The Good Samaritan
Gospel : Luke 10 vv 25 – 37
Preached at the 10.45 service Sunday 14th July 2019
Good fences, proclaimed the American poet Robert Frost, Good fences make good neighbours
Whether this was a serious observation or a tongue in cheek ‘put down’ is open to debate, but it raises some important issues.
For one thing, it reminds us that we all need a sense of security to feel safe, to give us a sense of identity and who we are… that in itself gives us the confidence and sometimes courage to reach out to others…
Anyone involved in helping others -be that in counselling or in more general ways – will know that unless there is that deep down security with those careful boundaries, you are likely to do more harm than good by letting your own insecurities or baggage get in the way of what you are trying to do. If you don’t have the good fences or good boundaries that are necessary to stop you offloading your problems onto others, then beware.
And if fences are not kept in good repair – if there is a dispute about boundaries and fences, then heaven knows what chaos can reign… magistrates courts and higher may become involved and you no longer wonder how wars break out because lo and behold ! one has begun to rage around you on your own door step !
And of course at national and international level the same issues hold true – territorial waters and air space are violated at your peril.
So there is a sense in which Robert Frost was right – if the boundaries and fences are clear, that provides the framework for better relationships.
Or does it? Is that always the case?
Sometimes fences and boundaries can have the opposite effect. They can become barriers and obstructive walls.
Today’s gospel reading is a classic example – it’s a classic example first of all of how Jesus just turns the tables on his questioner
… come on Lord – we have a tasty boundary dispute here… here we are God’s chosen people – with our careful laws and boundaries about what we do and how we preserve our faith… and it’s all very well about saying love your neighbour …let’s be reasonable about this …where exactly are the fence posts that tell us how far we can safely go without defiling our holy calling to be Gods chosen people?
And the story Jesus tells in reply has come down the generations and has entered our culture and heritage .. being a good Samaritan is a phrase that resonates across cultures and we probably know instinctively nowadays what it means, in theory at least:- to reach out and bind up the wounds, help the afflicted, bring relief to the poor and disadvantaged and to take compassion seriously.
Now the story gained its power when Jesus told it because it challenged people, who should have known better, that they had put their fences up in the wrong place.. all those religious leaders rushing off to synod or evensong… the haunting phrase Jesus uses – passing by on the other side – we know it so well because we all know what is means to do just that, day in and day out.. but Jesus was not saying that what they were doing was wrong… they had God given priestly roles to fulfil after all; its just that in that instance the fences and boundaries got in the way of being God’s holy people and had become obstructive barriers.
They had put up their boundaries – positioned their fenceposts- built their wall– so that anyone appearing on the other side of the fence didn’t deserve their attention.
And Jesus says just a minute – you are asking the wrong question here – we are not talking in categories here – those who are in and those who are out.. it’s not a technical definition of neighbour we are after but rather …to whom can you be neighbourly – to whom can you be a neighbour?
And to drive the point home in the story it is someone from Samaria – a complete outcast as far as the Jewish leaders were concerned – someone not just the other side of the fence, the other side of the dividing wall, but someone so far removed that they were despised and ridiculed… almost non-people, so worthless were they in Jewish opinion..
It was this person who stopped – who cared – who bound up the wounds – who went the extra mile – who did the godly thing in front of the very people who represented godliness but who also symbolised and actively pursued a policy of rejection– he, the Samaritan, was a neighbour to the man in need. He did the godly thing.
And grudgingly perhaps his audience had to agree. We need to reposition our fences in order to be fully godly and compassionate.
Some fences help – some fences hinder and its part of our discipleship in the 21st C is to work out which is which and what is what… to work out under God what fence posts need to be repositioned in order for us to be more godly, compassionate and valuing everyone made in the image of God.
Today is being observed as Disability Awareness Day, and if one thing has emerged in recent decades with what is called the social model of disability is that in so many ways society needs to reposition its fenceposts.. to remove those physical and attitudinal barriers that stop people from not only making a full contribution but even label them as somehow of less value… we need each other not just because we are all made in the image of God but because the richness of what it means to be a community depends upon that sense of mutual belonging and respect and value.
And there are other issues that are currently challenging the church in particular to consider, and sometimes reconsider, where are the red lines in terms of understanding accepting and celebrating diversity in human relationships… some fenceposts may need to be repositioned in order to celebrate the goodness, mercy and justice of God.
We know what happened when people passed by on the other side – we know how this must have felt for the people being ignored, cast aside, and being made to feel at very best second class, or outcasts
Please God in our generation we don’t do the same.