Comprehensive compassion

The Doctor's Life Support for 23 June

But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

Luke 10: 33

A traveller had been mugged. Only his gender and that he was left half dead are known. The scene is set. By chance a priest came along. Having served God in the temple, now he had an opportunity of serving a fellow man. But no! Was he afraid of the robbers who might have been lurking nearby, or of ritual defilement that would follow contact with a dead body? Similarly, we know no more about the Levite. As a temple servant, he may have had the same fears as the priest. Jesus had caught the interest of his audience. Who would be the good guy? Probably an ordinary Jew would show compassion and give the story a popular anti-clerical slant. It was not to be. We would need to live with ethnic conflict and hatred in a divided community to appreciate the outrage when Jesus identified the good guy as a despised Samaritan. How could it be? ‘Neighbour’, for Jews, implied a fellow Jew or full proselyte. That the neighbour could be a Samaritan must have shocked many. But Jesus identified the neighbour by his actions and it was the Samaritan who had compassion. What lessons apply to health workers? We are professionals and perhaps we get it wrong, behaving like the priest or the Levite. We are frightened of doing the wrong thing. For us the parable teaches the priority of immediate responsibility for the needs of others, responsibility that is comprehensive and without limit. Compassion is the beginning of good healthcare. The word implies suffering alongside the needy and includes notions of pity, mercy and sorrow for the sufferings of others. Love for one’s neighbour is healthcare’s first hallmark. In addition, we do well to remember that God is always compassionate, often in the face of our arrogance and our disobedience.


Written by Andrew Fergusson from the UK

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