Preacher The Revd Sister Margaret Anne McAlister ASSP
We have heard announced today that the present time of double vacancy in the Richmond Team Ministry will come to an end in the autumn, when the Revd Anne Crawford who has recently been appointed to be the next Vicar of St Matthias will take up her duties in our parish hopefully in early November. So for our parish it is a significant moment. And of course the Revd Wilma Roest will be joining us as our new Team Rector in late July. So it is a time to look ahead with hope for the future.
We could all do with a time of hope. Quite apart from the extra pressures that the double vacancy has brought to the Richmond Team Ministry, we seem to have been plunged lately on the national and international scene into a time of great uncertainty and anxiety about the future. Close on the heels of the Referendum vote decision to leave the European Union has come an upheaval as regards the leadership of our two main political parties. Hopefully this will be sorted out by no later than the early autumn. One of the consequences of change is that women have been coming to the forefront of the political scene more than before. Our next Prime Minister will be a woman, and in November it is possible that the USA may have its first woman President. Time will tell.
The mood is still turbulent, and this is so globally as well as nationally. The threat of terrorism, particularly from ISIL, continues to stalk the planet. There were several terrible attacks around the world in the last fortnight, inflicting loss and devastation on many lives. And racial hatred is still very much a live issue. The USA has its first black President, but this fact has done nothing to stop the recent killings of black citizens by the police and then in Dallas the shooting dead of 5 policemen and wounding of a further 6 during a civil rights peaceful protest over the deaths of black people. The irony of the recent Dallas shootings – happening just a couple of blocks away from the shooting of President J F Kennedy some 50 or so years ago – seems to highlight the tragic lack of progress. The protests of black civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King should have meant that the recent killings would never have happened in this way again. In our own country the police have announced that the recent vote on leaving the EU has been followed by a marked increase in hate crime being reported.
As Christians we are called to live in hope, and often a significant way in which our hope can be strengthened is by turning to the Scriptures. And today’s gospel reading – The Parable of the Good Samaritan – could not be more apt. This parable is one of several that appear only in Luke’s gospel. Luke’s gospel more than any other shows Jesus reaching out to the poor, the outcast, the despised. The context is that of the 70 disciples whom Jesus sent out having returned joyfully from their successful mission. Jesus rejoices with them. He and the disciples are in vibrant mood. And of course that is precisely the time when someone comes along and tries to dampen the enthusiasm. A lawyer stands up and tries to catch Jesus out. He asks a question to test Jesus:
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus points the lawyer to the Jewish Law that we know as the Old Testament. What does the lawyer find there? And the lawyer – being a lawyer – gives the perfect answer – to love God with one’s whole being, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Jesus commends the lawyer for his wise answer. But the lawyer is not content. He goes on to ask Jesus,
“And who is my neighbour?”
Jesus could have given a straightforward answer, or at least tried to do so. But that way the lawyer might have tripped him up, because the Jewish law was very complex. There were lots of rules and regulations about what should or should not be done. So Jesus – typically – outwits the clever lawyer by telling a story – a parable. And of course this story completely explodes the limitations of the Jewish law of the day without having explicitly to explain how or why. It’s just obvious.
A man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho falls among thieves and is robbed and severely beaten and left as if dead on the roadside. A priest and a Levite pass by on the other side of the road, without helping the man. Why? Because there were taboos in the law about touching a dead body. They didn’t even go close enough to see if the man was still alive – too risky. By contrast, a foreigner turns up – a Samaritan – one despised in the law and regarded as inferior. The irony of the whole story is that it is the Samaritan – the outsider – who helps the man left on the roadside. He tends his wounds and brings him to an inn, and pays the innkeeper enough money for the man to be cared for until the Samaritan returns that way again. The Samaritan literally goes out of his way to do all he possibly can to help the wounded man. This parable vividly evokes the story of heroism of the woman police officer who saved the lives of some severely wounded victims in the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London tube in 2005 that we commemorated only a few days ago.
Jesus, then – as so often – turns the tables on the trick question of the lawyer by asking the lawyer himself a question –
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The lawyer is cornered into giving only one possible answer –
“The one who showed him mercy”.
And then comes Jesus’ punch line –
“Go and do likewise”.
The lawyer’s question had been a trick question, a question whereby the lawyer had wanted to abrogate his own sense of social responsibility as well as catch Jesus out. But he succeeds in doing neither. Instead in this seemingly simple story Jesus demonstrates that none of us can abrogate our social responsibility. We are all neighbours to each other. Anyone and everyone is our neighbour. No matter what our colour, creed, gender, sexuality or whatever – we are all neighbours to each other. We are all called to be on the lookout to help those in need, especially those whom we encounter on our own journey through life. That is our calling – to help the helpless, to be alongside the vulnerable, to love the seemingly loveless, in short – to love even our enemies. It’s a tough call, and we cannot do it in our own strength. But in the power of the Spirit we can be enabled to effect such a high calling.
Let’s hope and pray that God may give each one of us the grace to have our eyes opened to the needs of others, and to respond with selfless love. We have none other than Jesus himself as the pattern of our calling, who gave his life for the needs of the world. Let us aim to follow in his steps in ways – often practical ways – to help our fellow travellers in this troubled and uncertain world.