The Samaritan Moment

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side (Luke 10:31)

Life’s funny. There are things you prepare for - things like interviews for jobs. You go through in your mind how you’re going to answer the questions that they throw at you. You’re going to seem so capable and well-informed. I’ve had some really brilliant answers to interview questions - if only the panels had asked them. Instead they asked other stuff which, I’d like to think, I handled reasonably well. Then there was that time, many years ago, there was this girl I really fancied an I worked out exactly how I’d charm her with my wit and eloquence. The less said about that the better. Sometimes you rehearse for what you expect to happen and then life throws things at you that you simply didn’t expect and the way you respond in that moment can make all the difference.

So it is with the Priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Priest is making his way along the road, maybe going up to Jerusalem to serve his time in the Temple. Maybe he’s rehearsing in his mind how that’s going to go. Maybe he’s going through, in his mind, the rituals he’s going to have to carry out. Maybe he’s running over the words in his head because it would be terrible, wouldn’t it, if he got any of them wrong. Then, by chance, he comes across this guy lying beaten and bloodied by the side of the road. He wasn’t expecting this. A moment has come. Life has thrown him a moment that he wasn’t expecting - a choice he wasn’t anticipating. What are you going to do?

Maybe he has his reasons for walking by, Maybe he thinks he can’t deal with this man. What if he should die? What if he, the Priest, became ritually unclean through touching that dead body and couldn’t carry out his role up at the Temple? Surely it can’t be for him to deal with this. He has responsibilities to hundreds, maybe thousands of people in Jerusalem. Keep focussed on them. Let someone else deal with this. Yes. That’s right. Someone else will deal with this. And he walks on by.

Then there comes the Levite. Maybe he’s going the other way. Maybe his tour of duty up at the Temple is over and he’s going home to his family. Maybe he’s looking forward to greeting his wife, to sweeping her up in his arms when he gets through the door; to holding his kids again. Maybe he’s going through in his mind all the stories he’s going to tell about what the gossip is in Jerusalem. Then, by chance, he comes on this guy lying broken and naked by the side of the road. He wasn’t expecting this. Life has thrown him a moment - choice he wan’t anticipating. What are you going to do?

What are you going to do? I was in the Musée D’Orsay last year with a school trip and came upon a painting called “the Good Samaritan”. It features the broken figure of the robbed man lying on the rocks and, in the distance, a figure on horse back. For a moment you think, “This is the Samaritan. He’ll be along in a moment to help this guy”. Which is all very heartwarming. Then you realise that there are two figures in the distance and they’re riding away. They’re the Priest and the Levite. You’re the Samaritan. And in the moment you realise that the painting throws you the challenge of the Samaritan moment. What are you going to do?

I’m sure we’d all like to think we’d do what the Samaritan did, don’t we? We’d like to think that if we ever found someone bleeding and broken by the side of the road we’d look after them. Maybe we’ve already got a script in our minds. But life doesn’t always present us with things in the way we expect them to occur. Sometimes life throws us a moment - a choice we weren’t anticipating. Then, perhaps we find ourselves thinking like the Priest or the Levite.

I may have told you this. Some years ago I was in Kirkcaldy bus station. I’d expected a walk up to the library to view some archives. Suddenly a woman came up to me and asked me for £5 for a bus to get to her sister’s. She said she’s left her violent husband and had no money. She was a little bedraggled. For a moment I thought, “Yes, and maybe you’ll buy drink with it”. But I gave her the five pounds and I watched her get on a bus and hand t to the driver. And I felt so ashamed. I thought, even if I’d been right; even if she had used it for drink am I so poor that I can’t afford a fiver to bet on the possibility that I might be doing some little bit of good in this world and making a difference to one other person’s life? Yet there’s a bit of me too that is so relieved that when that Samaritan moment came I think I did OK.

Jesus teaches us, in this parable, that anyone and everyone in need is our neighbour. Jesus teaches us, in this parable, that there are no ifs or buts in that. Look at the guy Jesus chooses to look after the victim on the road - a Samaritan. This is someone who would have been regarded with hatred or disdain by the Priest or the Levite - maybe the victim himself. This is someone who had plenty of reasons to think it was someone else’s job to look after the guy who’s lying by the side of the road. But when the Samaritan moment comes he doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t question. He doesn’t come up with a thousand and one reasons why he shouldn’t get involved. He just follows through on the most basic teaching of Christianity - love your neighbour as you love yourself.

In our society we pay our taxes to try to make sure that folk who are in need get looked after - that they have a roof over their heads and food enough to feed them. We pay taxes to try to make sure that folk who are sick get treated and that elderly folk are cared for. Maybe that has too often spared us Samaritan moments - moments of encountering folk in dire and in desperate need. Maybe that has laid us open to the thousand and one questions and doubts that flooded the heads of the priest and the Levite. “What if they don’t really deserve it?”. “What if they just use it for drugs and drink?” “Shouldn’t we be keeping this for our own people?” “Aren’t they all scroungers and layabouts?”, “Maybe we keep people alive too long”. When we hear these things, do we challenge them? Are those times, in our society, our Samaritan moments?

What Jesus teaches in this parable is simple. If someone’s in need, you help them. If someone’s hungry, you feed them. If someone’s homeless you do what you can to put a roof over their heads. If someone’s cold you give them a coat, a blanket - whatever you can - to make sure they stay warm. 

And there are, praise God!, people who do that. There are people who decide every day not to be the Priest and not to be the Levite, but to be the Samaritan. There are people, every day, who contribute to food banks and don’t give a seconds thought about who the food is going to as long as it’s someone who needs it. There are people, every day, who contribute to shelter and hostels for the homeless and don’t give a second’s thought to how they came to be homeless. There are people every day who live out the parable of the Good Samaritan. Maybe they’re you. Maybe they’re me. When the Samaritan moment comes we’ll find out. Whatever the case, when a Samaritan comes your way, seize it, rejoice in it, revel in the chance to make a difference in somebody’s life. Seize it, rejoice in it, because when we do we shine with the light of Heaven itself because we show what the love of God is all about. 

Father, when we are faced with the needs of others may we not hesitate. May we care for our neighbours 

Preached at Annan Old and at Dornock