What Do You See When You See People?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.

Luke 10:33

The parable we call “The Good Samaritan” is perhaps one of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings. It responds in a most unsettling way to a question about who is our neighbor, which is to say, who are the people I’m required to love. Since Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, the fact that a Samaritan loved a Jew in need was doubly scandalous. It illustrated love across enemy lines, and it made the Samaritan out to be the exemplar of love. (If Jesus were teaching today, he might have replaced the Samaritan with a Palestinian, maybe even a member of Hamas.)

As I reflect on this parable, I am struck by the fact that the three men walking on the road all saw the injured man. In fact, the Greek text of Luke uses the exact same word to depict the visual experience of the priest, the Temple assistant (Levite), and the Samaritan. Each of these people had the experience of “seeing” (idon) the wounded man.

Yet, though they literally saw the same thing, in a deeper sense, they saw quite differently. What did the priest and Temple assistant see? Not just a needy man, but an inconvenience, a hassle, perhaps a danger or a trap. They saw something to be avoided, something that could mess up their plans and even their well-being.

What did the Samaritan see? Jesus says, literally, “seeing, he had compassion.” The Greek verb “to have compassion” means something like “his heart was moved” (though it technically means “his guts were moved.”) The Samaritan saw with an open heart. He saw neither a hated Jew nor an inconvenience nor a threat, but rather a human being who needed help. He saw an opportunity to care for a man in need. He saw not just with his eyes and not just with his calculating brain, but with an open, tender heart.

Do we see people in this way? How do I see the people in my life: my wife and children, my colleagues at work, my literal neighbors, the plumber who fixed my pipes recently, the checkout clerk in the minimart who always looks so sad? Am I prepared to see with an open heart? Or is my life too busy for compassion? Am I so caught up in my agendas that I just don’t have time to see the needs of the people around me? If Jesus worked me into his story, I wonder which character I would be.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Let me encourage you to ponder whichever of the questions in the last paragraph are relevant to you. You might also consider: What helps you to see people with an open heart? What might cause you to act more like the priest and the Temple assistant than the Samaritan?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I must confess up front that I often do not have time to really see people. I’m sure I rush by opportunities to care for human beings in need because I have filled my life with too much stuff. And sometimes, Lord, even when I have the time, I simply close my heart when I see people. I just don’t want to be bothered by their needs. Forgive me for failing to see my neighbors so that I might love them.

Give me your eyes, Lord, so that I might truly see people. Give me your heart of compassion, so that I might be moved by their pain. May my life be governed by the priorities of your kingdom. May I be open to the “interruptions” you bring my way. Help me to love my neighbors with the love you have poured into my life. Amen.