THE GOOD SAMARITAN – WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?
A Sermon preached by Canon Gary Philbrick on Trinity 4, Sunday, July 14th, at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Uniting Church, on ‘Rural Mission Sunday’ and ‘Sea Sunday’
Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37
If you were in a really, really difficult situation, who would be the last person you’d expect to help you? Just ponder for a moment. Who would be the last person you’d expect to help you? [Pause].
That person, Jesus says, is your neighbour!
And that about sums up the parable we call ‘The Good Samaritan’.
This is such a familiar parable, one we’ve probably all known since primary school, that it’s very difficult for us to imagine the impact it would have had on its first hearers.
But we don’t always take note of the context, the topping and tailing of the parable. Why did Jesus tell it on this occasion? Because, I bet he told his stories more than once, even though they are usually only recorded once in the Gospels. Why did he tell it on this particular occasion?
Firstly, the lawyer wanted to ‘test Jesus’. He’s already in an adversarial situation. ‘‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’’ [Lk 10:25f.]. The lawyer, of course, knows the law, so he can reply, using the formula derived from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6 [:5] and the law of neighbour love in Leviticus 19 [:18, See Green, ‘The Gospel of Luke’, p. 428], using what Jesus himself in Matthew 22 [:34-40] describes as the Great Commandments: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself’ [Lk 10:27]. Had the lawyer simply accepted that, perhaps Jesus would have told the Parable of the Good Samaritan! But the lawyer didn’t want to lose face, he wanted to justify himself – so he asked ‘And who is my neighbour?’ [V. 29], and so the parable is told. ‘And who is my neighbour?’
But note the question Jesus asks at the end of the parable: ‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? [V. 36].
The lawyer asked ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus asked ‘Which of these …was a neighbour?’ Jesus turns the question around, and gives it a significantly different meaning for the lawyer and for us.
The lawyer was wanting to know whom he should regard as a neighbour; what sorts of people should he regard as a neighbour? To whom did he have an obligation under the law? Who were the ‘in’ people to whom he had a duty, and who were the ‘out’ people, whom he could ignore? Jesus reply turns that around: to whom should the lawyer be a neighbour? ‘Don’t worry who your neighbour is,’ Jesus seems to be saying. ‘Just learn how to be a neighbour and you’ll discover who your neighbours are’ [For some thoughts on this, see ‘Reconciliation’, Muthuraj Swamy, pp. 93ff].
If we could learn to be neighbours to those around, the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’, would fall away.
Or to put it another way: if you were in a really, really difficult situation, who would be the last person you’d expect to help youThat person, Jesus says, is your neighbour!
It’s Rural Mission Sunday, a day of prayer and reflection on the particular ministry and gifts of the Rural Church. How do we become neighbours to all of those living in our small towns and villages? Who are the people we ignore in our communities, often the ones who are in most need of a neighbour?
And today is Sea Sunday? How do we become neighbours to all of those whose work is on the seas, providing us with many of the things we need and want as they are imported by sea?
I thought one way of reflecting on these issues would be through some images, which are on the sheet sheet HERE. You might like to have a look at them, and either think about them on your own, or chat with a neighbour – what do you see in the images? Which appeal to you, or don’t appeal? What do they have to say about being a neighbour?
I’ll end with an anonymous poem, which you can also read on the sheet with the link above:
Good Samaritan Poem: On the Road to Jericho
We invested in goods to sell in the trade city of Jericho
and I walked the long journey with my loaded donkey.
I stopped that last night at an inn
poised on the edge of Jericho’s wilderness valley.
The neighbours at my table did not look promising;
holy men who carried scrolls not knives,
shabby companions on this last stretch
where you need someone who will stand firm beside you,
someone good for a fight.
That next morning I left the inn alone,
the dawn just crowning;
leaving the door open in my haste,
the innkeeper slammed it as she hissed after me,
“Born in a barn, were you?”
In half-darkness I led my donkey down the steep road.
It was mid-morning when it happened.
I heard them before I saw them,
the six bandits clattering down the rocks.
Enough time for me to assess the situation, ‘grim’,
to muster my courage and grab my knife.
‘Give us what you have’, they yelled,
which only made me smile,
picturing my sons, and me telling them,
‘They asked for your inheritance, so I gave it to them’.
And so I fought, but the odds were against me.
They broke my arms, and beat me
and took everything, even my clothes,
and left me on the side of the road,
listening to the sound of our savings being led away.
I drifted in and out as the pain overpowered me,
but I knew that help was on its way.
Those holy men were on the road behind me,
an hour or two at most and I would be saved.
I woke to see that priest’s heels walking away.
My voice also deserted me, too dry to call for help.
The vultures arrived at the same time as the levite,
I was watching them trace lazy circles in the cloudless blue
as he circled wide around me,
the blood and flies too unclean for his hands, no doubt.
I lay baking in the hot son, waiting for death.
A man on a donkey appeared on the road from Jericho.
A foreigner, he greeted me with the words, ‘Friend, I’ll help you’.
He put me on his donkey, no mean feat with my broken arms,
and took me to the inn I’d left that morning.
The innkeeper shook her head as she looked from my wounds to my face,
‘Ah, the man born in a barn’.
They tended to me day and night,
and now weeks later I still sit here mending, on the Samaritan’s tab.
Last night the holy men, the priest and levite,
were neighbours at my table as they took their homeward journey.
They would not meet my eye, which is not surprising.
I do not know whether they noticed that I could not meet theirs.
I have no bitterness at what they did not do,
instead my mind is haunted by what might have been.
Had they set out first, and I came upon one of them, broken and bleeding,
would I have unloaded my donkey, left my fortune by the road
and carried them to safety?
Or would I have minded my own business?
I received mercy, but would I have given it?
Each day, I am forever on that wilderness road.