The Good Samaritan and the Coronavirus

By Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner
Professor of Pastoral Care and Pastoral Theology, Perkins School of Theology, SMU

(Note: This blog includes a Fitness Journal for Confinement at the bottom, which you are invited to print and complete for yourself during this time.)

When I was a young girl at Madison Heights Methodist Church in Memphis, my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Proudfit, taught me that a parable was a story with a hidden meaning. Ever since then, I search for that hidden meaning or the mystery of each parable I read.

The parable of the Good Samaritan in a Lukan parable (Luke 10:27ff) contains the mystery of the interconnection of three loves. [You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.] Love of God and love of neighbor alone can truncate the holy triad without the inclusion of love of self. All three  are embedded in the commandment uttered by Jesus to a lawyer trying to trick him.

What would the Good Samaritan do in today’s pandemic? Robbers had taken a man’s health away much like a virus would. They robbed him of his vitality and left him for half-dead. Practicing extreme social distancing, the rabbis went much more than six to nine feet away from the wounded traveler who could possibly contaminate them. The Good Samaritan comes, stops and, without gloves or mask, lifts the man onto an animal. Knowing that this sick individual needed specific care, the Good Samaritan takes him to an inn and hands the ill person over to an innkeeper.

Perhaps the rabbis were the wisest in this scenario. Perhaps we caregivers are not called to be the Good Samaritan. An accomplished graduate of Perkins, Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) Supervisor Precious (Willacin) Gholston spoke in my Caring Congregation class last week. She recounted her vocational struggle while at Perkins. She did not want to carry the load and responsibility like the Good Samaritan, always stopping where there was a need. I reminded her that she was not the Good Samaritan. She credits this remark with freeing her to find her vocation. She is now manager of CPE programs at Methodist Health System, Dallas, and watches over the spiritual care of many people. She is just trying to follow in the footsteps of the Good Samaritan, footprints neither she nor I will ever fill. But what a journey!

The Samaritan spent a night at the inn. Most likely the Samaritan knew there would be someone else on the journey to Jericho whose health would be stolen from her. There would be someone whose vigor and strength were plundered. In my faith imagination, I would like to imagine the Samaritan had a leisurely breakfast outside the stucco inn on the patio following a restorative night’s sleep. Then the Samaritan offered to come back, check on the ill guest and repay the innkeeper. This is the story of loving yourself enough to pace yourself although love of neighbor and love of God have always been the most prominent features of this parable. Love of self is equally evident if you search for a hidden meaning.

How do I follow this act as a pastoral caregiver? What would the Good Samaritan do in this pandemic?

The importance of the Incarnation, the doctrine and belief that Jesus lived among us, touched people, healed people and interacted in the physical realm with women and men, will become increasingly evident as we remain isolated from one another during this pandemic. Now the physical interaction with people that Jesus demonstrated – and the hands-on lifting that the Good Samaritan probably used to get the wounded person on a donkey – are temporarily suspended from our ministries. We pastors have anointed with oil, held the hands of the dying, baptized with water and washed the feet of others. We have held the host in our hand, broken bread and given it to those partaking in Holy Communion.  We pastoral counselors are used to meeting with counselees, watching for physical signs of the “presenting problem,” paying attention to eye contact and posture, decoding the “scripting” (where family members sit in family counseling). Now that is taken away, in part, although social media has made certain observations possible.

May we never forget the significance of God with us, in the flesh, as one who physically mingled and ate with those around him. When you are examined for ordination, tell of this experience of “staying in place” and your heightened understanding of the importance of the Incarnation.

This pandemic is a critical event. A crisis is a response to a critical event. You can choose, in part, how you respond. I assure you that this will be one of the most memorable learning experiences you will have in your theological training. Lean into it. You are not alone. If your candle of hope starts to flicker or diminish in this dimness we are experiencing, let the community that surrounds you – even if it is online through Zoom – hold that candle of hope for you.

The more I try to understand a parable, the more I realize that I cannot plummet its depth. However, this I do know: The Good Samaritan, in whose footsteps I try to follow – stumbling sometimes, for sure – took care of himself, took care of herself. To love ourselves and care for ourselves was not a suggestion in Jesus’ response to the lawyer. It was a mandate, a commandment.

In closing, I offer you a protocol that will help you through each day of the pandemic. Remember to rest and restore yourself “at the inn.”



Fitness Journal for Confinement

Name _______________________

Date  _______________________


  1. What do I need to let go of or relinquish? What burden do I need to release to God?
  2. In this space (after letting go), what is the Holy Spirit trying to give me, a child of God?


Bi-weekly entries (make an entry in the middle of the week and at the end of the week)

Daily entries (feel free to make daily entries during this time of home confinement)

Physical exercise (Two hours per week minimum is recommended.) How much exercise are you getting? Daily? Weekly? What kind of exercise?

Nutrition (This includes dietary changes and accomplishments as well as hydration, drinking 5-6 glasses of water per day.) Since your last entry, how much water have you drunk daily, on average? Any positive dietary changes (for example, more fiber, more vegetables, vitamins and fruit)? Be specific.

Play or leisure (Two hours per week minimum.) How much, and what?

Rest How much sleep do you need each night? Have you made progress in allowing for this amount? Since your last entry, how much sleep have you averaged each night? 

Time alone Were you able to spend time alone since your last entry? How much do you need? Did you allow for this? Are you nurturing the artist within? The inner child? Watch the Disney movie “The Kid” to see the inner child of the protagonist. (Note: Every person has an artistic capacity, often expressed as the “artist within.”)

Biblical and theological insights that arose during the week or the day.