Because I grew up in a Christian home, many of the stories became so familiar, that I’ve stopped allowing them to speak to me. The Good Samaritan is one of those stories.
Thanks to a sudden urge to read the Gospels in my home language (Afrikaans), I discovered something beautiful in the translation of mercy.
But first, I’ll assume that you’ve never heard the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Afrikaans translation of mercy
The 1983 Afrikaans translation of verse 37 is: Die wetgeleerde antwoord: “Die man wat aan hom medelye bewys het”. Where medelye is the word used for mercy.
Medelye is divided into two syllables: “mede” and “lye” which loosely translates to “co-suffering” or fellowship in suffering.
As I read this, this translation of the word mercy touched me deeply, with the revelation that we’re called to be merciful, by a God that is merciful.
Community: Fellowship in suffering
As I read the word “medelye”, my understanding of mercy and compassion deepened. When someone within our community is suffering, we should feel it. Not through empathy, but by giving up our comforts to bear the burden with them.
A radical generosity that costs us something, enough that we can say we’re sharing in their suffering.
What does mercy look like?
When someone is lonely, we can give up the enjoyment of our private spaces, and time, to welcome them into a loving home.
If they’re struggling to make ends-meat, we could give up some of our luxuries to help them put food on the table.
When they’re ill and they do not have the strength to care for themselves, or their family, we could give up our time and energy to take a meal.
The Gospel Relived: A God who shares in our suffering
In Exodus 34:6-7 YHWH’s declares who He (what His character is like) for the first time:
“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious…”
He steps down into the mess of man throughout the story of the Bible, and gets involved in our suffering.
In Genesis, YHWH could have left Adam and Eve to wallow in their consequences with fig leaves, but He didn’t. He stepped into the mess of their choices and covered them in sheepskin.
In Exodus, He aligns Himself with an unknown and irrelevant group of people (Hebrews) who are in slavery.
God steps into the mess of their lives and delivers them, even though the relationship between Him and these people will be tenuous.
During the demise of Israel’s kingdom and the Babylonian exile, He keeps His covenant of faithfulness to His people sparing a remnant and bringing them back to Jerusalem. After the consequences ran their course, God stepped in to return His people to their home – Israel.
Finally, YHWH shared in our suffering as Jesus. He healed our hurts, suffered our poverty, felt our pain and died our death. Giving up every comfort He could rightfully claim, to liberate us from the mess of our own creation.
When Jesus sends the expert of the law away, He does so by saying: “Go and do likewise.” The beauty of being a follower of Jesus is that He never asks us to do what He hasn’t done.
As His mercy towards us grips our hearts, we start to show mercy towards others. We look at Him while we’re walking the path He walked first. It doesn’t start with us showing outward acts of mercy, it starts with us experiencing His acts of mercy towards us.