Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 7 2016

Deuteronomy 30.9-14
Colossians 1.1-14
Luke 10.25-37

Have you been a Good Samaritan this week? We’re familiar with the phrase, a Good Samaritan, we think, is someone who does a good turn for someone else. That’s not wrong, but there is more than that going on in the story of the Good Samaritan as told by Jesus.
The story begins with a question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. What does this mean? Eternal life is the life that God lives. Someone who inherits is usually a member of a family, or at least an insider to the circle of the person who is making the gift. So, phrasing it another way, his question is, “how can I be on the inside of the life that God lives?”
Jesus’ answer, in the first instance, is very straightforward: obey the commandments, principally, love God and love your neighbor. Simple. As the reading from Deuteronomy puts it this morning, “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe”. It is not complicated. Do this, and you will be an insider to the life of God.
But our lawyer wants to make it complicated. He wants to justify himself, we are told. That’s his basic mistake. You have to be centred on God, not yourself, if you are to be an insider to the life of God. “Who is my neighbor?” he wants to know.
So Jesus tells the story that we call the “Good Samaritan”. It’s a parable, and like all the parables it presents us with a different view of reality to what we are used to. The parables of Jesus are intended to challenge our understanding and to turn our perception inside out. The parables are strange. But they are strange because we have got the world wrong; the parables show us how it should be.
So, a man is robbed and left for dead, and a priest and a Levite pass by on the other side. Probably because they think he is dead. Priests and Levites needed to be ritually pure to serve the temple sacrifices, and touching a corpse would have made them unclean. Best not to risk it.
Then comes a Samaritan. This is the real shocker in this story. The Jews hated the Samaritans, the Samaritans hated the Jews. Samaritans were the outsiders, the excluded. So what would you expect a Samaritan to do in this story? Probably, to finish off the job the robbers started, loot whatever was left on the poor man’s body and kick him into a ditch.
But the Samaritan has compassion on him. And in the Greek it’s a really gut wrenching emotional sort of compassion as well. He dresses the man’s wounds, takes him to the inn, pays for his care and promises more, as much as is needed. With the actions of the Samaritan, the world we expect is turned inside out.
And Jesus concludes, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”. Jesus has played a trick here, he’s turned the question round. The Lawyer had wanted to know, “who is my neighbour”. His question was centred on himself, who do I have to help if I must? But Jesus asks, who is the neighbour to the man in need? He’s turning the Lawyer’s focus away from himself to the other. And not just to any other, but to the outsider, the excluded person, the hated foreigner.
And all this is in answer to the Lawyer’s first question, which was, “how can I be an insider to the life that God lives”.
As human beings we tend to draw boundaries, to define insiders and outsiders. We’ve pretty much all got somebody we’d like to exclude, if we’re honest. But the trouble is you can’t obey the commandments if you do that. The law of God is simple: love God and love your neighbour. But we try to make it complicated by drawing boundaries, making exceptions. “Who is my neighbour?”, we ask.
Jesus shows us that we must instead look beyond the boundaries that we draw. We must look to the outsider if we are to be insiders to the life of God. We must turn towards the victim if we are to live in compassion, which is the love of God and our neighbour.
And Jesus himself embodies these things. He’s there in the parable, actually. Jesus is usually lurking in all of the parables under some disguise or symbol. So, he is the Samaritan, the outsider, the one who is rejected and hated because he doesn’t care about ritual purity and sacrifice but instead shows compassion. Jesus is also the victim, who will be left to die and shunned by the priests and Levites on Good Friday.
The outsider and the victim show us what God is like. They call us out beyond the boundaries that we want to draw to justify ourselves. Because it is only by abandoning those boundaries, and going out to the outsider ourselves, that we will find ourselves insiders to the life of God.
There are of course a lot of outsiders and victims in our society at the moment. There has been an outbreak of really nasty racist abuse in public places. I have wondered, as we probably all have, what should I do if I witness such an attack. And some helpful advice has been published which reflects something of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The advice is that, if you witness racial abuse, do call 101 to report it, and record the incident if you can. But don’t confront the attacker, as that is probably what they want. Instead, turn to the victim. Approach them, talk to them, be kind to them, reassure them. Include them. Because what the abuser wants is to exclude them. Love God, love your neighbour. It’s simple.
This applies in the Church, too, of course. Even within the community of faith there can be a lot of including and excluding going on. This weekend the Church of England’s General Synod is meeting in York, having an unprecedented two days of closed sessions for conversations about sexuality and same sex relationships. There are hugely divergent views within the Church of England and this will be a very intense and pressured time for them, the Synod members will need our prayers.
The challenge for them will be to encounter people in truth and honesty without wanting to exclude them or turn them into outsiders. Difficult, when there are conservative Anglicans who don’t seem to want gay people in the church, some of them have already said that they will boycott the conversations. But it has to be said there are also liberal progressive Anglicans who don’t seem to want conservative people in the Church.

“Who is my neighbour?” In God’s economy, the person we most want to exclude is there to show us what the love of God is like. It is only by such a radical change of view that we can move beyond our boundaries of inclusion into that strange and challenging outside world where God includes everyone – including us.

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