Fifteen years ago, when I was pregnant with our youngest daughter, I had the misfortune to suddenly find myself having a hypo whilst out in town. As I felt myself going, and was unable to communicate for help, I linked my arm through the legs of our toddler’s buggy, and collapsed propped up against a wall.
Very aware, yet unable to respond, I was aware of the responses of those around me. A couple of smartly dressed women passed by, tutted and one commented, presumably thinking I was drunk, “Really! It’s a disgrace being out with her child in that state!” Many people walked past pretending I was invisible, and then, a couple of minutes later, someone walked by and kicked my leg in contempt. The next person, though, stopped and helped me. They gave me a sugar lump and, within a few minutes, normal service was resumed. She spoke of how she had just had a coffee and, instead of leaving the extra sugar on the saucer as she usually did, she felt prompted to slip it in her pocket in case she needed it later. Which indeed she did.
Our reading today is in response to a lawyer’s question to find where the limits of love for others end. Jesus is teaching us that this love is limitless. It does not judge people in difficult circumstances, it does not pretend that the challenging things in life are not happening. It does not kick people when they are down. Love responds to the Spirit stirring our hearts to respond to others in their time of need, just as the Samaritan did for the man that was injured, and just as the lady with the sugar lump did for me.
The title of today’s service is ‘faith in action’. But this could be understood in two different ways; ‘faith in action’ or ‘faith inaction’.
The story of the Good Samaritan crosses all national, ethnic and religious boundaries. It demonstrates that faith in action is often a stirring of our hearts to act in compassion for our brothers and sisters whoever they may be. That love transcends the things that sometimes bind us, the things that cause faith inaction….where we are bound by the things that we believe that we should be doing for God in the way we believe that we should be doing them rather than taking those rare opportunities to reveal God’s heart to others by responding with perfect compassion to all, without borders and boundaries.
We don’t know why the Jewish priest and Levite rushed on by. They were people of faith, and yet they showed inaction when they saw someone in distress. Maybe they were rushing to worship, or were worried about becoming unclean by helping someone different from them, or maybe they were even afraid of being attacked themselves?
Whatever the reason, we feel disappointed as we hear of these two people of faith not responding as we think they should, and disappointed that it takes an outsider, who does not necessarily even have a faith, to reveal the love and compassion, without bounds, that God calls us to.
Our city was horrified last night to hear that terror had come to our door. The world waits for news and we weep with those that have lost loved ones. We agonise with parents waiting for news of their children, and our hearts go out to those who were stranded and afraid. Last night revealed that heart of the Good Samaritan in so many of our community, with offers pouring in from the community, opening their homes and giving shelter to those in need, as well as offering to bind up wounds and care for the vulnerable. It was a thing of beauty to witness. It was a display of perfect compassion by people of all faiths, and no faith, to their fellow human beings. It was the Spirit stirring peoples’ hearts to respond with unlimited love to people they may have been otherwise wary of relating to. And it was that same Spirit whom we witnessed prompting a homeless man to comfort a dying woman.
Compassion without borders reflects Christ’s work of dying to save us all, and perfect compassion imitates the nature of God. When we show compassion that is costly to us, it demonstrates our faith that Christ died for us, and draws others to Him.
In doing so, we glorify him, and others witness it, as we encounter Jesus in them, and, whilst doing so, our faith becomes alive.
The Good Samaritan loved a stranger as himself.
Jesus invites us, through this passage, to go and do likewise.