I used to speak regularly at school assemblies… I wanted so much for the children to catch something of the wonder of God, of the joy of love and the sense that life is more than we can touch…. That there is a world beyond the walls of this one that calls to us and that could change the way we live now… But there was a deputy head teacher who always spoke to the children after me and always turned whatever I’d said into a message about being good… Though I’ve nothing exactly against being I confess found this very annoying….
Sometimes in Christian Aid week I think we cut too quickly to a kind of exhortation to do good… for all sorts of good reasons of course.. But I think that the Gospel is more than that.. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the kind of story that we quickly conclude we’ve heard before – and we think it’s just telling us to be good, to love our neighbour, to be like the good Samaritan….But I think that we get to that reading of the parable too quickly sometimes. We should resist, I think, reducing the parable to an exhortation to goodness – because I think that Jesus was about more than that… otherwise he would hardly have been remembered… So let’s see if there’s anything else. Let’s see if there is something more, and maybe something more that we might welcoming hearing at a Christian Aid service.
One way of looking at a story like this one is to ask where you see yourself. Which character do you identify with? And I imagine that most of us can find ourselves thinking that we feel often like the Priest and the Levite, whereas we know we ought to be the Samaritan. And so, thinking of it like this, the parable leaves us feeling, frankly, guilty. I imagine that like me, every time you walk past a beggar in the street or spot something happening by the roadside or sense someone crying in the back pew of church but leave it to someone else to deal with, this parable comes somehow into your mind like an accusing voice.. I ought to be a Good Samaritan, but .. I can’t quite do it…
I suppose you might be someone who finds yourself somewhere else in the parable. It’s harder, if like me you’re a woman, to find yourself in one of the lead roles at all. No woman would have been out walking then on her own. So perhaps you think of yourself among the staff at the inn. Perhaps you see yourself not as a religious leader or a heroic saviour to those in desperate need, but as one who binds wounds on the quiet and in the background, someone who gives rest and hospitality to the broken when they roll up or are brought to you, someone who will do a sponsored walk or knit or cook breakfast. I imagine that not many of us see ourselves as the robbers, though if you do then you’ve come to right place this afternoon..!
But what if, instead of thinking of ourselves first of all as Priest, Levite or Samaritan, or even innkeeper or robber, we took a moment to recognise that we might be the wounded man. It takes a certain kind of courage to abandon for a moment the thought that we are the ones in charge of sorting the world out and helping others, and to admit that we need help ourselves. It does take courage to recognise that we are vulnerable and fragile too, that the world is a frightening and fearful place in all sorts of ways even for us, and that all the things that make us look as though we are in control and sheltered from peril are very fragile indeed.
But for centuries and centuries in the Church – those who read this story or heard it read to them did see themselves as the wounded man. In fact this was the main way of reading the parable for generations of Christians right from the beginning. From the early teachers of the Church and right up to today in many places – particularly perhaps in those places Christian Aid seeks to bring help – this story is read as though we are the wounded man. The story is read as a parable of the whole story of the Gospel, the story of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
There is an Orthodox icon of this story in which the wounded man looks like any of us might and the Good Samaritan looks just like Jesus. Perhaps this parable is one reading after which you really could say ‘This is the Gospel of Christ’, because the parable does tell – in its way – the whole story. The wounded man represents all of us. The priest and Levite who passed by represent all the people and systems who cannot help us or who will not, and the Samaritan represents Christ who does heal us and care for us and restore us from death to life. And I think that what this reading does for us above all is to lead us away from thinking of ourselves as the Good Samaritan, as the one called to acts of charity and healing, and to help us see ourselves in the place of the wounded man, and to know ourselves first as those in need of healing and grace. We need to see ourselves as those who belong there I think, before we can truly know what it means to give anything to others.
I find this way of looking at this text strangely more challenging and moving and grace-giving than all the many calls to be good Samaritans which I have heard and even spoken myself. Perhaps because I’m aware of my wounds and of the wounds of all of us, I cherish the story of the Gospel that tells me that God has sent his Son to bring me healing and life. I’ve even seen one picture which shows Jesus as the wounded man – so he suffers too. Jesus appears in this story in more than one guise and the story of his death and resurrection are the real oil and wine for the woundedness of human beings like you and me. This really is the Gospel of Christ.
John Newton, the converted slave trader, who wrote Amazing Grace, also once wrote a hymn about the Good Samaritan. The words…;
How kind the Good Samaritan
To him who fell among the thieves!
So Jesus pities fallen man,
And heals the wound the soul receives.
Unto his church my steps he led
The house prepared for sinners lost
Gave charge I should be clothed and fed,
And took upon him all the cost.
When through the eternal boundless days
When nature’s wheel no longer rolls,
How shall I love, adore and praise.
The good Samaritan to souls!
Well, it’s not the best poetry in the world, but I think it’s the Gospel.
I think there are many times when I’ve thought of myself as the religious ones – the priest and Levite – too hurried by holy tasks or obligations to stop to help one in need. And sometimes maybe I’ve thought of myself as the Good Samaritan, or hoped at least to be like that, the one who does help. But a place where I can often see myself in this story, and perhaps where you can too, is in the place of the wounded one. Life hurts. There are days when all of us know what it is be beaten – and if not literally, then in other ways. There are times when we feel utterly alone, our suffering unnoticed. I think that it is only when we recognise ourselves in this place that we can find the empathy and the humility to become those who might long to help others, and to help them not out of a sense of duty or guilt, but out of a sense of sharing a common humanity and a common delight in knowing that God loves us enough to come and rescue us.
You see the Gospel – the Christian faith – is not first of all an exhortation to ‘be good’ – though we might be tempted to think so on Christian Aid Sunday. But such exhortation do us little good in themselves…The Gospel is the story of what God has done for us, and for what God is still doing within us, through Christ. We are not here so that we can strive to be good – but so that we can hear the good news that God has come to us while we are unable to do anything much, come to us in our woundedness, and is making us whole. We are all hurt, all flawed, all weak. But Christ, like the good Samaritan, can take us to a place where we can find new life – and such a glorious life that we can then…only let it spill over into opening up life for others and healing their wounds too where we can. And he is ready to be wounded himself out of love for us. This is the Gospel of Christ – in Christian Aid week – and in every week.
Christian Aid has many wonderful volunteer supporters – estimated at about 300,000 around the country giving time in this week alone. One of them is called Theodor Davidovic. He was born in Serbia, but now lives in the UK. After the second world he was a refugee and his life was saved by parcels and aid sent from the British churches through Christian Aid. He came to live in Britain and he is now coming near the end of his life. Christian Aid has recorded him telling his story. He has never forgotten the help he received when he most needed he, when he was a wounded man. Now, he collects, every year for Christian Aid, out of thanskgiving and joy… Christian Aid was there for him. It would be there for you. And you can be there for others in response. We are all wounded men and women, but Christ comes in many forms to save us and bring us home. Let us be Christ for others too, this Christian Aid week and for the rest of our lives. Amen.