I don’t often preach these days, but I am booked at Horninglow this Sunday. Here it is.
A homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan
Jesus must have been a very irritating friend. Ask him a straight question, and the last thing you get is a straight answer. It’s like dealing with a utilities company. His excuse might be that rather than tell you what to think, he wants you to work it out for yourself. That’s why he uses parables, so that we can interpret them as appropriate depending on the context.
Today’s story of the so-called good Samaritan is just such a story. On the face of it it’s a call to show compassion to all we encounter, not just to members of the club. I imagine the rather supercilious and snotty lawyer who was trying to catch Jesus out being somewhat narked. I hope so.
The story today might concern football supporters. Would a Liverpool FC supporter go the aid of a seriously injured Manchester United supporter? I once asked that question of a young lad in church, a Liverpool supporter, who responded “never”. Do we even notice people who are not like us, the druggies by the canal or by the Town Hall? Do we greet them, or do we pass by on the other side?
This brings me to the Priest and Levite. They are often painted as bad, hard hearted, lacking in compassion. I don’t think they were. They had roles in the Temple that required them to be ritually clean. Had they touched the man who was bloody and may have been dead, they would have rendered themselves ritually unclean and thus unable to fulfil their professional duties. They were guilty only of putting duty before compassion and humanity. Is any of us free from guilt? Who has been in too much of a hurry to help someone who needs it? All of us. Who as a parent has emphasised duty at the expense of tenderness? All of us.
Now another way of looking at the story, one that was a revelation to me. It’s a Jewish interpretation – and remember, Jesus was a Jew.
Using the Manchester and Liverpool analogy, never mind whether Liverpool would go to the aid of Manchester, the question now is would the Manchester guy be willing to be helped by his mortal enemy?
We are so very proud and stand-offish. We are unwilling to expose our need for help to people we disdain. We have in the words of the psalmist “a proud look and high stomach”. We hide behind electric gates so as to keep out hoi polloi. We are, again from the psalms, “inclosed in our own fat and our mouth speaketh proud things”.
Are you willing to set all this aside and be grateful to your enemy?
Finally, a very personal interpretation. The man was going down to Jericho on the shore of the Dead Sea, way below Mediterranean sea level, Fourteen miles by road, down, down, down more than three quarters of a mile. Ears pop.
This for me is an allegory of the descent into mental illness, overcome by the wilderness demons of depression until you simply can’t go any further. For those of us who know depression and grief – I’ve been on antidepressants on and off for decades – it’s a realistic image. We are immobilised, unable to make even the simplest decision or set foot outside home. Where is help to come from?
It comes from the most unlikely sources.
The chance encounter. The kind word that is nothing out of the ordinary to the speaker but that transforms your day. The smile from a stranger that gives a glimmer of light and colour to the dark greyness within. The Samaritan has been likened to Jesus, but every one of us has the divine spark within and with that spark we can with simple acts of humanity and kindness bring life to others. We are the Samaritan. If you have friends or family that suffer from depression, be kind. Listen to them, talk to them. Nothing dramatic, just tend their metaphorical wounds. You are the Samaritan; you are the Christ who comes in the most unlikely of guises.
He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is. (Albert Schweitzer)