I wonder how many of you have been paying attention to the news broadcasts coming from the UK over the last few weeks. On TV, in newspapers, on news websites, on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites, there has been story after story of hate crimes happening in this country.
You can over hear conversations in the pubs and coffee shops, people talking about the events that have taken place over the past few weeks.
In the short time since the referendum to leave the EU, the police have stated that compared to the figures from this time last year, reports of hate crime, racism and xenophobia have increased by 42%.
Ethnic minorities and immigrants have increasingly become targets for racial abuse.
Hate letters, graffiti of homes and businesses, comments at work and on the streets, physical attacks, arson, destruction of property, examples of all these can be found in most papers and news websites.
It feels to me that our country is falling apart. Because this isn’t the Britain I know.
And I think our current situation in this country makes today’s gospel all the more important.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is up their with our best know, well loved parables. And because it is one that we know so well, we are in danger of missing the point.
We have a lawyer. He knows and lives by the law. So we may be surprised when he asks Jesus ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ because he already knows the correct answer, and so Jesus replies, ‘you know the law, tell me yourself.’
The lawyer replies by quoting the law. ‘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.’
But quickly presses on, ‘But who is my neighbour?’
Now things get tricky, because tradition requires the answer to be ‘other Jews’, and if that is the case then the gospel becomes redundant. However if Jesus answered ‘everyone, regardless of any difference you can come up with’ he would have become as self-convicted heretic.
And so Jesus tells a parables.
The setting for the parable is the narrow, rocky road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A well know danger hot spot with a reputation for muggings and murders. And there is no surprise for the crowd when they hear a mugging has taken place.
Now we don’t know much about the victim, other than he was robbed, stripped, and beaten. We do not know his race or religion or social standing, we don’t know his political views or even if he was a good person. All we know is that he was vulnerable and left for dead.
We know more about the passers-by than about the man himself.
The first was a priest. The most knowledgeable in society about the law. And he knew too well that the law forbids him from touching a dead body. Doing so would have made him unclean and he would have lost his role in the Temple. He is a strict follower of the does and don’ts of the law and this was a definite don’t. He may have felt compassion but his role and security meant more than acting on behalf of this man. So the priest crossed the road and kept on travelling.
The second passer by was a Levite. Now the Levite didn’t have quite as many restrictions on him as the Priest did. And he could have given aid without risking any legal ramifications. But he doesn’t. Maybe he didn’t want to risk falling to the same fate or possibly the injured man’s lack of identity got the Levite thinking that this man is not his neighbour, why then should he help?
We don’t know why, but the Levite too crossed the road, and passed by on the other side.
Then comes the Samaritan. We know the Samaritans where not favoured people. Actually they were considered less the scum in society. Long running hostility and hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans put the Samaritans at the very bottom of the pile.
Prayers were often offered in the synagogues against the Samaritans praying that they would not take part in the eternal life promised. There has to be a significant amount of hated there if you’re praying for a people to go to hell.
But this Samaritan goes above and beyond to help this nameless man. Being moved with pity, he treated and wrapped up his wounds. Put him on his own animal, took him to an inn and paid for all the bills until the man was well enough to leave.
Coming to the end of his story, Jesus returns to the lawyer and asks him to identify the neighbour. Who was the neighbour in this story?
The lawyer can’t bring himself to say the word Samaritan, and so replied, ‘the one who showed him mercy’.
Now one of the misconceptions of this parable is that it’s about being nice and good to each other. Just another one of Jesus’ nice stories.
But this is not a parable about niceness. This is about how we are to respond to the world around us and to the law.
‘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.’
There is a different between knowing the right thing, and doing the right thing. And although the lawyer is being condescending in his questioning, Jesus pushes him to reach the conclusion that to claim to love ones neighbour and yet do nothing when they are in need is hypocritical. That a love which has no action is not love. That love needs to have action in the world for it to mean anything.
Who is your neighbour?
This is a question we are being asked over and over again, as individuals, in our communities, in the media and in politics, and it’s a question that will keep being asked as our politicians and our nations find our way forward.
This parable is so important to understand and live out. It is through this parable with its summery of the law where we can learn and relearn what it means to be children of God. And from what I see in the media around me, we’re not doing a very good job of being neighbours.
The challenge presented here is hard to hear, and even harder to live out – but, there is no greater thing, then to love God and to love our neighbour.
‘Who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’
The lawyer replied ‘The one who showed him mercy’. Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’