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The Good Samaritan: Compassion, Ego, Responsibility, and

“Just Because”
By Rev. Nancy Schluntz

Published in the online Journal of

The Chaplaincy Institute for Arts & Interfaith Ministries
Berkeley, California
August 2010

In an age when storytelling was the primary way to teach, Jesus was a master at
telling stories, or parables, that convey the core of a teaching. The parable of the
Good Samaritan (1) is more than a story. It is an archetype—a universal story
that is played out over and over around the world. This parable answers the
question, ‘Just who is my neighbor, anyway?’ Its mastery is that it covers all the
bases—compassion, ego, and responsibility.

Most people know what a ‘Good Samaritan’ is, even if they have never heard the
story of the conflict between Samaria and Judah, and do not know why that part
of the story is significant. The basic story is that a man has fallen victim to
robbers and lies injured by the road. A priest and a Levite, or lay priest, pass by
and avoid him, for reasons of their own. Who stops? A Samaritan—one whose
tribe had split from the tribe of Judah in the turmoil after the death of King

The two branches of the community had grown farther and farther apart over
many years, until the southern people of Judah considered their northern
Samaritan cousins to be heretics and idolaters. Thus a Samaritan was one of the
last people who would be expected to stop and give aid to an injured man of
Judah. Why did he stop? The passage says the Samaritan “was moved with pity”
(2). Jesus’ Samaritan went beyond saying, ‘Oh gee, that’s too bad.’ He took the
injured man to an inn and paid for his care, promising the innkeeper he would be
responsible for any additional charges.

How would this scene play out today? Daily we hear about people who have
fallen or been injured and laid there for hours before someone stopped to help.
Often, the mindset is “don’t get involved;” “it’s none of my business;” “someone
else will stop to help;” or “I don’t have time.” We may feel for the injured person—
if we even notice. Yet showing true compassion means going beyond feeling into

What motivates us to take action when we are confronted with a need? Do we

get an income tax deduction or a certificate of appreciation? Does it improve our
standing in our church or community? Does it make up for the bad things we’ve
done? Does it make us somehow feel “worthy” of God’s grace that is freely

© Nancy Schluntz, 2010 – May be reprinted for personal or educational purposes with proper citation.

On my trip to England last year, a companion and I were riding in a London bus
one evening, and could not help overhearing the conversation between the
young man and woman who were seated behind us. They were discussing why
people do things for others. The man asserted that people do good to be well
thought of in their community. The woman disagreed, and said people did things
for others because it needed to be done, and it didn’t matter if anyone else knew.

Through several variations in this conversation, neither of them changed their

position, until he offered a compromise. It didn’t really matter why, he said, what
matters is the outcome. She held firm, replying that the outcome was important to
the person who was helped, but the why was what was important to the helper.

We are called to give what is needed, not just what we no longer want or need.
Donating broken and soiled things to a nonprofit agency (after all, “with just a
little bit of work there is useful life left”) just transfers the burden to that agency.

What are the risks of helping? Sometimes our good intentions are misguided, or
have unintended consequences. When helping, we must go beyond the
immediate perceived need and consider the longer-term consequences of our
actions. If we continue to support an addict, we have become an enabler to their
addiction. If we give so much of ourselves that we become resentful and feel we
are sacrificing ourselves on an altar of unquenchable need, we become victims

And what about the liability that may be involved in moving the victim of a car
crash—for example, when we don’t know they have a back injury and moving
them may result in permanent paralysis? Most states have “Good Samaritan”
laws that are meant to protect lay people who, for no reason other than kindness,
come to the aid of fellow human beings in need. The concept is that, so long as
you have no expectation of payment or reward, you will be immune from liability
for messing things up while you’re trying to help (that is, so long as you don’t
mess up really badly).

There are so many needs in this world, such a great cry for compassion. To be
truly compassionate, to help without expectation of reward, we must look at the
how of what we are about to do and discern if that really is helping. Examine the
why of what you do to help. Is it in the other person’s highest and best good? Or
is it because you have a need to feel useful? Are you actually, underneath,
expecting some kind of reward?

By now you may be wondering, with so many reasons and risks to being a Good
Samaritan, why do we do it? Remembering the words of the young woman on

© Nancy Schluntz, 2010 – May be reprinted for personal or educational purposes with proper citation.
that bus in London, we do it because it needs to be done. The challenge for us,
in doing so, is to be aware of how we are helping, and why.



1. The parable of the Good Samaritan is in the New Testament of the Christian
Bible, Luke 10:29-37.

2. See Luke 10, verse 33.


Author's Note
This article is adapted from a sermon that I offered on July 11, 2010 at First United
Methodist Church, Hayward, California.

Rev. Nancy Schluntz is an interfaith minister and Animal Chaplain, offering intuitive
animal communication and animal Reiki to help animals and their human companions
reach deeper levels of understanding and relationship. She can be reached via email at: or via her website,

This article can be found online at:


© Nancy Schluntz, 2010 – May be reprinted for personal or educational purposes with proper citation.