Who is my neighbour?

Themes: Colossians Luke

Annette James

The way I prepare for my talks at church is to read the passages a week or so before and print them out – carry them round with me and make notes as I read and reread and listen to God/led by the spirit.

This week is no exception – I thought that any church would be delighted to receive a letter from the Bishop like Paul’s letter to the church at Colossians – our first reading. Unlike the letters to the Galatians which Mike spoke about last week, this letter is really encouraging and full of hope. Then we have the very well-known story from Luke that we all know as the “Good Samaritan”. It is always helpful to consider the stories in context and this one is no different. Jesus has welcomed back the disciples from their mission to the towns he intends to visit himself and they are celebrating together.

Just then, we read a lawyer challenges Jesus, and there seems to be a tension in the air – maybe this guy was trying to trip Jesus up. What must I do to inherit eternal life – Jesus is not phased it is a learning for all of us that Jesus always refers back to scripture – and responds, “what does the law say?” The lawyer knows his stuff and gives the answer – Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbour as you love yourself…to which Jesus says you are right – do this and you will live.

The lawyer is not satisfied and comes back to Jesus once again, “but just who is my neighbour?”

This is the opportunity for Jesus the great storyteller to reveal more of God’s love. You heard Jane read the gospel earlier and it is written on your service sheet – I wonder which character in the story you relate to?

Raymond Fung in the forward to Ann Morisy’s book ‘Beyond the Good Samaritan recounts the experience of a bible study in rural China. He writes, “as the study of this passage went on, I became acutely aware of an unfamiliar slant to this all too familiar text…it seemed to me we were dealing with a different scripture. It struck me that the people were not identifying with the priest or levite as I was wont to do – nice people with the challenge of whom or whether to help, rather they were seeing themselves in the wounded person, the one who had been robbed and beaten up.

This story of course is pertinent to all time – but it would be a mistake to think that it is a story calling us individually to be good Samaritans, because it is much more than that the story is an allegory, it is about sacrificial love.

There are groups from across society in the story…

The perpetrators – those who take what they want without considering the consequences in fact deliberately hurting others, bullying and oppressing others

The man who is hurt – many people are hurt and oppressed, in our society, damaged, lost.

The priest – busy hurrying off to some important meeting or session – part of the church hierarchy, with little time to stop and consider … maybe representing Religion.

The Levite – similar situation – busy hurrying – maybe needing to meet with a client, no time to waste, maybe representing the state…

The Samaritan – is the outsider someone who maybe understood what it felt like to be hurt, damaged, oppressed, to be other

The question posed by Jesus is just who is neighbour… to the one who is hurt. The way of Jesus is not to see the world from the perspective of the comfortable and the strong but from the perspective of the vulnerable and the weak.

One of the days I was considering this a message popped up on my social media account which read: -

Two city centre police officers attacked as they tried to arrest a thief – no one stopped to help – would you have stopped to help?

It is a hard question, would you stop to help and if not what does that say about us?

I have many times stopped to help someone who was injured, But to my shame I have also busily passed by on the other side when someone homeless, hurting was lying on the pavement…I have rung the no second night out number but not always and anyway is that enough…I have been moved with pity but done nothing about it… busy going about my own business…it is tempting to view the passage in this way, but this story is not just about individual actions.

Jesus tells that the Samaritan was filled with pity, filled with compassion, he treated the man and took him to safety, paid for ongoing aid and planned to return to check on him. In the context of the day it would have been shocking that a Samaritan would be seen as good or as the giver of charity or been compassionate.

Jesus asks the lawyer - who was a neighbour to the man – the lawyer cannot even bring himself to say the name of the group considered unworthy and so he says – the one who showed mercy.

I just want to think for a few minutes – about the concept of Mercy… years ago I read Marcus Borg’s book – speaking Christian – recovering the lost meaning of Christian words – Mercy is one of these.

