Mercy: Moving Beyond Pity

The Lord Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to change a lawyer’s thinking from “Who is my neighbor?” to “To whom can I become a neighbor?”  We find the story in Luke 10:25-37.   

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. 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, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Fr.  Theodore Stylianopoulos comments:               

“The Gospel reading for the 8th Sunday of Luke, which is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, makes exactly this point: it was possible even in the first-century Palenstine for a mortally wounded Jew to be passed up by a Jewish priest and a Levite and to be helped by a Samaritan who was a supposed enemy. MERCY OR INDIFFERENCE ARE NOT SO MUCH A MATTER OF A PARTICULAR AGE OR CULTURE, BUT A MATTER OF THE INDIVIDUAL HEART. The Samaritan showed mercy to the dying Jew. What does mercy (eleos or hesed) mean according to the Bible? It means primarily not a feeling but a helpful act showing faithfulness, grace, kindness and love. Jesus quoted a prophetic saying to the Pharisee, ‘I want mercy, not sacrifice (Mt. 12:7),’ and He instructed His followers, ‘Be merciful just as your Father (in heaven) is merciful (Lk. 6:36).’ St. Isaac the Syrian defined a merciful heart as a heart burning with love for all creation, human beings, animals, birds, even devils, a heart which cannot bear injury or anything hurtful in creation without shedding burning tears of love. In the prayers and hymns of the Orthodox Church Christ is frequently called Merciful. Christ is the embodiment of sacrificial love, a love that cannot bear the suffering of humanity but comes to the world to redeem humanity from the slavery of sin even though the cost is crucifixion.” ( A Year of the Lord: Fall, p 118)