Sermon from Sunday 10 July

Who is our neighbour?


Reading(s): Luke: 10:25-37. This sermon was given by Sally Kerson at St. Mark and All Saints.

It’s certainly been an interesting week regarding the activities of our elected government and because of that the news has somewhat been diverted away from worldly events to those a bit closer to home, especially as the drama unfolded on Boris Johnson. What you have not heard too much about over the months (or perhaps you are more observant than I am on legal matters) is the part lawyers have been playing in demanding fairness from the government, certainly in respect of some of the major issues that have hit the headlines recently. Today in our gospel reading the person who wanted an answer to his question is a lawyer and he asks Jesus ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life’ and Jesus asks him what does the law say? By that he is referring to the two books from the OT namely Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The lawyer then quotes the two great commandants saying that we must love God with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves, but the lawyer wants to know who his neighbour is? Then Jesus tells the parable which we know as ‘The Good Samaritan’. The word Samaritan has passed into the English language to mean the kindness of a stranger. It was only Monday after the shootings in Chicago at an American Independence Day parade which left 6 people dead and many others inured that I read a story of someone who had managed to run away from the gun fire and had hidden by a car with his children and then was taken into an apartment for safety by what he referred to ‘good Samaritans’. Also we all should know about the charity called the ‘Samaritans’ who are dedicated to reducing feelings of isolation and disconnection that can lead to suicide, they do this by listening to people who contact them by phone. The challenge as to who is our neighbour was no easier for those who heard Jesus speak the words then than it is for us today, for centuries later, we continue asking similar questions. Does charity need to start at home? Should we reach out to help people across the world? Do we need to help refugees? Maybe we shouldn’t help others until we’ve dealt with our own house. Yes, still today, we keep asking, “Who is my neighbour?”

Now to fully understand the significance of Jesus’s parable, we must understand the historical context of the story. First, Jesus chose the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, which was a dangerous path in the time of Jesus. Robbers attacked travellers and often left people to die, so it was a terrifying journey to take. Perhaps it was the danger of the road itself that had something to do with the Priest and Levite continuing their way instead of stopping to help. Knowing the location, they may have thought the robbers were still around, that the man was dead, or that maybe he was faking it to try to trick them and rob them if they got too close. What is interesting is that Jesus chose three unique characters: the Samaritan, a priest, and a Levite. The Samaritan was quite a controversial figure among an audience of Jews who hated Samaritans. At this point in history, Samaritans were considered by Jews to be low caste because they didn’t obey Jewish laws and had intermarried with pagans. Even their land was considered unclean by the Jews, and they’d often take a longer route to avoid even entering Samaritan territory. And this hatred was mutual – the Samaritans hated the Jews, too, likely because of how they were treated. But Jesus pulls out these unlikely examples to deliver his message. Who is our neighbour? By using the Samaritan as an example, Jesus shows that there are no conditions to who is our neighbour. Look at the roles of the three men who came across the man left for dead along the road. First, the priest saw him, and he passed by on the other side of the road. He avoided even going close enough to get a good look. At that point in history, priests couldn’t touch anything unclean like a dead body or even blood. So, the priest stayed well away from this source of “uncleanliness.” Perhaps the Levite felt the same way because he too refused even to get close to this man. Either way, they make their choice, and hurry on, and the man is still lying hurt and in need. Their choice is made starker, by the important roles they hold. A priest and a Levite are the religious and moral leaders of their day. I once saw a beautifully illustrated children's version of this parable, and in that version, it is a Bishop and a Judge who walk by the injured man. Today it could be other people who do not stop, maybe a member of parliament, or a local councillor; maybe a doctor or a charity worker; anyway, a person in a position of trust and moral authority, who walks by on the other side. As sadly people in positions of trust and authority sometimes do, because it's always easier to talk about doing good, than it is to do it. But among everyone else, Jesus chooses a Samaritan to be the compassionate, helpful person who comes by and helps the half-dead man, who by the way was very likely to be a Jew. As I said before the Jews didn’t like the Samaritans, and the Samaritans felt the same way about the Jews, yet the good Samaritan not only stops, he cleans up the man, takes him to a nearby inn, continues to take care of him and then arranges more care when he has to leave. He didn’t consider that the man was likely a Jew or even think of whether they were enemies or friends. He stopped, he had pity on him, because when you think about it, it could have been him on the ground in desperate need. The story of the Good Samaritan beckons us to reach out beyond our own comfort to those who need our care and advocacy. It encourages us to look to our wider community to find how we can serve, then our church becomes the hands of God through small groups and ministries. We are called to honour the God-given humanity in each other. As human beings created in the image of God, we each have a responsibility to respect and care for one another and we should not ignore or reject the plight of a stranger. The Gospels describe how Jesus sent his disciples out to the ends of the earth, "to make disciples of all nations". At Pentecost the first miracle of the Holy Spirit was to give the Disciples the power to speak in the many languages of all the people there. And, St Paul confirmed in his famous words, "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus"

The result of this is a Christian Church that is today the largest and most diverse community in the entire world. A community that is real because it is based on sharing the most profound and important of things, a life defined by love and faith in Christ; not on belonging to a race or nationality or language or sex or age, and so a community uniquely open to all people to join.

But we deny that potential if, like the Priest and the Levite, we walk by on the other side from the troubles of our brothers and sisters both near and far, of every creed and colour and name.

We are not called to be the local do-gooder; we are just asked to use those opportunities that are open to us each day to show the love of Jesus in our community. We’re called to help even if the person doesn’t look like us, speak our language, or believe in our God. We’re called to help even if the person has snubbed us or hurt us, oh yes, I know that is a difficult one! Conflict, mistrust, and hate continue to exist today between groups of people. We still see prejudices and segregated neighbourhoods. People still disassociate with others based on all sorts of self-righteous criteria. However, as followers of Christ we are called to help those in need. At the very end of the parable, Jesus asks the lawyer which of the three men acted as a neighbour to the injured man. And, of course, the lawyer had to answer, “He who showed mercy on him.” The Samaritan. Then, Jesus tells the lawyer – and us – “Go and do likewise.” It’s not enough to read this story in the Bible, talk about how incredibly compassionate the Samaritan was, and the lessons we can learn from the parable. No, Jesus tells us to go and do likewise. Go extend compassion to everyone, even those people who are different or who don’t believe the way we do. Go take a chance and get involved in the lives of other people. Show mercy, no matter the risk or reward. Be willing to sacrifice and be prepared to take time out of your busy schedule to help.

Words from this morning’s hymns which we have just sung

Will you use the faith you've found
to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound
in you and you in me?

Go and do likewise!