The Good Samaritan

Sermon at St James, Trinity Sunday, 12 June 2022

Luke 10: 25-37

To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:

Most of us here this morning will have, at one time or another, shaken a charity tin outside a supermarket or collected money for Christian Aid or been involved in direct charitable work. What is striking about doing this is the variety of responses we get. There are those people who react positively at once and give what they can. There are those who reluctantly look into their purse for some small change, and then there are others who look away or say ‘no thank you’ and a few who can be quite rude about the charity we are promoting. We human beings carry a wide variety of attitudes to charity, and it reflects the huge range of human behaviour from saintly generosity to aggressive, sadistic cruelty. This difference is shown in stark relief in Ukraine where a Russian tyrant and his generals bomb a shopping centre, maiming and killing dozens and within minutes there are crowds of ordinary men and women rushing into the burning building to help the victims. So dreadfully ironic—wickedness calling out the very best in people.

When we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, as we did just now, we must all be nodding our heads—that is how humankind is. When there is someone in need some people will be indifferent and pass by and others will immediately respond. Perhaps all of us have the capacity to be both. Perhaps all of us can be selfish and all of us can be caring and compassionate. We are such a mixture of emotional reactions when it comes to the needs of others. Jesus’ parable is an accurate picture – we could easily have been one of those who passed by, or we could easily have been the good Samaritan.

I saw an amusing line on Facebook the other day – “Have you noticed how when your plane lands after a holiday and the safety belt sign has been switched off, there are always a few people who jump up and grab their bags from the overhead lockers and jam the aisle. These are the same people who snaffled all the toilet rolls in the pandemic.”

You have to wonder whether all human beings are born selfish and self-centred and therefore have to make individual efforts to be good Samaritans. Jesus told the lawyer to go and do likewise, to go and try to love his neighbour. It may be against your nature, but God expects you to be loving and caring and neighbourly. Is that true for us?

But there is something else which is equally troubling in this parable. You see it in the two people who passed by—they were both seriously religious. One was a priest in the Temple and the other was a Levite who performed religious duties helping the priests. Is Jesus pointing his finger here at those who are outwardly religious and praising the man who was an outcast and despised? He certainly had little time for the Pharisees and Sadducees and in this parable implies a criticism of the religious authorities of his day. They passed by.

Yet our world religions expect their followers to be charitable. The Jewish faith has always promoted good deeds of charitable giving, a mitzvah tzedakah, and Mohammed said that a man is not a believer who fills his stomach whilst his neighbour is hungry. Alms-giving is the third pillar of Islam. And Jesus clearly taught that love and compassion should be at the heart of our living.

On the other hand, the history of those who are religious has not been entirely good. Whilst people of faith have pioneered enormous changes in history to the well-being of their fellows, others have waged wars and caused immense suffering. Some of you will have heard of Karen Armstrong. Karen Armstrong was brought up in Bromsgrove, became a Catholic nun for seven years and then left the convent to study English at Oxford. She has written many well received books on theology like The History of God which has been translated into 45 languages and fronted a television programme with Rageh Omar on the life of Mohammed. Out of her experiences and her studies she wrote this: “Religious people often prefer to be right rather than be compassionate. Often, they don’t want to give up their egotism.”

So, all of us here this morning should watch out. As religious people we might easily have been the priest or the Levite and passed by on the other side. Perhaps we need to look into our inner selves to see what we would have done about the man in the ditch and then remember that each of us is a partner with Christ in bringing wholeness and healing to others.