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On being helped by the person you least like.

Luke 10: 25 – 37

A few years ago I was very fortunate to visit the Holy Land through a study pilgrimage run by St George’s Anglican College in Jerusalem. I had this urgent sense that I couldn’t become ordained as a priest before I had been where Jesus had been born and had lived out his ministry.

I am so pleased I went - but whilst there were wonders and spiritual moments on the journey - I often found the Holy Land a hard and daunting place - the existing troubles were extremely upsetting and the landscape and climate were totally overwhelming.

One of the difficult and challenging places we visited on the pilgrimage was the historical pathway between Jerusalem and Jericho - a path through mountainous and arid desert - a place that often experiences searing heat or freezing cold.

The path runs for 18 miles along a deep ravine, through the desert - which helps you manage the changes in gradient (Jerusalem is about 2500 above sea level and Jericho is about 800 feet below sea level) - but it does mean that once you are on the path - you are in effect trapped and prevented from escaping any problems you might experience on the way - the ideal place for bandits - then and today.

Indeed in Jesus’ time the problems of violence on the road were so severe and so common the road was called ‘the way of blood’.

So when Jesus started this story of being robbed on the way to Jericho - everybody would have responded with a oh no…and of course - we have seen this or heard of this kind of trouble so often….

Standing in the ravine, in the sweltering heat, Fr Greg Jenks, the pilgrimage leader - read the parable to us and then led a short prayerful reflection on one of its possible meanings.

Jesus has just been asked by a Lawyer what must be done to win eternal life and Jesus agrees with the lawyer that we are to love God with all our heart, strength and soul - and in addition - to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Jesus is then asked who then is our neighbour is and this parable is his answer.

Fr Jenks reflects that when he talks to people about this parable they frequently report thinking of themselves as the Good Samaritan. In this way the story becomes about being good when others - who should know better - haven’t done the right thing. In all of this he suggests it is easy to forget the significance of the story - that this story is beyond the action of caring for someone when others have failed to do it. It is about overcoming and directly challenging the feelings we might have for those we profoundly dislike or not do not trust - and instead of showing them hatred or indifference - we are being asked to show mercy and to them lavish them with unconditional love and compassion.

Jesus is teaching us that our neighbour then is everyone – including - or perhaps- especially those people we like least, judge the most and simply do not want to have anything to with.

Fr Jenks suggests that to engage with this teaching afresh we could try not imagining ourselves as the Good Samaritan - but instead try imagining ourselves as the victim lying by the road, naked in the searing heat, desperate for help and being ignored by those who should be there for you…and when all hope is lost…suddenly the person you like least - perhaps from the community you hate or distrust the most – appears before you and saves your very life. Now this person will be different for everyone – for 1st century Jews this was the hated Samaritans and or perhaps the Romans - in 21st Century Britain it could be any number of people or communities….or maybe it could be an individual - someone from our family, friendship group, or work place that we just can’t stand – someone we just can’t forgive.

Being helped when you are most vulnerable - when you are most in need - by the person you most dislike - it so very complex, it so very challenging and - and through the grace of God - it is so potentially transformational.

Martin Luther King drew on this parable in much of his teaching and indeed spoke of it the day before his assassination.

For King the parable spoke into the Gospel call for liberation and equality - and that people from all countries and identities are to be equally loved and equally respected.

From this King extended the meaning of the parable - asking what it might mean for society if we all lived according to the example of love and mercy shown in this teaching – He says….

‘On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring’.

So King is saying - this parable has not only the potential to transform ourselves and our relationship with those we dislike - but it also has the potential to transform our wider society - indeed our entire world.

In this light, we can understand Jesus as asking us through this parable….

  • How are we walking down the road of Jericho?

  • Who have we walked by and not shown mercy?

  • Who have we refused mercy, love and care from?

  • How will we start working with Christ in making the Jericho Road – life’s journey - safe for everyone?

  • How will we make a stand and help bring about God’s Kingdom of love, mercy and justice?

In recognising that our neighbour is everyone, especially those who are in need or those who we perceive as our enemies – through mercy - we have the chance to not only come closer to God and to transform ourselves - but to also transform our society.

Having taught the parable Jesus asks – who is our neighbour - the lawyer answers - the one who shows mercy - and Jesus simply says – go and do likewise.

Let us therefore go and do like wise – and actively work with Christ in bringing about the kingdom of God here on earth .


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