Sermons from St Faith's   

The Good Samaritan

Revd Denise McDougall

Sunday, 14th July, 2019


In a survey taken in the larger cities of England a few years ago people were asked, “If you could meet God and put one question to him, what would it be?” Quite a searching question and one that you might take like to take time to think about later yourselves. Well, the question that topped the list was something to the effect, is there an eternal life and if so how can I achieve it. The same question that the lawyer put to Jesus more than 2000 years ago when he was trying to test him. Of course the lawyer was able to answer by referring to the words in Deuteronomy and Leviticus but he still presses Jesus to say who is to be treated as a neighbour and is given the answer that our neighbour is anyone to whom we should and do show mercy, and tells the familiar tale of the Good Samaritan.

The parable of the Good Samaritan identifies the neighbour as the one to whom we should and can show merciful love through twofold action. In all probability the priest and the Levite had compassion on the man in the first sense of feeling sorrow at his sufferings, but wanted
to be obedient to the Jewish law; in this case the purity law which restricted contact with a corpse. It is only the Samaritan, an outsider and someone looked down on by Jewish society who moves on to undertake to alleviate the man’s sufferings and to free him from them.  

This parable only appears in Luke’s Gospel and it is an illustration of the universal dimension of God's plan of salvation and the extension of his grace to the whole world.  The parable is one of those Biblical stories which is has almost become part of our culture and although many people nowadays might not know the story in detail, they would still know that, if someone was described as a ‘good Samaritan’, it would be because they had helped a complete stranger in some kind of distress. And the basic message of the story – the universal extent of the love and kindness which Jesus asks of us – is one that is very familiar to us, although that’s certainly not to say we don’t need to be reminded of it (and may I say recognise our frequent failure to achieve it) as we read the Scriptures and reflect on how we are to live as Christians in our world. Jesus' response to the lawyer is simple, “Do this and you will live.” Highlighting the fact that without loving our neighbour, as emphasised in the commandments, then we can’t claim to have genuine love for God ourselves.

The stories of Jesus though are never just stories and each one invites us to enter into it, find our place there and discover its deeper meaning. Hard though it is perhaps we ought to try to imagine being left on the roadside having found ourselves sick, jobless, homeless and bereft of family and friends then we too would may need to rely on the mercy of the outsider.

This whole story at a deeper level points to the fact that the victim is Christ himself, similarly highlighted in one of my favourite stories about Papa Panov, a village cobbler who desperately wanted to meet Jesus. He busied himself getting ready for Jesus’ visit at Christmas but was all too often interrupted. He went out to help a child, he brought a man in from the cold, he repaired an old woman’s shoes. All strangers in need, who took up his time. But in a dream later he heard a voice say, did you not recognise me? I visited you and you cared for me. Jesus Christ is in all and in him we see the ultimate example of what love of God and love of Neighbour mean.

Despite the challenges, we are called to accept our neighbour and show compassion for those, let’s be honest, that we sometimes try to avoid. In John’s Gospel the Jews call Jesus a Samaritan and perhaps we need to remember the words of the Good Samaritan and interpret them as Jesus speaking to us. ‘Take care of him and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Jesus is in the stranger we meet.

I wonder if we are closer to the priest and the Levite than we care to imagine? It takes courage to reach out to someone to someone who is hurting, it takes time, we risk rejection, it means going out of our way. But by the act of loving our neighbour, we display the same love which God showed when in the person of Christ he came to the aid of a wounded and broken humanity.

It is in our love for one another that we show our love for the God who is gracious and merciful, full of compassion, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

I have just returned from an amazing holiday where I saw creation at its very best, mountains, glaciers, rainforests and masses of wild life but I also saw poverty at its very worst. The homeless in Vancouver are more or less confined to one particular area. Hundreds of men and women trying to live and die on one street suffering with so many health related issues, mental health problems, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

Yet despite the enormity of the problem I still witnessed food and clothing being given to the needy and police passing the time of day with them. On two occasions during my time in Vancouver I was fortunate enough to visit Christ Church Cathedral and after the early Eucharist on the feast of Corpus Christi I was invited along with the rest of the congregation to share breakfast with them. (even before I had left the service I was asked how I liked my boiled eggs done!)

At this breakfast we were joined by two homeless men, one of whom had attended the service. I was told that during the week over 750 meals are provided and served. The Cathedral’s strap line is ‘Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds.’ I was privileged to experience the truth in their service booklet that the Cathedral is enriched and enlivened by the diversity of its community.

The second occasion was week later for a Sunday Eucharist, and left in my hymn book was the order of service from a few days earlier for the celebration of the life and legacy of Jean Vanier, a Canadian catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian who founded the L’Arche Community. L’Arche is an international community found in 37 different countries for adults with developmental difficulties. We do have a L’Arche Community here in Liverpool which I have visited on a number of occasions.

Jean Vanier recognised Christ in all and says, Each person is sacred, no matter what his or her culture, religion, handicap or fragility. Each person is created in God’s image; each one has a heart, a capacity to love and be loved.

The sooner we can recognise and act on this then the closer we become to our ultimate goal of eternal life and in the meantime let us radiate love to our fellow human beings, all of whom are our neighbours. Amen


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