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Rich Man, Poor Man

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Meeting Strangers on the Road

10 July, 2016 Luke 10:25-37 Pentecost 8 By Rev Dr Christopher Page

“Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.”  ~MadeleineL'Engle


There are few stories in the history of Western civilisation that have more influence than the parable Stan read this morning.  The Good Samaritan is shorthand for showing care and compassion to the stranger and even to the outsider.  And perhaps it is more relevant today that it has ever been before.

The stranger in the 21st century is no longer the person in the next village, or the nearby nation.  We in the “digital age” have information about so many strangers who are beyond our shores and beyond our imagination.  Few of us can imagine what it is like living in say the Middle East, or being a Muslim, or being black in the USA.  And yet all of that was in our Saturday newspapers yesterday.  Strangers who are dangerous and hostile to our way of living - or our lifestyle, as is often reported.

Right Beliefs and Right Actions
And yet the story we read this morning turns all that on its head.  The uncaring, unresponsive people are not the strangers but those with power in our own system…  This parable is a result of a “well-connected” society man asking Jesus a simple question:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"
The lawyer answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself."  Then Jesus said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

And the lawyer gives the right answer.  But there is some fundamental missing.  Faith is never about believing the right things, it is always about doing the right things. Jesus adds a codicil.  “Do this and you will live fully…”  It doesn’t take much to realise that the emphasis is on “do this”.

Right belief is called, in theological terms, orthodoxy.  Right action in theological terms is called orthopraxy.  And “praxis” means doing.  Most of us, me included, recognise that the great truth of Christian faith is as the young lawyer concedes and Jesus agrees with, namely to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.  But I have to admit that I am tired of beliefs that have no relationship to daily living.

And your neighbour as yourself…

Does the well-connected society man really want an answer to the question he was about to ask?

"And who is my neighbour?"  Now that opens a can of worms.  By and large we know who our neighbours are.  They are people like us.  People who live around the corner, share our lifestyle and our neighbourhood.  But Jesus is about to expand our human consciousness.  He is about to place in the centre of human life a thought that had yet to enter the human mind before.  And he does it with the most powerful medium in the world, not a proposition, but a story, a parable:

"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.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

In this story, who does he choose to be the non-responders? The politicians? Those with power and influence in the community.  What do they do?  They walk away.  They walk on the other side of the road.  Let’s not be too judgmental here.  The problem may have been too big for them, and too much against their view of how life should be.  We have just been through an election and the politicians from many sides said, Put your trust in us/me.  No, sorry, I will put my trust in a much bigger way of being in the world…. And that may be meeting the stranger on the road.

I don’t think we should miss the point that Jesus brought to his culture and also to ours a new and dynamic way of seeing the world.

The new way of seeing the World:

But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.

Now don’t miss the point here.  The wounded man was a Jew.  He was an insider.  The “rescuer” was a Samaritan, he was an outsider; it wasn’t the insider crossing the line to help the outsider, it was the other way around.  The outsider helped the insider!

When we are the ones who have the power, then we often think that the outsider has little to offer to us.  But in fact it is quite the opposite. Those who are unable to listen to different opinions and new views of the world are those who suffer the atrophy and shrivelling of life.  

Yes, I agree that we can’t just respond to every voice that is spoken in our society.  We need wisdom and insight.  But we also need humility and openness.  But I don’t believe that it is so difficult.  I reject personally those who are not neighbourly and use violence.  I reject the approach of the major parties in Australia who are fearful of our neighbours, those who are not like us.  I sometimes am thankful that people are not just “like me”.

I don’t know why Jesus said it, but it has echoed down through time and challenges each of us:

“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.”

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