Sunday 10 July 2022

Go and do likewise!

Address given on Sunday 10th July 2022, the 4th after Trinity, in St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan church.

Have you ever had your wallet stolen or your bag snatched?

I hope not, but most of us have at one time or another. If it has happened to you, you will understand my mixed feelings of foolishness, helplessness and fury, when I discovered my wallet had been stolen when I was on holiday once in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I was angry with myself for allowing it to happen. I felt helpless, with no money, no plastic cards and no driving licence, in a foreign country where I couldn’t speak a word of the language. The restaurant manager, the police and our hotel staff were all very sympathetic and helpful - just as they would be in Ireland if the same thing happened to a visitor here, I’m sure. And I still had my passport, and Marty had her plastic cards so we could continue our holiday. Yet my fury with the thief only grew as I began to deal with all the hassle.

But I wasn’t mugged and left half-dead, like the man the Good Samaritan helped in today’s NT reading.

Let’s reflect a bit on the familiar Good Samaritan story told by Luke (10:25-37).

The story was prompted by a lawyer, we’re told – a learned professional man – who asks Jesus ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ – in other words, how must I behave to be worthy of God’s favour. Jesus bounces the question back at him, saying ‘What does God’s law say?’ When the lawyer answers, ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself’, Jesus agrees with him, saying ‘Do this and you will live.’ After all, as both Matthew (22:37-39) and Mark (12:31) tell us, Jesus had said as much himself when asked what the greatest commandment was.

But then the lawyer chances his arm again, asking Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ It is in reply to this that Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

The key to the story is that Jews despised Samaritans and did not associate with them. They were heretics who did not follow Jewish law, untrustworthy, outside the pale. We might compare them to Travellers or Muslims in our society. And Samaritans felt the same about Jews.

We all remember the bare bones of the story. A man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed and left for dead. A priest and a Levite travelling on the same road both pass by on the other side, ignoring his plight. (A Levite, by the way, was someone privileged to help the priests in the Temple – a bit like a Diocesan Reader, I suppose!) Then a Samaritan comes along. He stops and helps the traveller. He treats his wounds, and takes him to a safe place, even paying for him to be cared for. When Jesus asks which of the three was a good neighbour, the lawyer replies, ‘The one who helped’ – it seems the lawyer cannot bring himself to even speak the word Samaritan. Jesus tells him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Jews of Jesus’s time understood very well their obligation to protect and care for their neighbours in need. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’, is a quotation from the law given to Moses in Leviticus (19:18) – it is a command from God. But many people then as now questioned who fell into the category of neighbour.

To suggest that a Samaritan could be a neighbour, and a good one, would have shocked Jesus’s Jewish audience. I can just hear them saying, ‘Surely God doesn’t expect us to love Samaritans! They aren’t good people like us, their beliefs are wrong and their habits disgusting. We don’t like them, and they don’t like us’. Jesus must have sensed that the questioning lawyer was someone like that.

Jesus’s own view of the matter is perfectly clear. 

Through his story Jesus teaches the lawyer - and through him us too - that every human being is our neighbour – we must love them as we love ourselves, whoever and whatever they are. Even Samaritans. If a Samaritan can be a good neighbour to a Jew, so should a Jew be to a Samaritan.

Loving God is not enough; God wants us to love our neighbours too. No doubt the priest and the Levite both loved God. But for whatever reason neither could bring himself to help the robbed man. Perhaps they feared touching a man who might be dead would make them unclean according to Jewish law, or perhaps they just did not want to get involved. They passed by on the other side - they did not behave like loving neighbours.

It does not matter who we are or who our neighbour is, it is our response to their need that counts for God.

To follow Jesus means we must love our neighbours as ourselves, and every human being is our neighbour.

And this truth has consequences for us today.

We are emerging from the disruption of the Covid epidemic. Short-sighted government policies of all parties have allowed a tragic housing crisis to develop over years. And the evil attack by Russia on Ukraine has thrown the global economic system out of balance causing shortages of food and energy.

In our own country, many, many neighbours are falling into need. Thousands cannot find an affordable home. Tens of thousands of refugees who have lost everything seek safety among us. Hundreds of thousands will suffer fuel poverty and food poverty this winter.

And then there are the hundreds and hundreds of millions in other countries in desperate need, who are also our neighbours.

Neither you nor I as individuals can meet all their needs. But if each one of us reflects on what we can do, however little it is, and alongside millions of others we do what we can, we will make an immense difference. The kingdom of God will be brought closer.

As Christians we cannot pass by on the other side of the road. Jesus calls us to practical action to relieve our neighbours’ distress to the best of our ability. He calls us to be Good Samaritans - ‘Go and do likewise’. What will you do? What will I do?

No comments: