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  • Steve Auth

Love Can Transform

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Good Samaritan, 1633.
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Good Samaritan, 1633.

The final painting we reflected on was Rembrandt’s great 17th century masterpiece, titled as the others “The Good Samaritan.” Rembrandt here focuses on an entirely different moment, call it “the morning after.” Sometimes even when we love big-- when we go large-- we fail. We don’t follow through. We don’t implement as planned. We get distracted, blown off course. Rembrandt must have thought long about this, and gave us this painting as his response. Here, the Samaritan is finishing the job, bringing the beaten traveler to a refuge of safety, an inn, where he can be treated and healed. He opens his purse, and gives the innkeeper the funds to treat the man, with a promise of more if needed. For Rembrandt, this story was not simply about a “feel good” moment on the highway, throwing a few crumbs to the needy on the way to a big meeting. It was about the follow through, the giving of time and treasure that was necessary to truly see the now beloved Jewish man on a path to healing.

As always with Rembrandt, there seems to be multiple story lines going on at once in a single composition. Another group of stories we focused on was the transformative impact of love, the ripples it sends out that cause it to multiply itself. Spend a few moments with each of the figures in this scene….

There’s the young man looking out the window of the inn, transfixed by the craziness of what he is seeing: a fellow Samaritan who’s helped a member of a rival tribe, to the point of going out of his way to bring him to the inn and pay for his care. The young man is taking it in, and perhaps himself resolving to do the same next time. The valet, so impressed by the witness of the Samaritan, finds himself, a la Delacroix, now also immersed in the mission, lifting the sick man to his shoulders to bring him into the safety of the inn. The boy from the barn, charged with handling the horse, seems particularly attentive to doing his part as lovingly and correctly as he can, trying to follow the example of the Good Samaritan before him. The innkeeper, who is depicted here not diffident or transactional, but thoughtfully engaged with the Samaritan on the task at hand and the great charge he’s now been given. Dare I say the charge to love?

And of course, there is the former enemy himself, the Jewish traveler. Still groggy and clinging to life, it’s hard to get much of a read on him. But Rembrandt gives us a hint. Of all the figures in the scene, it is the beaten man upon whom the light shines. Hours ago, he was in darkness, approaching death. Now, he is coming back to life. Transformed.

When we love like this, when we love like Christ, we can transform the beloved from enemy to friend, from darkness to light. And we can transform others around us, who witness, perhaps accidentally, an act of pure love, and become inspired in some small way perhaps to repeat it.

Still, there is one other person transformed here—ourselves. Look carefully at how energized and intent the Samaritan seems to be as he explains what the injured man needs by way of care. He is all in. He is no longer alone. He is no longer fearful, or vulnerable, or small. He is both tender and brave, gentle and ferociously strong. In a very real way, he’s become more like his Creator. He has become Love.


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