St Francis, Terriers - Trinity 7 (10.07.2016)

Clare Hayns

Remember the programme 'Family Fortunes' with Bob Monkhouse in the 1980's? They would survey 100 people for the answer to a question and you had to guess the top answer? I bet that if you went out to the streets of High Wycombe and ask the shoppers if they know any stories from the bible then I think the parable of the Good Samaritan might well be one of the top three.

We all know the story so well. A man got robbed and was left for dead, a priest and a Levite passed him by, and a Samaritan stopped and helped. The Samaritan, showing mercy, exemplified neighbourliness. We should do likewise. Do this. Draw close. Show mercy. Extend kindness. Live out our faith in hands-on care for other people. Phrases from it are in our lexicon. We are a Good Samaritan when we help someone in need. We use the term' to walk on the other side' to describe those who ignore the needs of others. The danger though is that familiarity can fail to shock us.

Amy-Jill Levine suggests that religion is meant "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." She goes on to argue that we would do well to think of the parables of Jesus as doing this afflicting. "Therefore, if we hear a parable and think, 'I really like that' or, worse, fail to take any challenge, we are not listening well enough." Whenever I've preached on this passage before I've focussed on it as a morality story - about how we are challenged to be more like the Samaritan when we come into contact with those around us who need support. Every day on our walk round the meadows we meet a homeless man called Dave. Sometimes we chat for a while, sometimes I'm in a rush and wish I could take a detour, and other times we've helped him out with food and a problem he has. As I read this parable I find it easy to locate myself in the Priest and the Levite - we're busy, there's so much going on, we can't be expected to help everyone we come across. I can also at times locate myself in place of the Samaritan as I occasionally reach out and help those in need.

But this week as I read the story again and mulled it over what struck me, what afflicted me, was whether we might in fact have got it wrong. Perhaps the point of the story isn't that we are to imagine ourselves as the Samaritan and use him as the example, because the point of it is that the Samaritan isn't us at all. When Jesus told this story the hatred between Jews and Samaritans was well known and deeply rooted. The two groups disagreed about everything that mattered - how to worship God, how to interpret the Scriptures, where to worship - They practiced their faith in separate temples, read different versions of the Torah, and avoided social contact with each other whenever possible. The Samaritan was the other, the enemy, the heretical outcast. It's hard for us to imagine a comparison in our liberal culture but the scandal and outrage at the heart of this passage is that this Samaritan was the very last person any Jewish person would want to save their life and be there at their moment of need.

I've tried to come up with some comparables and so hope I don't offend but it's rather like an Israeli Jewish man is robbed and a Good Hamas member saves his life; or an Anti LGBT protestor is robbed and a transgender woman saves her life; a BNP member is robbed and a black teenager draws near. We are in a time where we see great divisions in our society and these seem to be getting wider and deeper and angrier. Many of us will have seen those divisions in our communities and even perhaps in our own families. The differences between the Jews and Samaritan's in Jesus' day were not easily negotiated; each was fully convinced that the other was wrong. So what Jesus did when he deemed the Samaritan "good" was radical and risky; it stunned his Jewish listeners. He was asking them to imagine a different kind of kingdom. He was inviting them to consider the possibility that a person might add up to more than the sum of her political, racial, cultural, and economic identities. He was challenging then to see that God's grace and love could be shown through the most unlikely people.

Perhaps what we need to do now is not locate ourselves in the role of the Levite, the Priest or the Samaritan but in fact to first locate ourselves in the ditch, in the broken man at the side of the road who needs a neighbour. Why? Because all divisions and tribalism, 'us' and 'them' falls away on the roadside. Imagine a time when you've been in need. Not necessarily in a literal ditch but in a crisis. Broken down in a country lane. In a hospital after a nasty accident. Lost in a foreign country with a passport stolen. Are there people who we would really baulk at if they came to our aid? Probably not because when you're lying bloody in a ditch, what matters is not whose help you'd prefer, whose way of practicing Christianity you like best, whose politics you agree with. What matters is whether or not anyone will stop to help. 'Who is my neighbour?' the lawyer asks. 'The one who showed mercy' to another human being in need. The one who scandalizes you with compassion. Your neighbour is the one who upends all your prejudices and shocks you with a fresh face of God.

In a moment you will be invited up to the altar for the time of anointing and healing. As we do so we can remember the wounded man at the side of road who is seen by the Samaritan, who we hear 'went to him, bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them'. As we do so we can pray for healing and wholeness, but we can also pray that we would be people who are prepared to see the good in those we don't expect to. To be prepared to be people who cross over barriers of culture, class and all that divides us. We don't hear the end of the story for the man in the ditch but we can imagine that once he had been healed and was made strong again that he reached out in need to those he came across. 'Go and do likewise' the lawyer is told. Once we recognise our own need, our own vulnerability, once we can imagine ourselves in the ditch relying on someone different to us, then we too can 'do likewise' and reach out in love to help those in need of compassion.