notre dame montreal

Sermon on Good Samaritan 2007 Year C

The Reverend Dr Joan Crossley

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho ran down a steep descent through barren country. It was over 17 miles long and the road dropped dramatically by over 3,000 feet. It was dangerous country where robbers operated without fear of reprisal and so it didn’t surprise the priest to see a dead body by the side of the road. As he got nearer he thought he saw it move and twitch but decided not to stop. He made it home in record time despite the heat. As he neared his home he smiled with pleasure. It was so well-kept and clean. His wife was a wonderful homemaker and he could wash, say prayers and eat. After dinner he told his wife about the body on the road. He felt a little uneasy. “Did I do the right thing?” He asked. “Of course” his wife replied at once. “It was probably a con. I hear they smear their bodies with sheep’s blood to make you stop. If you had stopped, his accomplices would have set on you and robbed you too. You did quite right not to get involved”. The priest went to bed with a clear conscience.

The Levite arrived home late. It had been that sort of day. It had begun by his being late for a meeting of the Temple elders, he had been delayed by a funeral which ran on, then he was late leaving Jerusalem but was determined to press on for home. By the time he came to the bleeding man by the side of the road he was feeling drained and exhausted. He paused just for a second weighing up his options. If the man was dead then he would be defiled by touching the corpse and have to ritually cleanse before going to work in the morning. If the man was alive it would take hours to sort him out. If he took him back to his own home the Levite knew how hard it was to get rid of spongers. He crossed over the road and speeded up. The Levite felt guilty but then he always felt guilty. He put the whole matter out of his mind.

The Samaritan didn’t get back to his home for nearly fifteen hours after he was expected. The family all rushed out to meet him, complaining that they had thought he was dead or robbed or imprisoned. His mother was crying. When he had washed and eaten he told the story of the Jew he had picked up and taken to the inn. “And that’s why I didn’t come back last night. By the time I had patched him up and fed him it was almost dark and I thought it was better to stay near him in case he got worse in the night” The Samaritan looked up, expecting to be praised. He found the family were looking at him with horror and anger. “Are you crazy?” His father exclaimed. “You picked up a dirty Jew! They hate us and you picked him up and gave him a cuddle!” “But Dad,” one of his sons said ”They wouldn’t pick one of us up. They would tread right on us, if it wouldn’t make them unclean!” The Samaritan’s wife was crying with rage. “You spent our money on a skiving drunk by the road. Taking food from the mouths of the children”. So the Samaritan didn’t tell any of them when he went back to the inn to check up on the beaten-up stranger.
The little tales I have just told are an attempt to unpack why good people don’t do the right thing: because it is too hard, too tiring, too expensive or too unpopular. If doing the right thing, if loving in the right way were easy and natural we would all be living the Commandments all the time. We can’t claim ignorance of what God wants. It is simply that we resist for what we can argue are quite valid reasons. The good Samaritan did what he thought was right and I have imagined that not everyone would agree with him. He stuck his neck out. He gave up time, he gave up money and he did what some would think was reckless. He might have thought that everyone would pat him on the head for being a good person, but they probably did not. The reward for the Samaritan was simply in doing what was right. The story might lead us to conclude that the people in the Sudan are just as much our neighbours as they sweet friendly people we know through church or who live in the same street. Would you allow one of the people in your road to starve if you had food, probably not! Hopefully not. Jesus was challenging us to see the most remote person as being our responsibility.

This very familiar story of Jesus’ strikes us afresh with how very challenging is the Way that Jesus demands we take. The Way might lead us into dangerous acts of generosity, might force us to be braver than we are, kinder than we feel we can afford to be, distract us even from other things we want to do. The Way of the Lord Jesus is a difficult and adventurous but it is the only way to ensure that we lead this life in the right way and achieve eternal oneness with God. Amen