The Good Samaritan

 

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670)

This morning I presided at the 08:00 Eucharist at All Saints’, St Andrews for the first time in about a year. This was my homily.

Introduction

If ever we’ve needed the story of the Good Samaritan, it’s now.

Just then a lawyer, a religion scholar, stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “Well, what is written in God’s law? How do you interpret it?”

The lawyer replied, “That you love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. That you love God with your passion, your prayer, your muscle, intelligence—and that you love your neighbour as well as you love yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “So, do that and you’ll live.”

But wanting to justify himself, looking for a loophole perhaps, the lawyer then asked Jesus, “And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?” [1]

And Jesus tells us this familiar parable about the Good Samaritan.

The day today: UK edition

If ever we’ve needed the story of the Good Samaritan, it’s now.

The events of the last few weeks have been astonishing, in the aftermath of the referendum to decide whether the UK should leave the European Union or not.

There has been so much fear and uncertainty.

Billions of pounds have been wiped off the value of companies on the stock exchange.

The value of the pound itself has dropped.

Reports of violence and intimidation and suspicion of immigrants have increased, with some far-right groups seeing the vote to leave the EU as legitimation of their actions.

So many of my friends have posted on Facebook and Twitter and other social media how uncertain they feel about the future. Even how ashamed they feel of being British in the light of the EU result.

In a world opening up and becoming smaller due to the internet, and social media, and TV—we are closing up and looking inwards.

Fear and suspicion.

Trump card

And it’s not just in this country. In the US, Donald Trump has secured the Republican candidate vote on a ticket of fear and suspicion of immigrants, and muslims, and Mexicans.

“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists,” he said of Mexican immigrants. (BBC News)

“We’re going to build [a] wall, and we’re going to stop it. It’s going to end,”

Shootings

And this past week, the shooting of a black man Philando Castile by a policeman in Minnesota, and the retaliation shooting of 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas.

More fear and suspicion.

I spotted a video of friend of mine the other day on Facebook. I used to sing with Tim in the National Youth Choir. He’s now a professor of American history at the University of Warwick, and was being interviewed on Sky News about these recent shootings.

And he said that if you look at the history of race relations in the US, you would expect them to be at an all-time low but actually they have been increasing gradually over a long period of time.

But there is a long way to go yet.

We’re all God’s people

It was into a similar situation of fear and suspicion that Jesus spoke when he told his Jewish friends the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Israel was overrun by the Roman empire. Ethnic groups lived side by side uncomfortably: Israel, Judea, Palestine—they still do.

Samaritans were seen by Jews as foreigners, immigrants, even enemies.

Fear and suspicion.

Jesus’s response was also, predictable, uncomfortable.

Jesus’s response was not, “Oh yeah, don’t worry: your neighbours are just the folks you like, the people who agree with you, you think like you, speak like you, look like you.”

No! It is this person, the Samaritan, that Jesus picks out as our neighbour. Not the priest (sorry about that!). Not the Levite (who served in the temple). But the outsider: the Samaritan.

The person about whom there would be most fear and most suspicion.

I do like that Scots phrase: “we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns”—we’re all the same under the skin, we are all God’s people.

Conclusion

I’ll finish with this, which was posted on Facebook yesterday, by Natasha Howell, a black woman from Andover, Massachusetts.

And I will try not to cry as I read it!

“So this morning, I went into a convenience store to get a [snack]. As I walked through the door, I noticed that there were two white police officers (one about my age, the other several years older) talking to the [shop assistant] — an older, white woman behind the counter — about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days.

“They looked at me and fell silent.

“I went about my business to get what I was looking for.

“As I turned back up the [aisle] to go pay, the older officer was standing at the top of the [aisle] watching me.

“As I got closer he asked me how I was doing.

“I replied, ‘Okay. And you?’

“He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, “’How are you really doing?’

“I looked at him and I said, ‘I’m tired!’

“He said, ‘Me too’. Then he said, ‘I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it?’

“I said, ‘No, it’s not’.

“Then he hugged me and I cried.

“I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning that was absolutely beautiful.

No judgements.

No justifications.”

Just a moment of clarity. [2]


Footnotes

[1] Combination of translations from NRSV and The Message.

[2] Posted on Facebook and tweeted by Jemele Hill. Edited slightly to revise punctuation, spelling, and translate a little for UK audience.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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