‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead’.
One of the elements of life that the majority of us who live in
protected from on a day to day basis is violence; yet Jesus makes it a matter
of fact element of this story which he tells. A man is stripped, beaten, robbed
and left half dead. It’s the kind of story we are used to reading in our
newspapers and seeing on our televisions, stories of violence happening to
somebody else. But, Jesus asks the lawyer to consider that violence coming
closer to him. What would happen and what would his response be if he found
someone left like that half dead on the road? England
Jesus is fully aware that violence lies just neatly under the surface of civilised communities and nations, a violence that can erupt equally in our homes, on our streets and through war. Jesus will confront that violence in a more profound way on the cross. But, we continue to have violence only quietly under wraps. And only those who have a memory of what the eruption of violence can do to nations and communities can truly appreciate the value and necessity of those who protect and confront violence for us. As the Queen noted in her recent speech in
‘In our lives, we have seen the worst but also the best of our continent.’
"But we know that we must work hard to maintain the benefits of the post-war world’.
Of course for many nations there is no ‘post-war world’, only continuing life- shattering violence and disruption. And as we today remember all those who have given their lives in service or who give their lives today for our safety and security, we must be thankful for their courage and sacrifice in facing the darkness and violence of humanity for us all.
But outside of the particular nature of war, we do well to reflect upon Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan and we need to allow ourselves to be challenged. It is worth considering how we might respond to someone in need, who has been so or similarly treated.
Would their skin colour, their class, or status give us reason to walk on by?
For violence can make cowards of us all.
Is there violence near to us that we are refusing to see? Is there pain and suffering near us that we are crossing over the road to avoid? Have we divided the world off into those we are bound to help and those we are not? For Jesus says, violence, unkindness and complicity are normal, compassion, mercy and selflessness are extraordinary.
The Samaritan was a member of an inferior race, not holy or set apart, as understood in that culture in that time. Yet, Jesus re-describes what holiness is; by saying it is how we behave which determines our holiness, nothing else. Being a priest or Levite (they were a priestly caste) is not a guarantor of righteousness. And it is the unexpected person who shows compassion.
Indeed, the power of Jesus’ story lies in how it upsets our satisfaction with our standard morality codes; codes that we build to defend ourselves from the requirement to be truly compassionate, merciful and courageous.
The lawyer asked the question of Jesus, remember, to justify himself.
Councillor Richard Dodd has given his Mayoral year the theme of saving lives. And it seems to me that the story of the Good Samaritan is the quintessential story of life saving. But, the lives are saved, not simply through the act of compassion which is shown by the Samaritan. No, Jesus tells the story to change and challenge the heart of the lawyer. He tells the lawyer that compassion and mercy are always requirements, whatever badge of office we hold, whatever group we belong to, however sure we are of our own righteousness and most importantly however we seek to avoid it. Compassion and mercy are required of us, whether we like people or detest them, whether the people are like us or different, whether we feel them to be blame for their situation, or not. Compassion and mercy are to be indiscriminately applied. Who is my neighbour? If we look into our hearts, we know the answer to that question.