Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Trinity
10th Jul 2016
Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Trinity Year C
The Good Samaritan
“Who is my neighbour?’
The Parables of Jesus are the way he speaks difficult messages to us while recognizing our humanity and our right to moral choice. We mistake the Bible if we think it forms a story book, or even a manual of spiritual or pious instruction, which we may regard as ephemeral. As a child I thought of the whole Bible as an exotic and glorious story book full of wonderful tales and holding for me a kind of wonder which I could not find in any other book. I took all my reading from a Children’s Bible which was richly illustrated. I marvelled at the way in which Samson brought down the walls of the Temple, and of how David slew Goliath – much better for me than ‘Batman and Robin’, or even ‘Thunderbirds’. I sang the children’s assembly hymn by Charles Wesley :
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
But the Christian Gospels do not really portray a Jesus who is ‘meek and mild’. And little children grow up and the parables of Jesus may speak to the adult mind in all their force. The teaching of Jesus communicates a Gospel which is challenging at the deepest levels of our being. No longer meek (‘piously gentle; submissive, inclined to submit tamely…’ OE Dictionary) but containing commands which find us wanting and which challenge us. They ask questions of our own self-contained worlds; personal worlds which are so often de-sensitivised to the needs of others.
However, the parables as teaching stories are also kind, because these narratives admit the great gap that exists between the desire to do good and the will to put it into practice, in other words, the parables admit human frailty. The stories attempt simply to tell it like it is but in a form which is as we say, ‘user friendly’. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is typical in this respect. Its teaching confronts the listener with the most uncomfortable truth of all as it holds up a mirror to our own self - and the danger of our acquiring layers of indifference to those outside the intimate sphere of our close regard. Yet at the same time this is a parable about ordinary human kindness.
The Road from Jerusalem to Jericho is seventeen miles long, but during that journey the road takes you 3,600 feet down. At the time of Jesus it would have been a treacherous journey, because for centuries roads carrying people carrying valuables of all kinds were prone to attack by bandits. This was why people travelled in large, well defended groups. But the Samaritan travelled alone and unfortunately he paid the price. He was robbed, beaten and left for dead.
In this church we have to regard the question “Who is my neighbour?” as absolutely appropriate for our life together. The Parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to a realization of one another not simply as signed up members of a religious organisation but as a living body of people who depend and rely upon one another’s generosity and care. If we as Holy Cross Church are not to have this care for one another, how can we show those who live around and beyond this church the love of God made manifest in us? A kind of moral epiphany is being called for, a new awakenness:
This is the true joy of life: being used for a purpose, recognized by yourself as a mighty one, and being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw
Yes, the Good Samaritan rises out of the ordinary, and in an extraordinary showing or epiphany of practical and no-nonsense love, he has revealed the bleakness of the Priest and Levite and their religious indifference to the manifest suffering and pain of their neighbour who lies bleeding. They are the politically correct of their day and don’t help because they refuse any kind of human involvement and the risk of ‘losing’ themselves? They lack imagination. If Jerusalem was the religious capital of the nation, then Jericho must stand for a place of radical action. The journey which has taken the priest and Levite and Samaritan down by 3,600 feet has also been the journey upon which the radical demands made to us to recognize the neighbour in our midst and to respond to him is being surely made.
How are we to respond? I do not subscribe to the view that our reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan sets a gulf between the religious Jews and the Samaritan outsider. Rather it is there to provoke us into thought and then into action. For Christians, the transforming power of disinterested but active love must emerge not just out of a will to do good, but as a response to the God we experience in the heart of our Christian worship, out of our prayer…
In all this is the being of Christ himself. This very Christ, as he is telling the great parable of the Good Samaritan, is Himself laying down his life for us. . He is going on ahead, and leading us into a profound response to the question “Who is my Neighbour?” – a question which is being asked of us as the very litmus test of our claim to be Christian at all.
Down stairs in the Crypt there are people who, like the man on the road to Jericho, lie bleeding. At one of the Trust’s Friday night’s ‘Open Mic’ evenings a woman who was suffering and crying and telling me of her terrible troubles could nonetheless then get up, take the microphone and sing a beautiful and musical ballad for the others. She had benefitted from the company she had been keeping, a healing company of fellow travellers who had been Samaritans. God help us in all these things, and may God move us toward more loving actions and may He, the giver and healer of all things, bless them. Amen.