My mother-in-law would tell the story of being lost with a group of people in Adelaide. They had no idea where they were or how to get to the venue they were heading for. While they were standing on the side of the road in their Ascot finery a group of Harley Davidson riding bikies in full club colours rode by. Imagine their surprise when one broke ranks, turned around and roared to a stop in front of them. He said they looked lost, could he help? They said where they wanted to go and he gave them the directions. This story was told (often) to remind us not to judge the book by the cover. Help comes in many shapes and sizes. Knowing my mother-in-law, this was indeed a moving moment because one she would not normally have associated with, under any circumstances, helped her.
In the light of the outcome of our recent general election, it is more than appropriate todays gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan, an oxymoron for the audience in Luke’s story, nothing good comes out of Samaria! Here was a despised person taking the central role in an object lesson on who is my neighbour and how to be neighbourly.
Those who were the obvious doers of good crossed to the other side, for no other reason than for the fear that what had happened to that unfortunate traveller may indeed happen to them, and no amount of doing good was worth putting self at risk. They were good, were deemed good and were responsible for doing good in their lives in other ways, in the temple, in their religion and in their practice. Somebody else would deal with this situation. It wasn’t their responsibility.
It is the question sitting at the back of our heads, or at least mine, how would I react in a similar situation? It is fine to do good when there is no risk, when the one we are doing good for is like us, shares our values and our lifestyle, but what about when it is a possible life threatening situation or the one needing our help is unlike us or is our enemy? Would I act as the Good Samaritan does? Would I do the right thing then? I can never be sure of the answer.
As a country the recent election answers this. How do we respond? Not very well. We are more concerned with the protection of our lifestyle and safety. We have ignored those who are our neighbours and have prevented others from caring for them as well.
Our neighbours? Those without a country, those who seek to find a better place in this world, those who are homeless and unemployed, those who have their land and country taken away from them. These are our neighbours and we have supported policies and ideals which isolate, marginalise and persecute them through the continuing support of hard-line policies ranging from the One Nation rhetoric through to the mainstream parties strong borders and close the gap policies and more.
Luke’s Jesus says enough is enough. Our neighbour is our responsibility. Our neighbour relies on our neighbourliness for hope, life and a future. We cannot avoid this responsibility by pointing to all the good we do elsewhere if we cross to the other side and leave people stranded, victims of injustice and violence, to be violated again and again by our limited goodness.
Luke’s Jesus expands the Deuteronomy 6 definition of neighbour beyond the borders of a state (Jews and aliens living in the community) and spreads it out to include all, even the dreaded Samaritans. Neighbourliness is the hospitality we owe to all even at the risk of our own wellbeing.
It is also important to note the Samaritan was the first responder who placed himself at risk. After helping the traveller he took him to an inn and delegated e task of neighbourliness to the inn keeper. We do not have to stay involved for ever. This is a task to be shared.
Luke’s Jesus equates neighbour with the one who should act and the one who needs our action. Here is the discarding of duality – the doer and the one for whom it is done are the same one. This is not charity. Charity is the embedding of power and the embedding of hopelessness. The one being done for is seen as a lesser being because they need someone to help them.
For Luke’s Jesus, we are one with, same as, united with the one we assist. We are aware we may in fact require them to be neighbourly to us at some time. We are vulnerable, frail, ordinary human beings whose life circumstances may very well mean we are laying by the road side waiting for a neighbour to wander by.
Thomas Merton writes: “A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”
How do we answer Merton? What is the end we live for? How is our lives shaped by that end? Are we indeed shaped by a spirituality grounded in neighbourliness or are we living simply for the immediate, the safety of the moment, out of fear of the other? Merton is direct, as is Jesus: “You are made in the image you desire”. Luke’s Jesus responds with, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Merton and Jesus reminds us, just as the duality of helper and the one needing helps is false thinking, so is the duality of spiritual and secular. You either act out of your spiritual experience or you don’t, you either remain faithful to the faith you attest to here at the Eucharistic table or you seek only your own wellbeing.
It is at the Eucharistic table we celebrate, not only the breaking open of the the life of Christ, but the breaking open of our own lives to the other, to the neighbour and it requires us to be neighbourly at all times, especially with those so unlike us we must exhibit the obedience that took Jesus to the cross.
In our church, in our country we are called to be inclusive, welcoming, empowering, giving, at the risk of losing all we hold dear. The growing world wide epidemic of isolationism by states is an epidemic contrary to the growing out into the world of the neighbourliness essential to the Christian faith and contrary to the example of Jesus.
How do take on the role of neighbour? By becoming, as we concluded last week, open-hearted, open-minded and open handed. Critically so. By this I mean we must critically reflect on our practice, how we engage with, talk about and listen to those who need our neighbourliness. We must challenge our conventional thought, leave behind our intellectually lazy acceptance of seemingly acceptable thoughts and behaviours and begin to wrestle with the reality in which we live.
Jesus engages the lawyer in this deep reflection. We do not know what conclusions the lawyer came to but we know he was challenge to move beyond what was the normal wisdom. It is time for such deep reflection by all of us, individually, as a church and as a nation if we are going to discover the Good Samaritan within.