Sermon – 11 July 2004

It seems difficult, at first glance, to see how anyone can preach anything worth saying about the story of the Good Samaritan.

It does not seem to matter how often Jesus?s words are repeated, they lose none of their power. The problem for the preacher is what to say. For this is o­ne of those rare passages which seem simply to mean what they say. So much so that even the title, ?The Good Samaritan? has entered into our language. It is something which everyone understands, even if they have little knowledge of the original telling of the parable.

These few, brilliant words make up a story which is instantly understandable by everyone. Who is the man?s neighbour? The o­ne who helped him. What should we all do now? Go and do likewise.

And it seems that there is nothing further to say.

Or is there?
?     This is a story about being touched by those whom you are frightened of.
?     It is a story about receiving generously as much as it is about giving generously
?     We must not allow our familiarity with this story to blunt our response to it.
Let me explain?

This is a story about being touched. Those who passed by o­n the road would probably not have been condemned by the lawyer who asked this question of the Lord.

He would have understood that the priest and the Levite who walked o­n by would have been going about their business not o­nly for themselves but for others. They had, no doubt, duties to perform, sermons to write, servers to train, service sheets to print out, or whatever the equivalent was in their day. They were busy people helping others to find God.

Indeed, the ?lawyer? might well have been o­ne of them. He was not really a legal eagle, but his description marks him out as o­ne of the religious establishment. He would have understood. Understood instantly why these people had to hurry o­n by.

Had they stopped to touch the man, they would have been made ritually unclean. They would not have been able to perform their religious duties. Indeed, their journeys might have been rendered completely in vain by stopping to help.

For the religion they followed made touch a very significant thing indeed. All kinds of health regulations, sexual taboos and superstition were bound up in the rules about who could touch what. [And there are plenty of places where this is still true, and we might find if we ever extend our kindness to strangers that we have some similarly incomprehensible taboos ourselves].

So, there were good reasons, good religious reasons why the priest and the Levite walked o­n by. Good practical reasons too, perhaps. All is not what it seems in bandit country. The man by the road may have been lying in wait.

And anyway, helping strangers in need in the road is not always terribly easy. Perhaps the priest and the Levite knew from bitter experience that not everyone who needs help will accept it.

And that brings me to my second point. Not all of us are willing to be touched by anyone. Yet in being touched, we know we are not alone in this world. Sometimes a touch says more than ever words can.

The finger that wipes away a tear.

The hand grasped at a bedside.

The embrace exchanged when all the world is breaking apart.

Touch matters. And this story is about accepting the fact that we are not alone. Not o­nly are we called to give generously, but also to accept. Who would not accept help when life has dealt a bitter blow? Who would not accept help when lying in a ditch beside the road, battered and bruised and bleeding.

Well, quite a lot of us, to be honest.

There are many of us who have known struggles in life who will know no healing until we accept the touch of someone who cares and who cares beyond self interest.

Sometimes the acceptance of that healing touch is a driven by grace as the action of the healer. We must beware of thinking that we need nothing from others. And we must beware of thinking that stories like this have nothing new to teach us

Which brings me to my final point ? that familiarity with the tale that Jesus tells must not blunt us to its reality.

It was, when told, an outrageous tale. It was told neither to help the righteous feel smug nor drive the complacent to altruism. It may drive us to recognise our common humanity despite our differences, but that is not all. It is shocking sometimes to realise that our enemies are human too. Not o­nly needing to be helped, but needing their offers of help to be received.

Let me retell the story with a story that I was told was true, which I heard when I was living in the East End of London. It is a big city tale.

I was living in London when the current far Right political party had its first Councillor elected to local government. The politics of race. There was considerable local trouble in the neighbourhood in which I lived, where many of the local population around me were Bangladeshi. For the first time in years, the far Right had some power. Not much, but the power of influence over housing and welfare.

It was a time of great racial tension. Tension that was being stirred up at every turn by this o­ne man, the Councillor in question.

Now, I worked with a man who was a minister in a local church, a white man who had married a black woman from the Caribbean. As a mixed couple, they had much to fear from the ugly talk o­n the streets. They told me this story.

It seems that o­ne night, o­ne of their congregation who is black was walking through a park by the church. He was set upon by two angry white youths. There was a fight. He had no chance. He was thrown to the floor and was being kicked and hit as he lay there.

There was a shout from the road. Someone came running over and laid into the attackers, throwing his weight around ? pulling them off. Sending them packing.

Muttering his thanks, the man turned over, to find himself looking straight into the eyes of the man who had saved him ? it was his local Councillor.

Such was the story that Jesus told.

Now, how would you retell his story and how would you answer his question?

Who was this man?s neighbour?


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