Compassion and Capacity

By Mark D. Roberts

June 7, 2021

Scripture – Luke 10:30-37 (NRSV)

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan was able to generously help a victim of injustice because he had substantial financial capacity. If we are going to love people in tangible ways, like the Samaritan, we need both compassion and capacity. God has entrusted you with a variety of gifts to be shared. Take stock of what God has given you and consider how you can use it to serve others in need.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


In the last several days my Life for Leaders devotions have been inspired by Jesus’s Parable of the Good Samaritan. Yesterday, I reflected on how Jesus “reverses neighborliness,” turning a question “Who is my neighbor?” into a question “Who was a neighbor to a man in need?”

Before I move on from this marvelous parable, I want to consider something that for many years I had overlooked. It appears near the end of the parable, in verses 34-35: “Then [the Samaritan] put [the injured man] on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”

For much of my life, I assumed two denarii was enough for perhaps one more night in the inn. But it turns out my assumption missed by a lot. Commentators on this passage who dig into the culture and history of the first century conclude that two denarii was actually enough to cover the costs of room and board for two or three weeks. Among other things, this reinforces the seriousness of the victim’s injuries. We’re talking about much more than scrapes and bruises. Moreover, not only did the Samaritan pay up front for many days of care, but he also promised to cover additional expenses when he returned many days later.

Why does this substantial generosity of the Samaritan matter? Well, surely it’s a clear sign of his deep compassion for the injured man. But it points to more than this. Tom Nelson, in his insightful book The Economics of Neighborly Love, observes that “The Samaritan was motivated by heartfelt compassion, but he was also able to engage in loving action because he had the economic capacity to do so” (p. 15). Nelson goes on to explain, “Jesus goes out of his way in this story to describe not only the merciful compassion of the Samaritan but also the economic generosity the Samaritan exhibited” (p. 15). Nelson underscores the fact that if we are to help people with tangible needs then we need to have both compassion and capacity.

I appreciate what Nelson is saying here and have learned from his insight. I’d like to draw out two implications for today’s devotion. First, if you are someone with financial resources, no matter how large or small, you have the opportunity to express your compassion in tangible ways. God has entrusted you with money, in part, so that you can give generously to those in need.

Second, though Nelson’s point about economic capacity is a good one, I would add that God entrusts us with all sorts of capacities so that we might serve others. You may not have abundant financial resources, but you might be great at tutoring someone in English. Or you might be good at helping people learn practical skills that are essential for whole-life thriving. Or your strength might be in praying for the sick. Or it could be mentoring younger business leaders. Or you might give blood to help folks in the hospital. As you think about how to respond to Jesus’s message in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, be sure to consider all the capacities God has entrusted to you.


What has God entrusted to you that you can use to serve people in need?

What helps you to steward well the gifts of God?

What challenges do you face that make it difficult for you to serve others in a generous way?


Ask the Lord to show you which gifts of his you can use to care for others who are in need. Then, see how you can use one or more of these gifts in the next couple of weeks.


Lord Jesus, today I’m struck by the generosity of the Samaritan. Truly, he was able to be generous because he had a decent financial capacity. Thank you for how he models both compassion and capacity in service to others.

Lord, help me to be like the Samaritan. Help me to be generous with all of the gifts you have entrusted to me. Show me what I can do to help folks in need, to serve victims of injustice, to use my capacities to show your love to others.

May I do it all in your name and for your glory. Amen.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: 21st Century Samaritans

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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