Last night I was with a group of friends and we got talking about what we should be doing to bring greater justice to our world. We reflected on all the brokenness and suffering and we recognised that we should do more to name this and seek reform.
And this raised the question in my mind as to whether we can and should do this in our own strength or whether we need Jesus to do this? And what that means.
A few weeks ago I was with a different group of friends and we were having a similar conversation. We were asking ourselves why the Church exists. What is the purpose of the Church? We fairly quickly agreed that the Church exists to bring healing to the world. But that this was not enough. We exist, we said, to bring healing to the world by making disciples of Jesus. Or put it another way. We exist to make disciples of Jesus in order to bring healing to the world.
We don’t want to make disciples just so that we fill up our churches. We don’t believe we can truly heal the world without following Jesus.
But is that last statement really true?
Because lots of people would disagree with it.
We might say that we don’t need Jesus to bring healing to our world. We can perfectly well get on with the business of doing good, with being Good Samaritans – without any help or direction from Jesus.
This morning I was reflecting on all this as I re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The parable tells the story of a man who goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho and is set upon by thieves. He is stripped, beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite pass along the road but they walk on by. Only a Samaritan (someone who was despised and hated by the Jewish people – the people Jesus is telling the story to) stops and tends to the man and puts him on his donkey and pays for him to be cared for at an inn.
I was thinking about how Jesus tells this story to his people because he wants them to understand that they are like the wounded man. They are in the gutter. They have failed, as a people, to live up to God’s calling to be a blessing to all nations. And they need rescuing.
And Jesus wants them to see him as the Good Samaritan who comes to rescue them. Jesus is the despised, hated and unwelcome one. But it is through him that God is working to redeem his people.
So what has all this got to do with us?
And what has it got to do with the questions we've been asking ourselves about social justice and the purpose of the Church?
Well, I’d say that this parable has everything to say to us on these matters.
When we read the story – which is familiar to many of us - we can easily see ourselves as the Good Samaritan. Or, at least, being called by Jesus to be like the Good Samaritan and to do good things for people worse off than ourselves.
But I would say that this is to misread the parable.
First, we are not Samaritans. We are not the most despised, hated and ostracised people in our society. We don’t necessarily have the resources of the Samaritan. We are not agents of salvation – we don’t have the same power as Jesus to truly change peoples’ hearts and minds.
So who are we in the story?
We are, of course, the man at the side of the road. We are the ones who are stripped and beaten and left for dead. We are the needy ones.
Why do I say that?
Well, perhaps I should speak for myself. I live in the Western world. I benefit from a global system of trade that keeps billions of people in poverty. I am an educated white citizen living in one of the world’s leading economies. And I benefit from a social system that privileges me and my family in almost every way, at the expense of other cultural and ethnic groups. I take for granted that my country and my generation get to consume the vast majority of the world’s non-renewable resources, even though it is other countries and generations that will likely pay the price for this.
By any understanding of judgement day, I am going to be in big trouble. Perhaps I didn’t personally cause these things - but what I have done about them? The truth is, very little.
I say this not to self-flagellate or to encourage you to do the same. But to recognise that we are in deep trouble. That we are the man in the story who is in such desperate need.
The good news is that help is ambling down the road towards us.
Although, it won’t come from the people we want it to come from. People like ourselves. Politicians we admire. It will be in the person of the stranger, the enemy, the despised. The person of Jesus.
This is why, so curiously, those of us who help with projects like the Winter Night Shelter receive so much more from our interaction with the guests than we give to them. We join these projects because we want to be the Good Samaritan and we want to do good to these men who are homeless and in need, these men who are strangers. Who we’d be afraid to invite into our homes and introduce to our families. But we end up seeing Jesus in them. We end up receiving healing from them and recognising our own woundedness and needidness.
At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says ‘Go and do likewise’ and we take this to mean ‘Go and be like the Good Samaritan.’
But, really, I believe Jesus means, ‘Go and continue to see me in the faces of the despised and the rejected. You are not their benefactors. You are not the answer to their prayers. But they are the answer to yours. You are searching for healing and salvation that only they can bring. Do not assume others will see my face in you. Go and expect to see my face in them.’
So don’t let your interaction with the weak, the disadvantaged and the oppressed come from a sense of guilt or obligation or pity. Let it come from a recognition of your own desperate plight. And then from gratitude and from joy that you have been met and saved by Christ – the one you never believed could help you.
The truth is that, if we are serious about wanting to rid our world of injustice – then we do need Jesus.
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Posted by Martine Oborne