The parable of the Good Samaritan
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
12 July 1998
Bible Reading Luke 10:25 -37
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "`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, `Love your neighbour as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
- If you wonder whether you are spiritual enough to be acceptable to God.
- If you are concerned that you do not live up to your own religious expectations let alone God's,
—then the biblical passage today is for you.
As a priest part of my ordination vow is—
'to teach and admonish, to feed and to provide for the
Lord's family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world's
temptations and to guide them through its confusions, so that they may be
saved by Christ for ever.' ASB page 357
One of the main purposes of the ministry of the priest is to enable people to 'be saved'. So that come the day when we stand before God we may find our names written in the Lambs Book of Life. And so the lesson today is very important because an expert in religious law comes to Jesus and asks 'what must I do to inherit eternal life? Or to use the words of the ASB 'so that he may be saved for ever'. So if we can understand Jesus answer today I am fulfilling my vows, and we may all find our names written in the book.
The answer which Jesus gives involves him teasing the man with the phrase,
'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 love your neighbour as yourself'.
But we cannot escape the fact that when asked how we inherit eternal life, Jesus devotes the vast majority of his answer to a story about a Samaritan and how he reacted when faced with a difficult decision. Jesus is asked about eternal life and he answers in a story about lifestyle.
You might have expected Jesus to devote himself to teaching about spectacular spiritual qualities. You could be forgiven for expecting Jesus to go on at length about religious devotion, but he doesn't. He talks about human pity, nursing care, sacrificial giving of your own transport and shelling out cash for someone other than yourself.
It is these ordinary human qualities of love and care which are given status by Jesus. Some professional religious people will sometimes try to convince us that certain spiritual activities are what God is concerned about. Subsequently many people live their lives with spiritual guilt because they think they are missing the spiritual target. If we are not careful, coming to church can be disappointing a little like going to Weightwatchers each week and finding that you haven't lost enough weight.
If you want to know how to please God, then look at the Samaritan. These are the qualities which God looks for. How we treat not just one another, but all others, this is the acid test of our love for God, and it is this lifestyle which counts before God.
Spirituality—our lifestyle choices
Now love for God has so often been associated with particular expressions of behaviour. If we think of love for God and we are honest, then we are often tempted to think of particular spiritual behaviour.
A common word used these days is 'spirituality', all kinds of books are being written, courses and retreats organised about spirituality. It is in a sense a bit of a mysterious word, and for the uninitiated it is perhaps perceived as something reserved for those who are on a higher spiritual level capable of receiving better signals from the divine stratosphere.
Whenever you hear the word 'spirituality' remember this. Jesus tells us that when it comes to the crunch, the bottom line is this, what matters is what we would do if we went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Spirituality is not about religious exercises, it is about how we live our Christian life and if it isn't about that then it is just self-indulgent rubbish.
The techniques and spiritual hoops which we may like to try and jump through are largely of human making. Different spiritualities have stressed prayers, rosaries, meditation, Bible study, sacraments, retreats, pilgrimages, alpha courses, the list is endless. These are just some things which some people have found helpful, to other people they may be an anathema.
If you are a Christian and you are alive then you have Christian lifestyle and that is your Christian spirituality. There are obviously good spiritualities and bad spirituality, but what defines them as such is how well they equip us to be obedient to Christ. We do not have to be the same, the way that you and I relate to God may be very different, the proof of the spiritual pudding is however in how we are changed to follows our Master.
How do we develop our spirituality?
So how can we become the kind of people who will inherit eternal life? How can we change what is dreadful within us and become more like the example of Christ?
We must realise that (for want of a better word) our religious activity is not about a journey of self-discovery, it is not about self-satisfaction. We seek after the will of God and we sit at Jesus feet like Mary in order that we may go out and serve him like Martha. It is my firm conviction that if we sit honestly at Jesus feet we instinctively want to go out into his world to serve him. Spirituality is not self-seeking, or self-serving, it is about becoming the kind of people who are committed in their faith, who are prepared to go out and be the good Samaritan. This is the big difference between Christian spirituality and religious types of behaviour.
So let us follow this through and think specifically about prayer, which is perhaps the most obvious 'spiritual' activity. Prayer is a universal phenomenon, it is found in all of the world's religions, there is a human need for prayer because God created us and we need to communicate with our creator.
What is going on when we pray?
