We live very much in an age of celebrities, a world of reality TV, chat shows and phone ins, go to the web page to cast your vote or ask your question. At the staff gathering this week Noel remarked that today’s Gospel made him think of an introduction to a chat show. “Our guest today is well known to you all and needs no introduction, the Good Samaritan”. Those words together do not actually appear in the text, yet the phrase being a “good Samaritan” has passed into our culture and the concept is where the name of the Samaritans comes from.
We are so familiar with the parable that we are inclined to say “O yes, it means, as followers of Jesus, we are called to go to the aid of those we come across, who are in need, even those we would regard as our enemies”. Because of that I want to tease out a few different levels of this parable, which can perhaps enable us to engage with its challenges to us in new ways.
The lawyer asks Jesus the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” A strange question as, who inherits is a decision for the giver not the receiver. Jesus gets the lawyer to state what the law says, loving God with all your heart and soul, strength and mind and your neighbour as yourself. By the end of the passage we understand that by putting our love and care into action for our neighbour is the way in which we can love and serve God. We have come very much to emphasise the human personal aspect and to be less concerned with the God aspect. Loving God with our heart and soul, strength and mind is another level from the putting £10 in the Christian Aid envelope. Loving God with our heart and soul, strength and mind means that we need to pay attention, spend time and be in personal relationship with this God of ours. God, paying attention to him, worship both individual and joining with others is not just a hobby we can fit in when we have nothing else we want to do. For followers of Jesus our relationship with God makes demands on us. I came across this quote from William Willimon:
“We gather in church to be closer to God, but how do we like proximity to a God who loves enough not to pass by but lingers long enough among us to judge us and hold a higher standard of judgement against us than that by which we measure ourselves”
I take that to mean not a moralistic punishing God, but one who is gently nudging us on, wanting us to make time for our relationship with him. A loving God who is continually calling us to be our best selves, the me who shows something of Him. When each of us ask ourselves the question “Do I truly love or want to love God with my heart and soul, strength and mind?” It does challenge us.
By inviting us to love our fellow human beings God is inviting us to participate in his very life and being. In the course of our lives we are sometimes the one in the ditch and sometimes the helper the Samaritan. Events happen in our lives that are tragic and sad, accidents, illness, we can find ourselves feeling battered and without hope, left for dead. God is there with us in the ditch. Godʼs love and care can come to us through people, sometimes the most unexpected people. Sometimes we can be the one who is enabling, reaching out to someone, bringing back hope and life, where it had all seemed to have ebbed away and the situation lost. Sometimes we are called to be the innkeeper, caring for people along the way. Both the Samaritan and the innkeeper took care of the personʼs needs.
The good news, the Gospel, is about meeting peopleʼs needs. For most of us who enjoy a reasonable, comfortable life style recognizing and remembering what are the most important values and therefore needs in our life and staying true to them is not easy. We get distracted but at those ditch difficult times they come into sharp focus. The Gospel and our relationship with God can help us to see our deep needs, needs that perhaps we have been unaware of.
Martin Luther King Jr. often referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan. His ideas help to shed some new light on this familiar parable. He named three groups or philosophies found in the parable: The Robbers; the Way of the world and the Neighbour.
The Robbers, the Bandits are those whose attitude is : “What is yours is mine. And if you donʼt give it to me I’ll take it from you”. We might not be people who are mugging others, or defrauding them, but we also are more aware these days of how our standard of living that we feel we have a very reasonable right to, has adverse effects on those living in other parts of the world. For example our desire to have vegetables and fruit out of season provides a demand and market that results in people in their own countries having difficulty growing food for their own needs. Our western worldʼs fuel consumption and carbon emissions is all part of the reason the ice caps are melting and raising the sea level which is drowning some peoples lands.
There is no simple answer to this and it is complicated, but this should not let us be complacent about it. We are challenged to seek ways of changing this and be prepared as a nation and part of the western world to lower our standard of living.
Societies where there is oppression produce bandits. Societies which seek to bring dignity to all are less likely to produce bandits. The good news of the kingdom is about working towards a transformed society, one which has the welfare of not only our whole nation but the welfare of all in our world as its target.
Dr. Kingʼs second group is the Way of the World. We are all familiar with the phrase ‘well, that is the way things are and you canʼt do much about it.’ The priest and the Levite (Temple official) were being very cautious. This was a very dangerous road. Was this a trap? Were the bandits lying in wait ? Was the man already dead? Touching him would make them unclean and could cause “on the job” problems. They would be late and be letting people down. We can all get in touch with the fear. Think of yourself walking alone somewhere at night and someone coming up behind you? So many of us want to pass by on the other side and donʼt want to get involved in a situation, because apart from fear we also donʼt know what it might led to. Even the advice from the police is “If you see someone being attacked, donʼt get involved call 999”.
So one of the challenges this raises is how when we see and hear of situations that call for some response from us how do we risk getting involved and doing what we can. When we see it or hear it, how do we respond or is our stock answer “It is nothing to do with me, it is someone elseʼs responsibility, someone else will phone, someone else will stay with them until the ambulance comes. As followers of Jesus we are called to risk getting involved. We might feel the problems of poverty in our country and world are too big for us to get involved in. Yet God is crying out to us in our Sisters and Brothers in those situations, to do what we can.
Dr. Kingʼs third group is the Neighbour. The good neighbour in contrast to the robber knows that “What is mine is yours”. They understand that all humanity is linked and tied together. Neither predators nor passersby can be safe in a world where misery, famine, plague and hatred are the scourge of millions. Those who seek to bring in Godʼs love and justice live in the kingdom now, not in some distant day to come. For Dr. King the question of the passerby (what will happen to me if I help?) becomes for the neighbour “what will happen to the wounded stranger if I donʼt help?” In a quote from a sermon preached by him on April 4th 1967 he said.
"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring" (King, April 4, 1967).
Martin Luther King was assassinated because of his views and campaign for justice. He knew all about traveling down dangerous roads. Apart from his living his life in the kingdom now, those he inspired and encouraged have helped to lead to Barack Obamaʼs election as President, which would have been unimaginable in 1967.
As we travel this road this pilgrimage through life together, may God help us to encourage and inspire one another. May we in the words of the Paulʼs Epistle pray for each other that God may fill us with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. May we be filled with Godʼs grace in this and every Eucharist to receive his blessing and strength to work and pray to bring in the kingdom and to grow in loving him with our whole heart and soul, mind and strength.