There are many ugly and painful things in the world that we want to shield children from. While it’s appropriate to discuss difficult events with children in a developmentally appropriate way, having them look away from injustice implies that they cannot respond to it and affect change. But we can sow the seeds of empathy and action in children. By reading and discussing Bible stories like the parable of the good Samaritan with children, we can help them see they can, with God’s help, care for those who are suffering. In this lesson, children will explore this quintessential parable by noticing how each of the characters responds when their neighbor is in trouble. Then they will discuss ways they can reflect the good Samaritan’s spirit by noticing and responding to those around them who need help.
Begin your time with the children by placing them in pairs. Ask the members of each pair to sit facing one another. Then ask them to remain in this position silently looking into one another’s eyes until you tell them to stop. Set a timer for 1-2 minutes. When the timer goes off, tell the children they can relax. Have them come back together as a group to discuss the experience. Ask them to share what it felt like to simply stare at another person without being able to speak? Did they want to look away or were they comfortable looking into someone’s eyes without looking away? What did they notice about the other person while they were staring at them? Note that it can be challenging to really look at someone or to have someone really look at you. We’re not used to carefully looking at other people. However, when we focus intently on someone or something we become more connected.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Luke 10:25-37. Explain that the story they are going to hear is a parable. Explain that parables were stories that Jesus told to help teach people important ideas. These stories offer lessons about how God calls us to live. They are particularly amazing stories because they often contain many lessons and we notice different messages each time we read them. The parable the children will be hearing is one that they will likely encounter again and again throughout their lives. It is often called the parable of the good Samaritan because it is about a man from the nation of Samaria who responds to someone in need. As you are reading the story, encourage the children to notice what each of the characters does when they encounter the man who is injured.
Read aloud Luke 10:25-37. After reading, ask the children to recount what happens to the man who is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. Have them wonder what the man’s experience must have been like. How did he feel? What was he thinking? Then, ask them to share how each of the three men who come upon the injured man responds. Where does each man look? What does each man do when he discovers the wounded man? Focus on the Samaritan. How is his response different? What does he do when he notices the injured man? Note that the first two men look away when they discover the man who has been robbed. They walk around him and focus instead on the journey ahead. The Samaritan sees him, notices his wounds, and uses his own resources to care for him. Have the children wonder what the Samaritan’s experience must have been like. What must he have initially thought when he saw the man on the side of the road? Why did he decide to stop and care for him? What risks was he taking by doing so? How might his actions have affected the rest of his trip?
Finally, return to the first part of the reading where Jesus shares what people must do to “inherit eternal life.” In this part of the reading, it is noted that we “shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” Ask the children to wonder how the Samaritan’s actions reflect Jesus’ call.
Relating the passage to our lives
Provide the children with the opportunity to connect the parable to their own lives. Note that they are unlikely to come upon someone on the side of the road who has been robbed and hurt. However, they do encounter people and situations where people need help. The people may need physical help or they may need comfort. They may be injured or they may need assistance for other reasons. Ask the children to think of times when they have noticed someone in need. Because the parable focuses on someone with physical injuries, children may only think of times when someone was hurt. Encourage them to think beyond these situations to instances where people are without basic needs, are emotionally injured, or are being treated unjustly. As they share examples, ask them how they or other people responded to the situation. Encourage them to not only share times that they acted as the Samaritan did, but also times when they weren’t sure what to do or they looked away. Acknowledge how challenging it can be to respond like the Samaritan.
If time allows, role-play some situations where children might have choices to make like those in the parable. Choose scenarios that are likely to play out in the lives of your specific group of children (bullying, a friend teasing someone who is different, having to choose between something that is fun and helping someone, etc.). After each role-play, talk about what it was like to play each part. Focus the discussion on the experience rather than evaluating each person’s actions. Explain that Jesus’ call to “love neighbor” is very challenging, but with God’s help we can become more and more like the Samaritan.
Conclude your time together by offering a prayer. Ask God to help us be courageous and bold when we see someone in need.