A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 10 July 2022
Today we’re in the middle of reading through Luke chapter 10. Whenever I read this chapter in Luke’s gospel, I have at the back of my mind that it’s sometimes referred to as the ‘Franciscan’ chapter because it reflects many of the features of the way of Saint Francis.
For instance, right at the very beginning of the Franciscan movement, when Bernard, a magistrate in the city of Assisi wanted to join Francis, Francis was uncertain what to do. So, he decided they should go to a nearby church and after praying for a while, Francis opened a copy of the Gospels three times at random to see what passages caught his eye.
One of the passages was from the beginning of Luke chapter 10 and it was later incorporated into the Rule of Life that Francis drew up for his companions – it was part of Jesus’ command to the 70 disciples:
‘Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.’
Poverty, simplicity, travelling light all became a distinctive feature of the Franciscan way.
This week however we heard from the middle of chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel – the parable of the Good Samaritan – where does that fit into the Franciscan way?
Francis’ conversion, as for many of us, spanned a number of years. A key moment early on was meeting a leper when Francis was out riding close to Assisi. Seeing this leper, he got down from his horse, walked up to him, gave him money and then slowly and deliberately kissed his hand.
This moment shaped Francis’ whole life and reminding ourselves of it may help us to see deeper into today’s well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.
It’s a parable that reads very much like a moral tale, with the focus on the person doing the helping and the command at the end to:
‘Go and do likewise.’
And that’s how the parable has often been taken.
But if it is just a moral tale encouraging us to be a good neighbour, the fact that the helper is a Samaritan doesn’t carry any weight. Jesus could have chosen anyone as an example of how we should treat other people.
So perhaps there’s more going on than a simple moral tale.
The parable starts in a coherent cultural and geographical world:
- there’s the dangerous road, 17 miles long, from Jerusalem to Jericho
- there’s the fairly predictable attack of the bandits on the lonely traveller
- and his condition – beaten, naked and helpless, left by the side of the road
There’s nothing unusual about any of this. And nor is there anything unusual about the next two episodes in the story:
- the ‘priest’ and the ‘Levite’ would each have been known as regular travellers on this road
- and part of their identity was to keep themselves from anything that would make them ritually unclean
So, the story is all of a piece.
But what the listener might then have expected to hear was perhaps a Jewish lay person then coming down the road. The story would then have been a stab at the priests and the Levites in favour of the ordinary person doing the loving thing:
‘Go and do likewise.’
But that’s not what happens.
Instead, a Samaritan comes down the road. He’s an outsider. He’s not part of the Jewish religious culture. And this outsider becomes the central character, so much so that the whole parable is named after him: The Good Samaritan.
He’s a rogue element introduced into the story, and so Jesus has to explain his motivation, whereas why the priest and the Levite acted as they did can be taken for granted.
We heard how the Samaritan ‘was moved with pity’. This despised outsider then tends the wounds, cleans them with wine, heals them with oil and bandages them up. He then picks the man up, carries him to the inn on his donkey, supervises his care and pays for his keep, promising to return and pick up any further costs.
All this being done by a Samaritan, suggests at the very least that the parable is challenging us to widen the scope of who our neighbour is to include those from right outside our own race or religion.
Where are the limits of love now to be drawn?
And as with Saint Francis, it’s in a human interaction, this face-to-faceness, that this is discovered. The parable describes how the Samaritan came near him, went to him, bandaged him, touched him, picked him up and held him.
This isn’t just about being a good neighbour. By drawing near and engaging at this level, something quite new happens.
Francis never says what drew him to get off his horse, walk up to the leper and kiss his hand. But a barrier was crossed, a taboo overcome, and something quite new happened that shaped the whole life of Saint Francis.
But also the Samaritan, marginalised and of no account in Jewish eyes, proves at considerable personal cost, to be the Saviour to the robbed, the Healer to the wounded, the Helper of the helpless.
He’s a Christ-like figure.
And if so, the command to ‘go and do likewise’ isn’t just a call to kindness, but a deeper call that Saint Francis heard and which transformed his whole life.
This call is ours to hear too: go and be Christ-like.