Readings: Luke 10:25-37
A former Prime Minster famously said, though one of his spokesmen, “ We don’t do God.” That same spokesman, from this pulpit last year, continued his blast against the Christian faith. That said, the parable of the Good Samaritan, our Gospel for today, is one of the most quoted by politicians of all hues. Margaret Thatcher famously said that the Good Samaritan could only be the Good Samaritan because he was rich and could pay the bills. From the opposite perspective Hilary Benn used the parable when justifying the bombing of Syria. In the nineteenth century the abolitionists around Wilberforce ( with whom this church has a direct connection) used it in their campaign to abolish slavery. Wilberforce said, in this vein “ You can look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.” One of the great things about parables, and this one in particular, is that they can be read on many different levels. What Jesus is doing here is the Rabbinic teaching device of Halakha – I suppose what I am doing now is Halakha – the teasing out of Biblical texts and giving them contemporary interpreatation. As I understand it, the parable should be read on at least two levels – the immediate and the practical, and the theological meaning. Let’s look at both of them.
First, the immediate and the practical. This asks of the reader “ Who is my neighbour?” The is a particularly difficult question in 2019 London, as the answer most probably is “ I have no idea who my neighbour is, either to the left or to the right, above or below.” So let’s look at the story a bit closer to see if we can get any insights. The action of the good Samaritan is not about who I can do good to – or who can I give to – but is the opposite – from whom am I willing to accept help, assistance, and ministry? So, let’s spend a moment just focussing on that. Think now of the person you most dislike in this world-it may be an individual, or it may be a type – like preachers in a pulpit for example. When you have called this person or type to mind, now imagine yourself at absolutely rock bottom and destitute, desperate for help, and along comes the person you most despise in the world, and immediately gives you whatever you need. We call this method of interpreting Scripture using imagination the Ignatian method. How do you feel?
The message, like so much of the teaching of Jesus, is both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. What these teachings do, is to re-imagine the world through the expansion of the heart and the change in our head – this process is called metanoia in Greek, which simply means “ change of consciousness” and at bottom, this is what the Christian Gospel does. John Wesley preached about this all the time, and applied this conversion of the mind and heart to economics – he often exhorted his hearers to work and earn, to save, and to give – all at the same time. Another way of describing this is that each of us has moral agency – the capacity to do good and to be the good Samaritan, but only so after our mind has been renewed and our heart warmed. If this mis true for us as individuals, it is also true for us as community, especially when we read this parable and hear the words of Jesus” Go and do likewise.” This is a call to action. Jesus does not say go and form a focus group and have a chat about it. Go and Do Likewise. It’s with this in mind that your PCC have just produced our mission Action Plan 2019-20, where we focus, under God, on what we need to do in the year ahead. The document would be a fantasy document unless it is owned and understood by the community, especially in the sense that this is a call to corporate action, and we cannot achieve any of it unless we work together in realising our common goals and aspirations. When this is lacking, then nothing will be achieved except endless debate and bitter wrangling, as we can see from our public life right now. A house divided against itself falls. This is the immediate and practical implication of the question “ Who is my Neighbour.”
But ow let’s move to the deeper meaning a reflect on that. This is not simply a call to what is call moral agency – my individual freedom to act, but also a theological statement framed in unambiguously theological terms. If the Samaritan is the persona Christ- the person of Christ, now we understand what the Samaritan means when he says “ When I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” This is where the Christian community has a completely different imperative from social services. You could say that it is the job of the state to look after the broken and the wounded and those who fall by the wayside, and to some extent it may eb so. But what is different when the Christian community does this? The good Samaritan tells us – that the act of ministering to someone is always reciprocal. In the act of mistering to, I am ministered to, often in radically unexpected ways. For example, we have a focus right now on the persecution of Christians, a growing global phenomenon. This last week, the independent report on Christian persecution was made public. Here are some extracts - An estimated one-third of the world’s population suffers from religious persecution in some form, with 80% of them being Christians, it is claimed. Open Doors, which monitors Christian persecution around the world, has estimated that on average each month 345 Christians are killed for faith-related issues. The report says “Evidence suggests that acts of violence and other intimidation against Christians are becoming more widespread.” In parts of the Middle East and Africa, the vast scale of the violence and its perpetrators’ declared intent to eradicate the Christian community had led to several declarations that Christians are suffering a genocide, it said. So as part of our commitment to action, and to being ministered to, we have a deacon from one of the most persecuted Christian minorities on earth, and who, together with the Yezidis, of Iraq, have suffered genocide. But this is no one way street. We learn from each other, we minister to each other, we laugh together, and we weep together. Like the good Samaritan we are called to recognize and celebrate the Persona Christi in each other. In this, I am proud that this Parish may be showing the way to others, and that what we do today may be in some senses ground-breaking, but my hope and my prayer is that it will become normative as others see the possibilities open to them.
Who is my Neighbour? The good Samaritan encourages us on our way of ministry and being ministered to, and in this way living with soul. I hope it’s not too dramatic to say that we are engaged in a battle for the soul of post-modern, post-Imperial, post-everything Britain, however long that fragile entity will continue. My Muslim friends are very clear about that, and we can learn from their seriousness of purpose. With the good Samaritan, we invite the Holy Spirit to warm our hearts and renew our minds to minster and be ministered to. In this way all are set free, as we see our Lord Jesus Christ in the Samaritan and pray the ancient Aramaic prayer “ Maranatha” – “ Our Lord, Come!”