The Good Samaritan could have passed by on the other side of the road like the others and then prayed for the man in need? Quite possibly the priest remembered the man in his prayers that night. Quite possibly the Levite remembered him in his prayers that night also. Those prayers were totally unacceptable, Jesus used those people as examples of people who missed the mark. The 20th century theologian Karl Barth once wrote that
"to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world."
The prayer is a beginning, but prayer isn't magic. If we pray for the people who fall among thieves and then walk by on the other side that uprising will never happen through our prayers. It was this action of the Samaritan which was considered worthy by Jesus.
Often people feel intensely guilty about their spiritual devotion and imagine that they should be doing something which they are not. Jesus said,
'if you love me you will keep my commandments,'
not that we will perform religious devotions. When we think of prayer immediately different responses will go up with people either switching off or feeling guilty! We read in the bible that Jesus regularly and systematically, regardless of how many people were waiting to hear him speak or to feel his healing touch, Jesus went off by himself to pray. He prayed at all the decisive times of his life. So prayer should be a part of our lives as we pray about the decisions times in our lives and complex issues.
But Jesus doesn't tell us that we have to be spiritual athletes. Prayer is simply about opening our lives to God at their deepest level. Prayer is not about allocating holy spots in each day and then feeling guilty because we missed them, it is more a matter of seeking after the will of God and of being open to the reign of God and his holiness in the commonplace activities of life.
In a book on prayer Max Thurian writes:
'The beginning of the spiritual life is just 'being there'.
God is our eternal friend; we do not so much ask friends to do things for us as to be with us. So to trust that God is somehow mysteriously hidden in the depths of each moment is to 'pray without ceasing'. Perhaps it is only when our eyes and ears are opened to this wider and liberating truth about prayer, that we will once again find meaningful what we have traditionally defined as prayer.
From this perspective, intercessory prayer then becomes not a matter of persuading God to do what God would otherwise rather be inclined not to do. Nor does it consist of drawing to the Eternal's attention things which have inexplicably been overlooked. Rather, it is a matter of adding our concern and commitment for people and world to the concern of God—a 'conspiring with God toward the healing of creation.'
Such praying will lead to a different perspective on life and on our own priorities. Such praying may lead naturally to getting out our chequebook, or picking up the telephone, or even marching with a placard.
So what happens when we pray. Our wills are changed and our spirits are moved, that is real spirituality as it issues in obedience. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he taught them the Lord's prayer and it begins with a recognition that God is sovereign over all. Our Father in heaven hallowed be thy name. Then it goes on to ask our longing for the healing of God's creation to transform our own lives. Thy will be done.
The story is told of a little girl who prayed every night and was very concerned about animals. Each night she prayed her prayers out loud at bedtime. She had become very upset that day that her brother was riding his bicycle up and down the country lane where they lived deliberately riding over frogs and also one hedgehog with his bicycle. So she prayed,
'Dear God, please make sure he never does that again and protect all the frogs and animals so that they won't ever get hurt. Thank you God Amen.'
Mummy said to the little girl.
'Darling, sometimes we don't get what we ask for. I am sorry but you mustn't get upset if God doesn't answer your prayers about the frogs in the way that you want.'
'God will answer my prayer'
said the little girl,
'I know he will.'
'Why do you say that' said mummy?
'Because after tea I threw his bike in the river'
said the little girl.
Its a nice story but it makes a sharp point. Prayer is not just about saying words but it is about an attitude of life and of the heart. About being prepared to disturb the complacency of our lives and put ourselves at risk. This is real spirituality, real Christianity and it puts us in God's good books.
It may be that like the man who came to Jesus you have questions today. You may find it hard to believe in God. You may find Jesus difficult to believe in. Perhaps you have had difficulties which have shaken your faith so that it is hard to believe that God can make anything good come out of that which is evil or painful or sorrowful. Or, maybe it's simply hard for you to believe today, right now. Each one of us at time can feel doubt, or weak with fear, or floundering without direction.
As we walk the path from Jerusalem to Jericho we will meet many situations. It may not be men who have fallen among robbers needing attention. But there will be difficult decisions, unwanted pregnancies, whether to change the will, how to cope with a wayward husband whatever. We need to know that there is one who walks with us and who goes before us, who walks with us so that we might be without fear, and who calls each one of us, to be ever faithful. That no power which seeks to destroy us will ever have an unbreakable grasp upon us. That there is One who is 'gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love', To just such a God, we give all honour and glory and praise.