Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
14th Jul 2019
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity Year C
The Good Samaritan
“…And who is my neighbour…?’
The Parables of Jesus illustrate in a pictorial way the difficult and challenging messages he is teaching whilst recognizing our humanity and the right to moral choice. We mistake the Bible if we think it forms just a story book, or even a manual of spiritual instruction, though it can be both. 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,
The Christian Gospels do not portray a Jesus who is ‘meek and mild’. 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. They ask questions of our own self-contained worlds; personal worlds which are so often de-sensitivised to the needs of others. “The difficult idea that someone other than myself is real” is what Iris Murdoch observed. However, the parables as teaching stories are also kind, because they 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 Parable of the Good Samaritan is typical in this respect. Its teaching confronts the listener with the danger of our indifference to those outside our neat and safe sympathies.
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 loaded with valuables 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 central for our Christian calling. The Parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to a realization of one another not simply as signed up members of a religious organization but as a living body of people who depend and rely upon one another’s generosity and care and who extend that care outwards. This was a model for life in the early church. Each called to fulfil a co-creative potential. In this context, the stranger may come upon us to surprise us and to draw us out of ourselves. 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
The Good Samaritan rises out of the ordinary, and in an extraordinary showing 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 one 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. They lack heart. If Jerusalem was the religious capital of the nation, then Jericho must stand for a place of radical action.
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. Above all to realize our co-creative potential. For Christians, the transforming power of disinterested and active love must emerge not just out of a will to do good, but as a response to the God we experience as the ‘mover and shaker’ of our own complacency.
Our Lord Jesus, as he is telling the great parable of the Good Samaritan, is Himself ready to lay 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. And it demands our daily and active and prayerful response.
Our parish is set in the heart of King’s Cross and is one of the most challenging in the Church of England because of its place near the great railways stations of London and at the centre of the maximum commuter foot fall. Because of this there is begging on a much larger scale and drug taking which is reaching phenomenal proportions. The high rise in the number of homeless with the recourse to self-destruction through drugs and prostitution is rife. Many people in this parish and across London are found in the gutter and lie bleeding. Their plight, however it presents itself as intractable, is nonetheless one which must be heeded by our government, our society and by the Church rather than as an inevitable part of lower life in the big metropolis. But this movement must begin with ourselves, and with the ever-present and all important question which Jesus is putting to you this Sunday -
“And who is your neighbour?” A question which will always in Christ invite a committed response.