Mercy can be seen as a concept with a power differential – the one who has power being merciful to the one without power – we could further consider the concept of Mercy as the opposite to punishment. Richard Rohr says that a fuller understanding of the word Mercy would be compassion, all forgiving, compassionate…

To feel with the other – to be at one with the feelings of another… In Hebrew the word mercy is aligned to womb – lifegiving; In Greek the roots of sympathy – empathy are the same as compassion. In asking – “Who is my neighbour”, the lawyer was curious or maybe cheekily wanting to hear from Jesus who was worthy of God’s love. God’s mercy.

Mercy is often aligned to justice – it can be reactive – I love the speech from Shakespeare’s, Merchant of Venice act 4 scene 1 – the Quality of Mercy

1564-1616(remember the story – Shylock is owed a ‘pound of flesh’ – the lawyer speaks to him in court about Mercy. But it is lost on the man who only stops in his mission when he is told he must not spill a drop of blood…

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:

…It is an attribute to God himself;

Justice is something we strive for – social justice but God is bigger than our understanding of Justice – Gods justice is not about everyone getting their just deserts. We are all in God’s love God is generous, compassionate and merciful not primarily a threatening judge, but a life giving, life nourishing reality who wills every person and everything well-being and the well-being of the whole of creation. All the characters in our story today are covered by God’s love. God is generous and forgiving to all – but in that love there is a challenge.

Earlier in our service we shared Mary’s song – the Magnificat - this is associated with liberation for those who are oppression and protection from enemies in a world of peace this is the beginning of understanding our story today.

There is much concern about knife crime in our cities today, a public health approach where every organisation and group work together to bring about change is called for. I believe we need a transformation is needed to politicians, the press, the whole of society to enable young people to feel safe on the streets, adults to be confident to challenge those who carry knives with compassion and love. And this includes the mercy from each one of us.

Jesus was born of God in poverty the ultimate vulnerability of a newborn baby. To show us life could be lived. God has a passion for the transformation of the whole world and all the people in it. This is a challenge to me/us because I am/we are self-interested and judgemental and we like the people that we like. As Mike was telling us last week, the world often does not fully understand the generosity and grace of God, it is not about one action, what we wear, what we eat or if we swear or not, it about a transformation in Jesus.

On Friday we heard through the news that Jeremy Hunt was quoted as saying he is like regular church of England folk – “its part of my life and my identity but I don’t think it defines my politics” – the Bishop of Liverpool responded to this on social media – he repeated the quote and added “if it doesn’t define or at least shape your politics, it has more to do with tiddlywinks than eternal life”.

Jesus says to the lawyer – go and do likewise – go and be compassionate, be generous, show mercy and you will live – you will flourish - flourish not in the sense of wealth and comfort creation but in the language of mental health and well-being, the opposite to languishing – be awakened to this transformation and you will be part of that transforming love which reveals the kingdom of God.

The Chinese peasants in Raymond Fung’s story went to the root of the story – Angus Ritchie writes in Church Times this week - St Augustine tells his followers they are like the wounded man… ‘robbers left you half dead, you are lying in the road, but you have been found by a kindly Samaritan, wine and oil have been poured on your wounds, you have received the sacrament of the only son and been lifted on his mule”.

The central message of Jesus is that we are loved by God with a love so deep and wide and high that there is no hiding place. God chose to show love from a position of weakness. It is the wounded man that helps reveal Gods love. We should love God and love what God loves. We see God in the face of the most needy in our society, Jesus returns again and again through the poor. Gods love is for all time, when we are feeling good, being successful, feeling rich and powerful – when we are vulnerable, weak, broken… at all times and in all life. Since God loves everything and everyone. That is both the most-simple and most challenging ask of us… AMEN


Morisy Ann, Beyond the Good Samaritan; Community Ministry and Mission. Mowbray

Borg Marcus, Speaking Christian; recovering the lost meanings of Christian words. SPCK

Church Times, 14.07.19. Sunday Readings p16