Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Deuteronomy 30. 9-14; Psalm 25. 1-10; Colossians 1. 1-14; Luke 10. 25-37 (view all)
I wonder when you last ‘passed by on the other side’? I’m sure it isn’t the most recent time, but the time that’s foremost in my memory is from a month or so ago.
I was taking Evie to school, with my mind on everything I needed to get done before the day started to prepare for the various meetings, visits and services that were in my diary for that day. And as I walked back to the car, I was vaguely aware of another parent who was stood by their car, talking on their phone, and noticed they had a flat tyre.
Now, I could have stopped to help, but I rationalised to myself that they were clearly already on the phone to someone to sort it out, and it would just be extra embarrassment for the vicar to have noticed it, and would they even want help anyway when they could clearly sort it for themselves? And I had so much that I needed to be getting on with anyway, so I continued to the car and carried on my way.
Perhaps it’s even worse when it’s someone like me, a priest who is supposed to model a selfless life. But I’m sure that, if we’re all honest with ourselves, we can think of plenty of examples where we’ve ‘passed by ‘on the other side’, as our gospel reading this morning describes it in the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.
So, as we consider this morning’s readings — how can we learn to love our neighbour more fully as Christ has taught us?
In the example of neighbourly love that Jesus chooses, he paints a picture of a new kind of people who will go out of their way to love others. When the Samaritan crosses the road to help, he also crosses a vast cultural divide — the divide between Samaritan and Jew — pushing aside generations of stereotyping and enmity between the two groups.
Jesus, the one who, through his own self-giving, crosses the divide between God and humanity, calls for a movement of boundary crossers, who will put the love of God and others ahead of themselves.
But this kind of love is so hard! And I find myself wanting to sympathise with the Priest and the Levite (that is a temple assistant). They had lots of good reasons to pass by — the body on the roadside could have been a plant by robbers to trap another traveller, and contact with the dead body would have made them ceremonially unclean, and disqualified them from their temple duties.
For them, if was a difficult choice, between duty and compassion, and in the end the road was just too wide to cross.
However, it is the boundary-crossing love of the Samaritan which lies at the heart of gospel. As Paul opens his letter to the newly established church in Colossae, he is delighted that as their faith is just beginning to grow, so too is their love for others. This love is the first fruit of the Christian life, that as we grow in wisdom to discern God’s will for our lives, we are led into ever deeper compassion for others.
There are so many things that can prevent us from crossing the road — like the others in the parable, it might be our fear of being exploited. Or it might be our own prejudices, the stereotypes which our culture has painted for us which need to be challenged and dismantled. Or perhaps, and this is the big one for me, it might be our insecurity — the worry that our intervention might be rejected, that we won’t know that right thing to say at the right moment, that we might hinder more than help.
Jesus finishes his parable with a question,
Who was a neighbour to the man?
While the answer is obvious, the question reveals an interesting concept — that our neighbours are not given to us, but those we choose. Whether on our street, at work and study, or in our social lives, we choose our neighbours by choosing to be there for them when they need us, by crossing the road, by closing the gap between them and us.
And it is this boundary-crossing love which is so desperately needed in our ‘wayward world’ today. A world where the road is becoming increasingly wider and wider. A world where people live increasingly private lives, where we know our neighbours less and less, where the needs of the individual reign supreme.
So, will we choose to grow in the boundary-crossing love of Jesus? Will we choose to put aside our insecurities, our prejudices, our fears, and step across the road? As a church family, will we choose to cross the divides in our society today, in order to bring God’s healing, peace and wholeness?
Mother Antonia Brenner was someone who understood love which crosses boundaries, having left a comfortable life in Beverley Hills, California, to spend 30 years living in a cell in a notorious Mexican prison, in order to be nearer to the prisoners she served.
There is one particular story of a riot in September 2008, which began when Mother Antonia was outside of the prison visiting. She arrived late at night to find the electricity cut off and the prison surrounded by soldiers, but she knew she had to do something to help and so she begged the police until they agreed to let her go in.
Stumbling into the dark prison, Mother Antonia encountered a prisoner she knew and fell to her knees in front of him, begging him to end the violence. The prisoner replied,
Mother, as soon as we heard your voice we dropped our guns out of the window.
When we grow in our understanding of God’s love, and long for his will to be done in our lives, like Mother Antonia, we find ourselves willing to cross the road in order to reach out to others. May we, too, bear the fruit of God’s love for our neighbours in our lives today. Amen.