Who Is My Neighbor?

The parable of the Good Samaritan has been captured in art for centuries but I don’t think I’ve seen a depiction quite like this one. And I love it.

The artist is Ferdinand Hodler, one of the best-known Swiss painters of the 19th century. His early works were painted with realism, but toward the end of his career, he adopted Symbolism and became a forerunner of Expressionism and Parallelism. That’s a lot of “isms” and I won’t go into the meaning of each (partly because I’m not sure I totally understand what each “ism” means!)

What I love about this painting is how the Samaritan has come down to the level of the beaten man. The word that comes to mind is “scoop.” He scoops down in order to scoop the man up. Because of this, he is able to cradle the injured man’s head in his arm. He is able to look directly into his eyes. He is able to offer a cup of water and maybe even whisper some words of comfort into his ear. He doesn’t keep the man on the road at arm’s lengths but enters into his humanity and pain by scooping down to his level. By Hodler painting the scene from such a low point of view, you and I are drawn into the scene and a level of intimacy and connection develops between the artwork and the viewer.

Why does Jesus tell us this story of the Good Samaritan? One reason is to answer the question that leads us to make a distinction between people, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). It is surprising that a first-century Jewish rabbi would make the Samaritan the hero of the story, not because Jews saw Samaritans as their enemy, but because they saw them as “less than.” Through the Samaritan, Jesus is trying to tell us that “our neighbor” is anyone within reach of our love, regardless of their socio, economic, or spiritual status.

Being Human Connection: Jesus compels us to love this way because it’s the way God loves. We have a God who scoops in the person of Jesus Christ, who enters into our humanity and pain, who whispers words on comfort in our ear. Psalm 147 says that the Lord gathers the outcasts, heals the brokenhearted, and binds up our wounds. Throughout his ministry, Jesus embraces those broken and beaten up by the world. He encourages us to look past our definition of “neighbor” and simply love anyone within reach.

Featured art: Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan, 1885, Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland