Authentic Empathy and the Good Samaritan: Considering Jesus' View

What type of love will our lives show? Can our love move beyond our own perspectives to empathizing with the lives of others? Are we able to empathize with the difficulties of our brothers and sisters—with our local, national, and global neighbors? At the core of Jesus’ message are these questions.

The idea of a Christian who stands stagnant is an oxymoron. I don’t believe I am the first to say that, but it’s worth echoing whoever said it before me. We must move with God. We must seek justice and mercy. We must walk humbly before God, in peace (Micah 6:8). We must say the difficult and act according to our beliefs.

Jesus moves us—both spiritually and physically. If the Holy Spirit is at work in you, he will move you. As we draw closer to Thanksgiving—and with so much tragedy present in our nation and world—I wonder if we are ready to be thankful. Stop and think about it for a moment: Have you turned your thoughts toward gratitude lately—towards a God who is with us, no matter what?

Gratitude teaches us to love. When I stand before God in prayer, I realize that I am not capable of defending myself before him—that I desperately am in need of Jesus. And by nature of admitting that, I am reminding myself that my neighbor and I are the same in many regards. We are all extremely impoverished spiritually. We all need to be filled by the living God.

We have an opportunity now, even in the midst of tragedies being played out nationally and globally, to draw closer together. When we recognize the image of God in one another, we see what God sees in each of us.

I think of Jesus and the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:27–31). You’ve probably heard this story dozens of times—even in our biblically illiterate culture, it’s an idiom: “Way to be a good Samaritan!” people say. But I’m betting that you’re about to see something about this story that you’ve never seen before.

This whole scene opens with a question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The scene also ultimately evokes the idea of “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells this story to answer these two questions.

And here in the middle of the Good Samaritan parable is a man dying, being left for dead. There is real-life at stake. (We say we know God, yet we're okay with leaving the man on the side of the road.) And the point is obvious: a person who lives like the two men that walked by don't know God at all—and they don't recognize their real neighbor for that matter. Being a Christian requires authentic love, even for those we don't know. It requires that we mourn with them and care for them.

The "upstanding citizens" in the story of the Good Samaritan, though highly regarded in their society, ignore the commandment to love their neighbor, but the Samaritan doesn’t. The Samaritan, who Jesus’ first-century Jewish audience likely would have despised, sees this beaten man on the side of the road and not only takes care of him—he goes above and beyond to be sure that the man is cared for.

This story begs the question: Who is your Samaritan? Who do you put on the outside? Who do you fail to empathize with? (My dear white friends: How often do you judge a situation you really can’t ever understand?)

You see, I can never understand what it is like to be a Samaritan, so how can I act like I do? I can never understand my neighbor fully, so that means that the first step to loving him is recognizing that I haven’t walked in his shoes.

Jesus crosses all boundaries to show God’s love, and we should do the same. The world needs Jesus. Will we show Jesus to the world?

If we truly know Jesus, he will change us. Jesus transforms us. Jesus changes everything. Jesus shows us what it means to love our neighbor.

John Barry
John Barry


CEO and Founder of Jesus' Economy. John is the General Editor of the highly acclaimed Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary. His new book is Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. It is widely endorsed by Christian leaders from around the world.