3. February 2019

Who is my Neighbour

Service Type:

The parable of the Good Samaritan is as well known a Bible Story as any other…A young man approached Jesus to ask what he might have to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies by asking him, ‘what does the law say?’ To which the young man replies – ‘Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind…and your neighbour as yourself’ – Jesus commends him for his answer, but the young man presses the point and asks Jesus – ‘Who is my neighbour?’ In response Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, at the end of which He asks a question of the young man – ‘Which of these three, proved neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers? To which the reply was, ‘the one who showed mercy on him’. All of us would have a knee-jerk response to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour? But how prepared to ask ourselves, who is my neighbour? Or indeed, who is my neighbour? The parable dares us to confront such questions; to go beyond the cosy comfort zone that we might describe as our ‘neighbourhood’ – be that in terms of the area in which we live, the people with whom we routinely interact, the interests we have in common, - the ‘gated’ communities in which we live. It takes courage to cross the road, and let’s not forget the most blatant example of disregard as far as the man in need was concerned was shown by the one who crossed the road, and then crossed back again. yet if we are to be ‘neighbour’ it is what is demanded of us. Voluntary service – those who are prepared to volunteer their services – their skills, their talents, their time, their energy, all of which are far more valuable than our money – volunteers are the epitome of what it means to ‘proven neighbour’ to others. Service for its own sake; immediate, impartial, immersive, engaging, championing, representing, advocating, helping, encouraging; doing what needs to be done for the person or persons who need something to be done for them which is beyond their doing for themselves. Taking a risk, being prepared to risk life and limb – perhaps, being prepared to put one’s reputation on the line, being prepared to be criticised, even vilified for having associated oneself with those about whom wider society has rushed to judgement; the very ones who need the help of the volunteer because that same wider society - bedevilled as it is by narrow political, and even ecclesiological self-interest – is loathe to identify with those who are in the most need of the compassion of which Jesus spoke…

“If they had had a different neighbour, one less self-absorbed and more concerned for others, a man of normal, charitable instincts, their desperate state would not have gone unnoticed, their distress-signals would have been heard, and perhaps they would have been rescued by now. Certainly, they appeared utterly depraved, corrupt, vile and odious; but it is rare for those who have sunk so low not to be degraded in the process, and there comes a point, moreover, where the unfortunate and the infamous are grouped together, merged in a single, fateful world. They are Les Misérables - the outcasts, the underdogs. And who is to blame? Is it not the most fallen who have most need for charity?” (Victor Hugo, Les Misérables).

We have the privilege of living in, sharing the life of, ministering in the midst of what is itself a privileged community: Hampstead Garden Suburb is an accurate description of it; But populated by people who one senses do have a heart for others. Our task is to encourage them and us, we together to ‘cross the road’ -

“We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another…There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the road once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might indeed become neighbours.”  (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith).

And so, it is good that last evening as on any Tuesday during much of this winter our church is hosting a night shelter for the homeless; peopled by volunteers; it may be that for some of them (and us) one’s only other exposure to the plight of the homeless might be to stumble over them in a doorway outside a department store in Knightsbridge, indeed we/they may even on occasion have crossed the road to avoid such people. Another example: our Harvest collection last autumn was not fruit and veg; it was sanitary towels – packed up and delivered to local schools as part of the Red Box project, combatting period poverty, something that is very real for so many families today. I could not claim to have known Ros well; indeed, I only came to know her at all because her mother was a member of our congregation, and as Millicent’s health began to decline Ros would visit regularly and they would often worship together with us if that were possible. When I was told that Ros had died, and being aware of the illness from which she had suffered, I shared with her husband the thought that came to my mind that might capture the essence of her personality, and I hit upon the word, ‘Feisty’. It seems to me that ‘feistiness’ is a necessary quality for anyone who is willing to engaged a s a volunteer in seeking to combat the many societal evils that are part of our day to day life. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a straightforward story, but one which nevertheless deserves to be retold, especially on a day like today…

“We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves. We do it forpeople like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need - regardless of race, politics, class, and religion - is your neighbour. Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith, but everyone is your neighbour, and you must love your neighbour.”  (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just).