God and loving your neighbor) you will live.
In today’s terms, we might have different answers to this question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” If someone came to you today and asked that same question, how would you answer it?
Some answers might include ideas about circumcision (if you’re Jewish), or being baptized (if you’re Christian). It might involve some other ritual to become “worthy” of eternal life. Maybe it might be a discussion over which version of the Bible is the only way to eternal life, or which denomination or group is the sole source of life. Perhaps it would be some specific doctrine or set of beliefs about God according to a creed that would be required.
No, the answer is much simpler: Love God with heart, soul, strength and mind. And it means the God of the Bible, not just any god of one’s own choosing. We need to recognize that all of this discussion about eternal life is in the context of the one true God of the Bible, with individuals who were raised on the Hebrew Scriptures. It is these Scriptures that do not allow for any other gods to be recognized as legitimate, so it’s important to keep that perspective in place when we are talking about God. There is only one God, Yahweh, the Creator of all, who deserves the devotion of our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
And the second part of the answer is to love others, not just your fellow congregants or neighborhood residents, but even strangers if they are in need. Yeshua even goes so far as to include loving enemies!
Loving God and loving your neighbor is the gospel of the kingdom that Yeshua shared with us. Since he is the way the truth and the life, then loving God and loving your neighbor is what it means to believe in Yeshua. This is because everything he taught was in alignment with the entire message of the Bible.
To demonstrate this, here are some examples of this message throughout the pages of Scripture.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – “Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. “Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Leviticus 19:18, 34 – “Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh. … “You will regard the alien who resides with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.
Micah 6:8 – He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Matthew 7:12 – In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 22:37-40 Yeshua declared, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Romans 13:10 – Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 5:14 – The entire law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
James 2:8 – If you really fulfill the royal law stated in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
Loving of one’s neighbor through compassion is only half of the equation of fulfilling the torah of God. Loving one’s neighbor can only be truly carried out when one first fully loves Yahweh; heart, soul, strength, and mind. And doing both of these demonstrates you are a follower of Yeshua the Messiah, and that he is Lord of your life when you act in compassionate ways because of your love of Yahweh.
Loving God and compassionately loving all others; this is the core of the Bible message and the path to eternal life that Yeshua represented.
If this is the lens through which we should be viewing the life and ministry of Yeshua, then, as his followers, how much more should these same qualities be evident in our own lives? Well, we know the answer to this question because he told us:
“Go and do likewise.”
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.
Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.
Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.