Through the New Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – Luke 10:13-37 – Compassion

What is it that fills you with joy? Jesus warns his disciples not to make uncertain things – like success in ministry – the source of our joy any more than we should allow current circumstances to fill us with despair.

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It is difficult to choose which verse or theme to comment on this morning – so I shall take two.

When the 70/72 return from their mission, they are full of excitement at what they have accomplished saying, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name" (Luke 10:17). Jesus reflects their excitement when he affirms that they have been instrumental in defeating Satan's stranglehold on God's world and unseating him from his position of power. When Jesus says, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (10:18) I believe that he is saying that their ministry anticipates the day when he will be utterly unseated and destroyed. Similarly, when Jesus adds, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy" (10:19) he is surely echoing the promise of Genesis 3:15 – the promise that the ancient Deceiver will be crushed.

These are heady words and must have added to the disciples' excitement – they were now in the business of destroying Satan's kingdom. But Jesus then adds, "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (10:20). Jesus knows that there will be days when demons do not seem to flee before them; days when opposition may grow rather than be crushed; days when they will face persecution and even death. But there are some things that can never change and can never be taken away from them. They are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and he has guaranteed them a place with him in his glorious kingdom. It is this hope that must sustain them – and us – in the difficult days, as well as in the days when Satan seems to flee before us. It is this that must be our joy.

But secondly, I cannot pass over the parable of "The Good Samaritan" without comment. Jesus is responding to one of the Jewish legal experts who asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. The man knows that he is to love God and to love his neighbour, but he wants a clearer definition of his neighbour – he does not want to squander his love on the wrong person. Jesus tells the parable of a man (ethnic origin unknown) who is set upon by robbers and left for dead on the Jericho road. A priest going along the road passes by on the other side; so also does a Levite. A Samaritan passing by sees the man and has compassion on him. He takes him to an inn where he looks after him and ensures his recovery. This man demonstrates what it means to be a neighbour – and demonstrates the character and conduct Jesus calls us to display when he concludes, "Go and do likewise" (10:37).

The difference between the travellers on the Jericho road is that the priest and the Levite were concerned primarily for themselves. The Samaritan, however, had compassion on the man left naked, beaten and half dead (I do think "compassion" is a far better word than "pity"). He was deeply moved with concern for the man (just as we read that Jesus was moved with compassion for the crowds). It was a compassion that moved him to act and to rescue the man at his own trouble and expense.

Jesus calls us to follow him. He calls us to have a heart of compassion for those in need; a heart that reflects the compassion that brought him from glory to seek and to save the lost. He calls us to be more concerned about others than we are for ourselves. It's all too easy to suffer compassion fatigue and to return to self-preoccupation or even self-pity. We need our compassion to be continually renewed through knowing and living closely with the one who gave himself for us.

Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Lord Jesus, teach me what it means to follow you; and help me to follow truly, closely, constantly and joyfully.

Peter Misselbrook